Horse racing stalwarts warn of Brexit turmoil over freedom of movement

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Leading figures in the horse racing industry have warned Brexit could throw the sport into turmoil, particularly in the event of a ‘no-deal’. 

Restrictions in freedom of movement for both people and animals are the biggest concern for the industry.

About 26,000 horses every year move between Britain, Ireland and France, the three main racing nations in Europe, thanks to a tripartite agreement struck in 1960.

But it is not known how long for or indeed, if, that can continue after the UK’s formal departure from the EU on 29 March.

As things stand, the UK is heading for a ‘no-deal’ Brexit as it has no agreements in place for what its future relationship with the EU will look like.

Gay Kelleway, a former jockey and veteran trainer, has already established a yard in France in an effort to insulate herself from what she thinks could be catastrophic effects of Brexit. She believes other trainers will follow her.

“It’s the horse sales industry that’s going to be really really affected. Shifting horses from A to B,” she told Sky News.

“I knew this was going to happen so that’s why I’ve spent a lot of money buying horses in France in the last two years and setting up a stable in Chantilly.

“The big stables like Coolmore will be fine because they have the money.

“But there are people in the industry that work hard and do it as a job, and the owners that own the horses that want to get a bit back – it’s going to be very hard, very tough, for the industry.

“We get enough knocks as it is and it’s going to be doubly hard.”

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) are in almost daily contact with the government to formulate contingency plans for how to deal with the possible ramifications of Brexit.

BHA executive director Will Lambe said a no-deal Brexit would be the worst outcome for the industry. The movement of horses between England and Ireland is a matter or high concern.

“We hear about just-in-time supply chains,” he told Sky News.

“Ours in racing a horse is coming to the racecourse in optimal physical condition, high standards of welfare, but those horses going back to Ireland say they may need additional checks or may have to go through certain border inspection posts or arrive back into Ireland through ports that they don’t currently use. We do have concerns.”

About 25% of the horse racing industry’s key workforce is from outside the UK, with almost half of those from within the EU.

Many work as stable staff or as work riders, which is not currently classed as skilled work.

There are concerns Brexit and inevitable costs and delays with visas could lead to a shortage in stable staff.

Alyson West, a former travelling head groom for Sir Mark Prescott, said: “The majority of the staff in the stables nowadays are European, eastern European, Portuguese, French.

“They come here for a better life and to work and if they’ve got to apply for a visa it’s going to have a big impact. It’s going to be very damaging.”

Despite the fears of many within the racing industry about the effects of Brexit, punters are divided, with some believing the future of the sport will be just as healthy outside the EU.

On-course bookmaker Paul Johnson voted to leave and said he believes the industry will eventually thrive outside the EU.

One punter, who voted for Brexit, told Sky News: “I think whatever happens racing, it will adapt, like business will adapt.

“In the short-term there might be a few problems, but in the long-term, no danger. I think everything will survive absolutely adequately.”

Another added: “I don’t think it will be catastrophic because people enjoy their horse racing so wherever there’s a race course open they’re going to come to it.

“There’ll still be horses coming from Ireland and France, they’re not just going to stop because of Brexit, they’ve invested too much money in racing.”

(c) Sky News 2019: Horse racing stalwarts warn of Brexit turmoil over freedom of movement

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