French racing back behind closed doors and with ‘very different atmosphere’

Mon 11 May 2020

French racing faced its new reality on Monday as the sport resumed for the first time since the coronavirus shutdown with action at ParisLongchamp.

Strict social distancing, the use of masks and severely reduced numbers of people on course were the order of the day – with everyone from stable staff to media reduced to the minimum to try to limit any potential health risks.

Sky Sports Racing and Equidia presenter Katherine Ford was one of the select few to be granted permission to report from ParisLongchamp, and she admitted the meeting had a very different feel.

 My Charming Prince was among the winners on the card. All his connections, like everyone at the track, were wearing masks (Focusonracing)
My Charming Prince was among the winners on the card. All his connections, like everyone at the track, were wearing masks (Focusonracing)

She said: “It was a very different atmosphere, but it was just great to be on the track for such a high-class card.

“Obviously strict hygiene protocols have been the name of the game here. Only five media people were allowed, including one photographer, and we all had to apply to France Galop.

“You have to leave your name and contact details as you come in and then you must wear your mask at all times. Almost all the buildings are closed. You could access the grandstand steps for viewing, although I didn’t go trackside.

“I think from the trainers’ point of view, you had to nominate who your representatives would be in advance – only one lad and one trainer per horse.

“Usually the paddock would be pretty full with owners, trainers, assistants and whatever, so it was a bit strange with so many less people and the trainers have had to do a bit more saddling up than they usually would.

“The jockeys obviously all have masks and while they are permitted to remove them during a race, most were just keeping them on.”

The limit on numbers on course has also provided some technical challenges, with thought given to minimising any potential risks.

Ford said: “There were about 15 people involved on the technical side for the TV pictures, seven people in the OB truck and seven or eight cameramen.

“My cameraman has been showing me how to set up – I had my camera on a fixed tripod, then I had my microphone and another on a stand, sort of like you would get in a karaoke bar or something, so that I didn’t have to hand it to anyone.

“My colleague from Equidia was mainly doing audio today and he had his mike on a pole so that he could maintain the distance.”

The resumption was nearly derailed by a reported last-minute challenge on Friday, resulting in a day of negotiations between France Galop and the French Government before permission was granted.

Ford added: “We had that last-minute scare on Friday so everyone is being very, very careful – we are expecting the measures to be checked, but everyone seemed fine and was following the rules.”

Victor Ludorum, previously unbeaten, and Sottsass, third in the Arc last year, were expected to be the equine stars on the day but both were beaten at odds-on in their respective Group races.

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