The coronavirus pandemic is having an unprecedented effect on Thoroughbred racing all over the world, with meetings cancelled (including the Grand National), postponed (the Kentucky Derby) or to be run behind closed doors (the Dubai World Cup).
- France: It became the first major racing nation to suspend the sport after an extraordinary meeting between its two governing bodies, France Galop and Le Trot, on March 16. All meetings have been cancelled from Tuesday until April 15, a timeframe that covers a key section of Classic trials on the Flat.
- Britain: The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) had been operating on a ‘business as usual’ basis with Cheltenham Festival attendance down only 5.5 per cent to 251,684 despite the virus outbreak. Following the conclusion of the four-day meet last Friday, the BHA initially announced UK racing would take place behind closed doors before changing tack and suspending all racing until the end of April because of the outbreak.
Nick Rust, the chief executive of the BHA, said, “This is a national emergency the like of which most of us have never seen before. We’re a sport that is proud of its connection to rural communities and to the local businesses that support our industry. But our first duty is to the health of the public.”
As a result, the 2020 Grand National, the world’s most famous handicap chase, has been cancelled. The Jockey Club said, ”it is no longer appropriate to stage the event” after the UK government advised against mass gatherings.
- The BHA has been forced to shut down its head office in High Holborn, London, after a small number of suspected cases of coronavirus among staff. The building, which also houses Great British Racing (GBR), the Jockey Club and Racecourse Owners’ Association (ROA), has been closed until further notice and will now undergo a deep clean.
A BHA statement read, “This is due to a small number of office-based BHA employees self-isolating with mild symptoms that could potentially be consistent with coronavirus, but which are not confirmed. All office-based staff are being asked to work remotely as a precaution.”
Weatherbys, British racing’s secretariat, has also announced it is business as usual at its Northamptonshire base, although visitor access restrictions are in place. The organisation has activated a secondary site, where 50 staff from all departments have been transferred to ensure unbroken service.
- Ireland: Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) confirmed that racing will take place behind closed until March 29, in response to Ireland’s prime minister, Leo Varadkar, enforcing the closure of schools and colleges in an effort to contain the spread of Covid-19. Brian Kavanagh, HRI’s CEO, said that “public health is the number one priority”.
- United States: The Kentucky Derby is postponed until September 5, the first time that America's longest continuously held sports event will not be held on its traditional first Saturday in May since 1945. “We'll roll with the punches, and feel very, very good that September is the right date,” said Bill Carstanjen, CEO of Churchill Downs Inc.
Dates for the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, the second and third legs of the Triple Crown, are also under review, though no formal announcement has been made by respective race organisers The Stronach Group (TSG) and New York Racing Association (NYRA).
NYRA has, however, revealed its intention to continue to offer live racing as scheduled at Aqueduct, though the track will remain closed to the public. Since March 12, NYRA has conducted live racing without fan attendance and its president, Dave O’Rourke, believes that having “experienced racing under these conditions for three days, we remain confident in our ability to safely conduct racing operations behind closed doors”.
- Keeneland officials have cancelled the Lexington track’s upcoming Spring Meet, which was scheduled for April 2-24. It has also abandoned the 2020 April 2-Year-Olds in Training and Horses of Racing Age Sale, which had been scheduled for April 7.
In response to a recommendation by State Governor Gavin Newsom, TSG announced that Golden Gate Fields in California will also be closed to the public. Only personnel licensed by the California Horse Racing Board will be allowed to attend.
Fasig-Tipton and TSG have cancelled the upcoming Fasig-Tipton Gulfstream Sale of Selected 2-Year-Olds in Training. The sale had been scheduled for April 1, in Hallandale Beach, Florida.
- Australia: The minimum weight for jockeys in Victoria and New South Wales has been raised one kilogram to minimise the strain of wasting during the coronavirus pandemic. Most racing across the country is taking place without spectators, including the Golden Slipper meeting at Rosehill in Sydney this weekend.
- UAE: In line with the UAE government’s precautionary measures, the Dubai World Cup and its supporting program at Meydan will be take place on March 28 without paid spectators. All supporting events, such as the draw for post positions, non-racing entertainment and Breakfast with the Stars, have been cancelled.
- Far East: The Japan Racing Association revealed in February that “government-sanctioned races” were to go behind closed doors until a further announcement. Meetings in Hong Kong are also being held without public. All scheduled race meetings at South Korean tracks - Seoul, Busan and Jeju - have been postponed.
- Canada: Woodbine Entertainment will be closing Woodbine Mohawk Park and Woodbine Racetrack to the public for a minimum of two weeks. Jim Lawson, CEO of Woodbine Entertainment, will “continue to work closely with public health officials and make decisions that are consistent with health and safety being our highest priority”.
- New Zealand: Racing is taking steps to reduce the potential for the spread among participants and public by closing its meetings to all but essential personnel. Race meetings will be conducted as ‘closed-door’ events commencing. The only people permitted to attend will be jockeys competing, trainers and stable staff with runners, and essential race day personnel.
Doping scandal: 60-day ban at Stronach tracks
North America: The Stronach Group has revealed that horses who were conditioned by trainers indicted on federal charges on March 9 will “undergo a mandatory minimum of a 60-day stand-down period” and will be “prohibited from racing at any” of its racing facilities during that time.
The Stronach Group’s chief veterinarian, Dr Dionne Benson, said that the “goal is to keep these horses safe” and from gaining an unfair advantage “if there is any possibility that they may have performance-enhancing drugs in their system”.
The trainers named in the indictment – including Jason Servis and Jorge Navarro - were barred from entering their horses at any TSG facility. The New York State Gaming Commission revoked their racing licenses.
Banned substance found in Alligator Blood sample
Australia: A preliminary sample taken from Alligator Blood, one of the highest-profile horses down under, after the gelding’s victory in the A$2 million Gold Coast Magic Millions Guineas in January has returned an irregularity to a prohibited substance.
The 4-year-old, who went on to win the Australian Guineas at Flemington last month but was a disappointing favourite in the A$5 million All-Star Mile at Caulfield last Saturday, showed an irregularity for altrenogest, which is normally used to control the reproductive cycle of mares but it can be used to calm horses and is banned in colts and geldings. More here
Elsewhere in racing …
North America: 59-year old jockey Scott Stevens is officially the 35th jockey to ride 5,000 winners in North America. He and Hall of Famer brother Gary become the only siblings to have each ridden the milestone tally. More here
North America: The Jockey Club Registry has made available a video tutorial and FAQs to assist industry stakeholders with managing digital certificates. Click here to watch the tutorial and click here to read the FAQs.