Tuesday 17th March, the last time a racecourse in Britain held a race. Both Taunton and Wetherby were the final courses to stage live action before the coronavirus pandemic caused horse racing to be postponed indefinitely – like most other major sports around the world. It’s been a long six weeks, with punters and fans alike longing to get the full results. But as we enter a new month, it appears we have passed the peak of the virus, and the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) have been releasing frequent updates regarding the imminent future of the sport. It’s fair to say there’s certainly light at the end of the tunnel as far as horse racing is concerned.
While racing has continued behind closed doors in Australia and Hong Kong, both French Galop and Deutscher Galopp were the first authorities in Europe to announce a return to racing this month. The latter has since seen their calendar once again rescheduled, with Germany originally expecting to resume racing from Monday 4th May. The eight-race card at Dortmund was sadly postponed, as despite stricter hygiene measures and with no spectators at the meeting, they weren’t given the necessary approval. Racing in France is planning on making a return next week (May 11th) beginning with the trials for the Classics, with racing resuming on a conditional basis and behind closed doors for the foreseeable future.
While the BHA are awaiting the green light from the government, who are expected to lift the strict lockdown measures in the coming weeks, the chief of the Authority Nick Rust believes only a week’s turnaround would be required for getting horses and connections ready for racing. May 15th is believed to be the target resumption date, following positive feedback from government officials. A programme for racing’s return is expected to be announced in the coming days and it’s believed the first fixtures will be staged at Newcastle and Lingfield.
Newmarket too, is expected to start hosting races towards the end of the month, with May 23rd pencilled in – and the famous Classics, the 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas will be run on the first weekend in June. The four-day Royal Ascot meeting is also expected to remain in its scheduled spot, albeit behind closed doors from June 16th.
In his statement, Rust announced: “We can be one of the first to go” before continuing, “We don’t have Premier League footballers training for six weeks in our sport – our equine and human athletes are ready to go within a week to help bring live sport back.”
He also confirmed that while the UK has been in a period of lockdown, some 12,000 horses have still been training but of course, strict hygiene and social distancing measurements have been in place for the duration. At Amy Murphy’s stables in Newmarket, home to the likes of Kalashnikov and Mercian Prince, it’s been a real learning curve. But the trainer filmed this ‘Life in Lockdown’ video, also expressing the importance of retaining a routine:
She says: “Horses appreciate a routine, so we are exercising them as usual, we’re just not doing as much fast work as we would if we were targeting a race. Strings are being sent out in fours rather than 10s, with at least 3m between each horse, so it is certainly different in that aspect. We are keeping them ticked over and at a certain level of fitness so that we are pretty much ready to go when the sport resumes.”While all those associated with the sport will await confirmation and clarity, a return to live racing would be a welcomed boost and one that legendary jockey AP McCoy has backed. Time will tell.