Epsom authority backs behind closed doors Derby

London (AFP) –


The authority responsible for maintaining Epsom Downs on Tuesday gave its backing to the staging of the Derby and the Oaks after the coronavirus delayed this year's running of the English classic horseraces.

Epsom and Walton Downs Conservators gave their unanimous support to the two races going ahead without spectators.

Afterwards Delia Bushell, the chief executive of the Jockey Club which runs Epsom Down racecourse, said in a statement: "We are working hard on a practical and deliverable plan to stage the 2020 Investec Derby and Investec Oaks at their traditional home, without a crowd and once racing is approved to resume by (the UK) government.

"These two Classics play a vital role in the thoroughbred racing and breeding industries, so it's of great importance for them to be able to go ahead during this difficult period."

The first four of England's annual Classics were postponed last month because of COVID-19, with the Oaks and Derby due to run at Epsom on the weekend of June 5-6.

In its document, Our Plan to Rebuild, the UK government said it planned for sporting and cultural events to resume behind closed doors as part of the second step of lifting the current virus restrictions from June 1 at the earliest.

But until then the present lockdown guidelines -- which have led to the suspension of all major sport in Britain -- are set to remain in force.

On Monday the government gave the go-ahead from Wednesday to limited recreational golf and tennis, which will be permitted so long as social distancing rules are maintained.

The Derby, the most prestigious of the Classics, was first run in 1780.

All five races are for three-year-old horses but the Oaks, along with the 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket, is restricted to fillies only.

Racing in Britain was suspended on March 17 in response to the spread of the coronavirus after the British Horseracing Authority was criticised for allowing that month's four-day Cheltenham Festival jumps meeting, which attracted more than 250,000 spectators, to go ahead.

An initial ban on spectators is expected when sport resumes in Britain, which has already seen more than 32,000 deaths during the pandemic -- the worst tally in Europe and second only to the United States.