Around 80,000 people in the UK are employed directly or through related industries to horse racing, so the continuing absence of the sport is having an adverse effect on many lives.
With no clear return date in sight, it is estimated that the numbers of racehorses in training have dropped by 15 per cent. These equine athletes are bred to run, but cannot do so until the government relaxes restrictions on the personal freedoms of those who look after, train, transport and ride them in competition.
The Levy Board has made £22,000,000 available as part of a hardship fund designed to help some of Britain’s smaller racecourses, training operations and stable staff to live. While this is welcome, there is no getting away from the fact that the impact of horse racing’s shutdown will have long-term implications.
Initially, the Flat season was supposed to begin on 1 May but the current state in the UK has once again changed with there now being an indefinite suspension of the sport. The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has been making initial plans with related stakeholders for the programme of pattern races with trainers informed of their discussions.
Revised programme reportedly has Classic focus
Certain horse races, chiefly the Classics and Group 1 events, are tied to the equine bloodstock industry. Winners of the 1000 and 2000 Guineas, Derby and Oaks, and the St Leger often become hugely influential to the breeding of subsequent Flat and National Hunt generations.
The recent death of Shamardal, Godolphin’s super sire, who won the French equivalent of the 2000 Guineas and Epsom Derby in the Poule d’Essai des Poulains and Prix du Jockey Club in 2005, is a case in point. Without Classic races in the UK, Ireland and mainland European countries where horse racing is popular, the thoroughbred world risks losing valuable commodities at stud and as broodmares.
As of the time of writing, Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) are still looking to stage their Guineas Weekend at The Curragh on 23 and 24 May. Irish authorities believe, provided government consent to resume the sport is granted, that there is enough time to hold prep races for the first two Classics of their year.
That situation is under constant review, however, with France Gallop aiming to start the Flat season across the Channel on 4 May. Again, it will depend on what the state is willing to allow with horse racing in strict quarantine likely and behind closed doors a reality for all major European countries.
The first British Classics may also take place towards the end of May or early June, but there are logistical difficulties over where they will be run and whether it is feasible for competing horses to take part in the Irish or French equivalents. If there isn’t international competition possible in such races, then the value of them is diminished.
Royal Ascot trying to stay intact
Meanwhile, online horse racing bookies continue to have markets and take bets on Royal Ascot 2020. The five-day meeting is still pencilled in for its original start date of 16 June, but will be staged behind closed doors – provided the UK government allows it.
This seemingly fixed presence in what is an otherwise highly fluid situation has the potential to be an issue. It is normally possible for three-year-olds that contested the Classics on Guineas Weekend at Newmarket and the Derby Festival at Epsom to run at Royal Ascot.
How likely that is now without definite dates for these generation defining events remains to be seen. Arena Racing Company (ARC) racecourses look set to be used by the BHA because of their additional on-site facilities like hotels to stage meetings when the green light is given for the sport to resume.
Lingfield and Newcastle, which both have turf and all-weather tracks, are deemed particularly suitable for staging quarantined horse racing. The latter venue in the Gosforth Park area of Tyne and Wear hosted the first Group 1 race on an artificial surface in the UK last year when Doncaster’s Vertem Futurity Trophy for two-year-olds had to be abandoned due to a waterlogged track last autumn.