Jockey Tom Scudamore warned on Tuesday the recent incidents of drones operating above racecourses is posing a serious threat to people arriving at the track by helicopter after another of the devices was sighted at Leicester on Tuesday.
Officials at the Midlands track expressed their frustration after a drone that has been spotted flying over the course during the last six months was again in operation.
The use of drones at racecourses has been thrown into focus amid reports they are being increasingly used to film races, with the pictures relayed to in-running punters who can use them to gain a significant advantage over those using delayed pictures in their own homes.
Scudamore, who won the mares’ novice hurdle on the Leicester card aboard Dame Du Soir, said: “I didn’t notice [the drone] but there’s obviously television rights and it’s the same with anything in life, you don’t want people taking the mickey. If they’re not allowed to, they shouldn’t be there and it’s an issue waiting to happen.
“David Pipe has a helicopter and at Cheltenham and the big meetings that’s got to be a fear. People are coming racing by helicopter and they could get hit by a drone. That’s what we’ve got to be very wary of because they cause issues. There’s aviation around racecourses all of the time and, for me, that would be even more frightening than them spooking the horses.”
A drone was spotted filming the action at Haydock on Saturday and, as the runners entered the back straight at Leicester on Tuesday, a drone was launched from the roof of a disused building alongside the back straight, flying above the track to film the action.
“We’ve had it on and off here for the last six months,” confirmed clerk of the course Jimmy Stevenson. “I think it’s probably the same person at all the tracks but he’s not on our land so legally there’s nothing we can do about it.”
The drone operator could be seen on the roof of the building from where the drone was taking off and returning after each race and Stevenson confirmed the course had spoken to the operator previously.
“He’s not very helpful,” Stevenson added. “I’ve reported it to our health and safety operator who may go round and speak to him again but legally there’s nothing more we can do. It’s in the hands of the government and their laws.”
The delay in live pictures is understood to be around 1.5 seconds on Racing TV, providers of the images from Leicester, and around eight seconds for those tracks screened on Sky Sports Racing.
The power of courses to remove drones from their vicinity is limited, as the operators are reportedly aware, but they are by no means alone in that respect, with chaos caused at Gatwick over Christmas.
“Everyone knows about it but I don’t know what we can do,” said Stevenson. “It’s annoying and frustrating and maybe something is being done behind closed doors but I’ve had no instruction to say I can do anything about it.”
According to the clerk of the course, the local council has barred drones launching from their grounds but because the property from where the drone at Leicester was launched is privately owned, all the racecourse can do is stand and watch.
“They can’t take off from a public park or anything like that but that building is on private land and he must have permission from the owner because he’s on the roof. Even though the law might be on his side at the moment, and he may say he’s doing nothing wrong, he hasn’t had the decency to ask us.
“I don’t know what angle the BHA is coming at it from but I think if we had the answers it would have been stopped.”
The BHA said responsibility for preventing unauthorised intrusion by drones above a racecourse sits with the racecourses themselves.
The Racecourse Association declined to comment on Tuesday.
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