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Drone controversy deepens as operator is spotted filming racing at Haydock

The thorny issue of drones flying around racecourses in Britain stung again on Saturday with one filming the action at Haydock.

A drone, believed to be operated from a white van parked outside the perimeter of the track, hovered over the course for the prestigious meeting featuring the Peter Marsh Chase.

The van was stationed beyond the back straight, near the A580 East Lancashire Road, a major approach route to Haydock, just off the south-west corner of the track.

It is understood this is not the first time this van has been spotted in that position on a raceday.

The use of drones at racecourses has been thrown into focus amid reports they are being increasingly used to film races, with the pictures relaid to in-running punters who can use them to gain a distinct advantage on those using delayed pictures provided by ITV, Racing TV or Sky Sports Racing.

The delay is understood to be around 1.5 seconds on RTV pictures and up to 10 seconds for those from Sky Sports Racing.

Haydock belongs to the RTV stable, which would theoretically diminish any edge to be gained from live pictures, but with almost £300,000 traded in-running on the feature Peter Marsh Chase alone, the rewards are clearly there for those who can get ahead to any degree. 

Plenty of eyes were already on Ayr, another RTV track, where one drone operator had reported that he would be operating on Sunday.

Ahead of that card, the track's raceday manager Brian Ferries said: "We are aware of the possibility of drones, as we always are, and have taken steps to raise awareness and monitor the situation to ensure that a good day of racing goes ahead in safe and fair conditions for everyone.

"I am confident that with a good team-based approach this will be the case."

The power of racecourses to remove drones from their vicinity is limited, as the operators are reportedly aware, but they are by no means alone in that respect. As much was demonstrated by the chaos caused at Gatwick Airport over Christmas on the back of a reported drone sighting.

The use of 'fast pics' is a controversial one in racing, but one that has existed essentially since the launch of betting exchanges. In-running bettors have been known to book out hospitality suites at racecourses in order to gain an advantage over those watching on television, while other courses have come out against such a practice.

BHA spokesman Robin Mounsey said: "Responsibility for preventing unauthorised intrusion by drones above a racecourse sits with the racecourses themselves. If required or appropriate racecourses might wish to call on the support of local law enforcement to deal with an issue around unregulated drones.

"The BHA stewards would become involved if they are asked by the racecourse executive to either delay, or abandon a race or races because drones were on site and causing a risk to horses, participants or the general public."

A spokesman for the Haydock declined to comment.

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