Stodge ponders the restart of horse racing
As we all know, Glen Cassley is about eight miles west of Lairg in the Highlands. Glencassley is also the name of the horse that won the 5.25 at Wetherby on March 17th, the last horse race run in the United Kingdom.
You can keep your football, cricket, rugby (both codes) and even motor sport – my sport of choice is the Sport of Kings and I miss it and I miss my daily non-political read known as the Racing Post.
As the world entered lockdown, horse racing fans and punters were faced with thin gruel – two meetings a week in Hong Kong and restricted fare from the United States. I know I have come to have a fondness for Will Rogers Downs and Fonner Park on a Monday evening but it’s not Windsor or even Wolverhampton.
This isn’t about the past or even the present but the future and the potential resumption of horse racing.
All jurisdictions realise racing behind closed doors is inevitable in the short and even medium term but plans have been made – South Africa due to return on May 1st, Germany on May 4th, France on May 11th and both Britain and Ireland looking at mid-May resumptions.
Yet neither South Africa nor Germany has resumed, and the French resumption isn’t certain – the horse racing authorities are waiting for permission to resume from Governments under huge pressure in other, arguably more important, areas.
Leo Varadkar, when setting out Ireland’s road map from lock down, said that in phase 1 (from May 18th): “Some outdoor sporting activities, in small groups with a maximum of four people, will also be allowed” while in phase 3 (from June 29th): “behind closed doors” sporting activities events where arrangements are in place to enable participants to maintain social distancing.
This has thrown the Irish racing industry which employs 15,000 people and brings some 2 billion euros to the economy into confusion. Most had assumed a resumption was possible on May 18th but a delay until June 29th would be catastrophic for the whole industry.
In the UK, the BHA is ready for a mid-May resumption but so much depends on the direction set by the Government and following the criticism levelled at the staging of the Cheltenham Festival, the BHA will be sensitive not to be seen to be doing too much too soon especially if other sports aren’t happening.
Another key element will be whether betting shops will be able to re-open.
Whether Britain is going to follow anything approaching the Irish road map remains to be seen – I do expect Boris Johnson to offer a pre-Bank Holiday gift of some easing of restrictions next Thursday.
As we saw when Britain moved into lock down from the middle of March, confusion was the order of the day. As an example, no one seemed to know if construction sites should be open or not.
The same confusion needs to be avoided when leaving lock down – clarity and transparency needs to be provided to all in terms of the easing of restrictions – for example, will the wearing of face masks be mandatory on public transport? If so, where will people who don’t currently have face masks be able to obtain them and will those who choose not to wear then be taken off trains and tubes?
In any case, if there is a mass return to work, will London’s public transport system be in position to cope?
Much of the criticism levelled at Boris Johnson’s Government relates to the imposition of the lock down – it may be valid and there will hopefully be an opportunity for a thorough examination of the decisions taken and the bases on which those decisions were taken.
In the grand scheme of things, horse racing, indeed most sport, isn’t hugely important but a resumption, even if without spectators in attendance, would provide entertainment for the stuck-at-home audience.
It would also show some degree of normality returning – the journey from Glen Cassley would be far from complete but we would be on the road again.
A longstanding PBer