Horse racing is one of the most popular sports in the United Kingdom. Every year, thousands of events take place at various racecourses, and this results in a great turnout of spectators to the stands (when there isn’t a pandemic on). Not only that, but it also brings a great number of sports bettors to the fore, who are all looking to win on their favoured horse(s).
British horse racing is steeped in history more so than in any other country and today it boasts dome of the biggest and most famous meetings in the world, from Cheltenham to the Grand National and Royal Ascot to the St Leger. Part of what makes UK racing so elite is the competition from the continent, particularly Ireland and France. But of course many are now worried that the recent effects of Brexit could negatively affect UK racing. Conversely difficulties in British registered race horses moving to the EU would have an obvious negative effect on big European races, such as Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
Will there be a severely negative effect on horse racing on the continent and further afield? What about other things connected to the horse racing industry? After all, anything affecting horse racing will directly affect jockeys, stud farms, racing grounds, employees of these locations and more. Will EU horses, like those in Ireland (still a part of the European Union) and other nations be able to so easily enter the UK to attend races? And vice versa? Let’s take a look at how Brexit is potentially going to affect the horse racing industry going ahead.
The Transition Period Has Already Ended…
The period of transition that saw the UK break apart from the European Union has come to an end, and this has left very significant changes as to how horses and people move between the UK and the EU. Further to that, the trading arrangements have also been altered as part of this.
The UK Government has already published its guidance on the process for both importing and exporting horses to and from the EU. This is laid out as part of its Border Operating Model. Specific sections within this guide relate to importing horses to the UK from the EU and vice versa. It remains the case that in comparison to all arrangements in place prior to December 31 last year, the process of moving horses is significantly more complex and time-consuming where administration is concerned.
From January of 2021, all equines from the EU will be subject to import controls, which fall in line with those guides for live animals. This requires them all to have health certification and import pre-notifications. Those requirements will not change immediately for horses coming into the UK, with the requirement for equines to enter Great Britain via an established point of entry with an appropriate Border Control Post will not come into effect until July 2021.
All unregistered horses must go through a pre-export blood test and meet certain residency and isolation requirements prior to entering the country. The blood test will check for infectious anaemia and viral arteritis within 30 days and 21 days of travel, respectively. Horses must also be kept on a holding in the country they are travelling from for 40 days and separated from other horses that don’t have similar health status for at least 30 days before travelling. Registered horses, on the other hand, will not have to meet any of those conditions.
When it comes to the export of horses, separate blood testing, residency and isolation requirements need to be met before equines travel to the EU. The UK has been placed in EU Sanitary Category A now that the transition period is over. Because of this, exporting a horse to the EU will require the animals to undergo the same blood tests, but within 90 days before travel. Export health certificates (EHCs) should also accompany the horse(s).
With regard to anyone from the EU residing in the UK prior to December 31, 2020, a period of time until June 30, 2021 is allowed for applications to be submitted to remain in the UK after Brexit. Therefore, anyone within the industry that this applies to must complete this application. Should they choose not to, they will be subject to the new Immigration System that is in place for all EU and non-EU immigrants. The British Horseracing Authority has strongly encouraged anyone within the racing and breeding industry to apply for Settled or Pre-Settled Status as soon as possible.
What about persons or staff that are travelling to the EU with horses to race? Well, at least six months must remain on your passport to be able to travel to most EU countries (except for Ireland). Furthermore, European Health Insurance Cards will only remain value until their expiry date if they were issued before the end of 2020. Staff travelling to the EU with horses to race will be covered by the Racing Industry Accident Benefit Scheme for any medical expenses, additional hotel costs and repatriation expenses.
What Does This Mean for the Industry?
There are still several key dates upcoming that the horse racing industry will need to watch out for. These include April 21, which is when the EU will introduce its new laws covering horse movements for racing, breeding and sales. On June 30, the deadline for applications to remain in the UK for EU citizens will arrive. And on July 1, the UK will introduce its new Border Controls, which could require various other checks for EU thoroughbreds entering the country.
In November last year, Horse Racing Ireland’s Chief Executive, Brian Kavanagh suggested that it’s going to be a difficult time for the industry as Brexit takes hold, though.
