British racing makes its eagerly-waited return on Monday, starting with a 10-race card at Newcastle – the first meeting in Britain since Wetherby and Taunton raced on March 17 before the coronavirus shutdown. It will all be very different in the beginning and we looks at how the new normal will work:
What sort of protocols will be in place – will jockeys be wearing masks?
Simply put, yes. Face coverings will be required by certain groups – including jockeys and stalls handlers – while personnel will be kept to a minimum. Those attending will have to complete a three-stage screening process, including medical checks before departure and on arrival, while social distancing will be strictly enforced, with officials appointed to ensure the rules are adhered to.
Will spectators be allowed?
Crowds have already been ruled out by the BHA until at least the end of June, but indications from other sports suggest spectator-less racecourses could be the case for a good while longer than that. In fact, the Irish Government has already said mass gatherings of more than 5,000 people will not be permitted until at least September.
What do we know about Newcastle?
The Gosforth Park circuit has gained a reputation as a very fair track over the last few years and the quality of horses it attracts has undoubtedly increased since the grass circuit was pulled up and replaced by an all-weather Tapeta surface. Indeed, a certain filly called Enable began her career at Newcastle in November 2016 – the same month her stablemate Stradivarius shed his maiden tag there. It is well placed for trainers to get to and there is plenty of room for all-important social distancing.
What time does it all start?
The race that will go down in the history books is at 1.00pm. The last race is at 6.15pm. Talking of Enable and Stradivarius, their trainer John Gosden runs Frankly Darling – a well-bred daughter of Frankel – in the 5.40 race.
Will I able to able to watch it, and where?
Yes. Racing is well catered for in this regard. Sky Sports Racing – which has the rights to Newcastle – and Racing TV are dedicated channels, while ITV will be airing regular action on both Saturdays and Sundays in what promises to be a high-profile comeback. In fact, ITV will swing back into the fold on Friday, at Newmarket and Lingfield, with lead presenter Ed Chamberlin and the team hosting from their homes on ITV4. The 2000 and 1000 Guineas will be staged at Newmarket on Saturday and Sunday respectively, featuring on the main ITV channel.
Who are the trainers and jockeys to follow at Newcastle?
Ben Curtis was crowned champion all-weather jockey last winter and, before the shutdown, he had been cutting a dash at Newcastle with 16 winners and a 29 per cent strike-rate. Last year’s jockeys’ title runner-up Danny Tudhope is another to note with a 24 per cent strike-rate at the track last season. The aforementioned Gosden is a trainer to follow at Gosforth Park with a 36 per cent strike-rate.
What impact will no crowds have?
While it will be strange to have no fancy hats and morning coats at Royal Ascot, it could be argued that racing is one of the best-placed sports to go ahead without a crowd. Behind closed doors racing has been carrying on in the likes of Australia, Hong Kong and certain states of America throughout, but there is obviously a financial impact for tracks with no paying customers. Unlike many sports, racing does not rely on the atmosphere created by crowds.
What will be done to mitigate that?
Tracks usually provide about half of the prize-money for every race, but with betting shops, which drive media rights income, closed, and no crowds, their contributions will be significantly affected, so the cash on offer is going to take a hit. The BHA has said “every effort will be made to keep prize-money as high as possible”, but inevitably races will be worth less. The BHA estimates the racing shutdown has cost the industry around £55 million.
Talking of the 2000 Guineas, is there a horse to look out for?
Pinatubo. He is the highest-rated horse of his kind since 1994 – higher than even Frankel at the same stage of their careers. He is undefeated and all eyes will be on him and his rider William Buick.
What about National Hunt racing, I see no meetings are scheduled over the jumps?
Jumps racing is slated to return on July 1, with the BHA trying to mitigate unnecessary risk by sticking to the Flat in the first instance and National Hunt trainers having needed some clarity with only weeks of their season left when racing was suspended.
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