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Frustrated: Mark Johnston

Frustrated: Mark Johnston

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Frustrated: Mark Johnston

Trainer Mark Johnston believes the British Horseracing Authority made a "grave mistake" in suspending racing due to the coronavirus pandemic.

While racing continues to take place behind closed doors in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the ruling body of British racing last week announced a shutdown of the sport in the rest of the UK until the end of April in an attempt to slow the spread of Covid-19.

Johnston, ahead of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's speech to the nation last night, said: "I wasn't supportive of the decision. Who knows what's going to come? There are many people worse off than us - look at the catering industry and so on, that have been closed down completely.

"We'll now just have to comply with whatever government tells us but I think it was a grave mistake to pre-empt that.

"All the talk and all the work now is on getting us back racing again, probably behind closed doors. Any practice run or trial we could have had of racing behind closed doors would have helped us get back racing again.

"To just stop overnight when we didn't have to, and to see Irish racing and South African racing on our televisions, seems a terrible thing to have done. I don't think the decision should have been made so quickly."

Johnston believes that any extension to the suspension of racing in Britain could lead to owners moving horses abroad.

He said: "If you start thinking about the implications for the breeding industry and the sales, if racing was off for a prolonged period, people are going to have to think about alternatives.

"Some owners will have no choice. We've had just one horse who has gone home and another one is moving to Ireland, where racing continues. Those numbers could change dramatically."

If racing is delayed further, Johnston would be in favour of rescheduling the Classics rather than cancelling them.

He said: "One of the important things about the Guineas and the Derby is that they do come early in the year. I'd rather see them rescheduled than not run."

Belfast Telegraph