“We are watching the talks in London and Brussels very carefully. Then obviously there is the situation that will apply after January 1st, depending on the outcome of the talks”, he said.
His comments on the status of horse racing going forward came after a statement from the British Horseracing Authority outlining advice given by its Brexit steering group. This was leading cross-channel racing preparation as Britain prepared to leave the EU. At the time, the advice was for members of the horse racing industry to not move horses between the UK and EU unless absolutely necessary for the first two weeks of 2021. It was this advice that led Kavanagh to suggest that it is just the start of what Brexit has in store for the sector.
Current Situation Hiding the Real Damage
Times have already been difficult for many people and businesses while the coronavirus pandemic has been in full flow. Of course, it is only once this abates, and a vaccinated population begins to re-emerge that the actual fallout of Brexit will really be discovered. The current situation recently had an effect on point-to-pointing (steeplechase) events, with the sport not being deemed as elite or professional, and therefore suffering from a lockdown ban as a result. Of course, many would think that this is just the way things go.
However, many traders utilise the steeplechase fields to show off the stock that they possess. The horses that they have grown from youths into young adults, and this is done so as to attempt to build a profit on their investment in these horses. It is a big business for such traders – albeit quite risky. Of course, the lockdown ban has basically impacted the sector that has already suffered due to the disruption of most of its core season last year. Combine that with the ban on amateur jockeys being allowed to ride at English racetracks for an undefined amount of time and some might say that the spring of 2021 doesn’t look so great.
While the ban on it was done to fall in line with government guidelines over the continuation of elite sports, travelling horses were always going to be something that became an adventure post Brexit. As noted, more paperwork and checks will need to be done, but the VAT implications could also have been quite the issue. That was all cleared up, and an announcement was made that stated that horses from Ireland can travel to the UK to race without incurring any VAT costs. That’s great for those participating in races, but it is likely an entirely different story for those which will be sold at auction or those going to Ireland to be covered and then returned to the UK with a greater value.
Brexit has yet to answer any queries on how those horses will be affected, so for now, traders and so on will have to simply wait to find out.
What About Crossing the Channel?
While there may have been some sort of deal put in place for horses travelling from Ireland to the UK to race, what about crossing over the channel? Well, one show jumping trainer has already made a claim that Brexit has stopped her from being able to cross over into Europe to be able to partake in events.
Rachael Williams of East Yorkshire spoke of there being delays and confusion over the new requirements regarding the transport of live animals to the continent. According to the trainer, she has made three different attempts to attend events taking place in Italy but has failed each time. According to the government, more vets were being trained so as to be able to carry out necessary equine inspections. This would see them fall in line with requirements to enter the EU.
Ms Williams frequently used to travel to Europe with her horses, taking three riders and six horses with her to various competitions. She states that she was informed that everything would remain the same as it was before, as long as her horses were registered with the Dutch federation and that passports were possessed. However, she claims that this is not the case at all.
And it is not only this one trainer suffering under the new rules. According to Jan Rogers from the British Horse Council, this problem is very much widespread. “Horses now need to have residency and isolation periods, blood tests for certain diseases, export health certificates, online export declarations, customs notifications or bonds, additional equine identification documents, in some cases Kent Access Permits, as well as Covid-19 tests understandably”, she said.
In the Long Run?
The future is still questionable for the time being. The fact that there are so many protocols to go through when importing and exporting horses to and from the UK and EU now does make things harder. In the long-run, could this see events within the UK be attended by fewer horses from outside its borders, and vice versa? There is always a possibility. And with fewer horses attending, could the events themselves become fewer in number?
Of course, all of these things have a knock-on effect. Fewer events means fewer staff required. Fewer horses attending means fewer trainers required, less trade for those people who buy and sell horses due to rising costs and implications of transporting them in and out of the UK, and more.
Could it be possible that the government will come up with some sort of plan to satiate the horse racing sector on these issues? Will the EU really want to go back to the drawing board with the UK again on something like this? After all, the Brexit deal has been done and dusted. Already, issues are being experienced with it, as transport vehicles are getting stopped and stranded at the border in Dover. Needless to say, the transition period and subsequent independent nation start have left little to be impressed by so far.
Unfortunately, the UK government has had four years to sort all of this out, and where the horse racing industry is concerned, it hasn’t really done the best of jobs at being successful.