FURLOUGH used to be a word heard only in horse-racing parlance. Iain Jardine hopes soon that will become the norm once again.

The Dumfries-based trainer has endured a frustrating two months with all racing cancelled as a result of the coronavirus. After a couple of false starts, however, it looks like his horses will soon be once again under starter’s orders from June 1 in England, with an announcement due imminently on when Scotland might be in a position to follow.

Like all major sporting events, the return of racing in Britain will take place behind closed doors to minimise the potential spread of the virus. While a frustrating development for track-going punters, Jardine believes it is the only way for the sport to resume.

“All the owners just want to see their horses racing again,” he said. “That’s what they’re paying their bills for, to keep them in training so that they’re ready when that opportunity comes up again. If it’s behind closed doors for a few months it’s not ideal but so be it. It will just be good to be back racing again.

“We’ve been doing everything bar taking our horses racing to keep them in a routine. We’ve got a lot of two-year-olds who’ve needed their education so they probably wouldn’t have been racing much before now anyway.

“But some of the older handicappers have been ready for a while. It’s just been about keeping them ticking over and happy. They’re still getting their daily exercise.

“We have first-class gallops here. Probably the best in Scotland and even the north of England, too. So we’re able to give them a good gallop if they need it. But they’re bred to race. They know they want to race when they’re fit. It’s just keeping a lid on them is the thing. That’s what my job is. Keeping them sensible. But they’re all raring to go.

“We’ve done a lot of preparation for returning. We’ve got heaps of masks to use, loads of hand sanitiser, gloves to protect the staff and we’ll take the temperature of anyone who goes to the racing and when they come back. So we’ll make sure we take all the precautions needed.

“I read [fellow trainer] John Gosden saying that it will be safer for staff to take horses to the racing than it will be for people to go to the supermarket. And I think that will be 100 per cent true.”

Jardine believes the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) unfairly got some owners’ hopes up with talk of racing returning in May.

“The last few months have actually been okay for me and my staff but it’s been frustrating for our owners,” added the former jockey.

“The main gripe I’ve had is that the BHA were giving us false information. They were saying we were going to be racing again on May 1 which meant a lot of owners chose to keep their horses in training. And then there was no sign of any racing.

“And then it was put back to May 15 so we went to the owners to ask if they wanted to keep the horses training or to give them a break. But the truth was nobody really knew when racing was going to come back. And then the UK government said there would be no sport at least until June 1.

“But at least it does now look like we will be racing in June which is great. Racing is such a big industry and we could maybe have got it going sooner. But you have to be sensible about the whole thing.

“I understand why the government is being ultra-cautious but we really need to get going now for the racing industry. Otherwise it’s going to take a big hit. But we’ve kept our horses fit so that when it returns we’ll have plenty ready to go.”

Like most other businesses, the Jardine yard has endured financial uncertainty and placed two staff on furlough. Bills have had to be met as normal, too.

“Of course, we’re taking a hit that way,” added Jardine who trains almost 50 horses at Hetlandhill. “I lease my yard so I’ve got to find enough money to pay the rent, the feed company and the staff.

“But the owners throughout this difficult time have been very supportive. And I’d like to think we’ve looked after them as much as we can as well.

“We’ve kept the horses in their same routine. And I have loyal staff as well and we’ve tried to keep as many of them on the go as we can. Only two have been furloughed and one of them was by choice. It’s not been easy times, but we’re managing.”