On racing’s return at Newcastle, we look at five things we learned from the new-look raceday experience:
No stone left unturned
It was apparent at Newcastle that a huge amount of work has been done behind the scenes by the British Horseracing Authority and cross-industry Resumption of Racing Group to enable the industry to get back to action. Racing behind closed doors is a small price to pay when the product itself can be carried out almost exclusively socially distanced.
Warm weather not ideal
Usually racecourses would be rubbing their hands with glee when there is not a cloud in the sky, as it would guarantee a bigger crowd. However, in these circumstances the warm weather caused one or two minor difficulties. Given the week-long heatwave, the Tapeta track was riding slower than is often the case, as the fibres become harder for the horses to get through. But perhaps more pertinently the jockeys reported it was more difficult to get air into their lungs wearing the required face masks. With the warm weather due to end in the next day or two, though, that should not be a problem for much longer.
Racing well suited to be socially distant
With one or two obvious exceptions (snooker and golf), there cannot be many more sports that can socially distance as well as racing. With no crowds involved there are no excuses not to keep at least two metres apart from one another. Signs are on the walls and there are even markings on the floor. Jockeys got changed in a makeshift changing room as the original was not big enough to allow the two-metre rule, while masks are worn by all in the paddock. The only instances of people coming close together are very briefly when the jockey is mounted or when the horses enter the stalls.
Another star for Gosden?
John Gosden sent Enable and Stradivarius north to Newcastle early in their careers and it certainly did them no harm. Having been second on debut, Frankly Darling was sent off the 10-11 favourite to go one better and the daughter of Frankel made no mistake under Robert Havlin. She was so impressive that quotes as low as 10-1 for the Oaks were on offer afterwards. With the calendar all askew, she could even use the Ribblesdale at Royal Ascot as a stepping stone to Epsom, a race which usually comes after the Classic.
The face of racing for the foreseeable?
While the lockdown is being gradually eased, the prospect of paying customers being allowed in any time soon is a long way off. Mark Spincer, managing director of Arena Racing Company’s racing division, has mooted Doncaster’s St Leger meeting at the earliest as a possible date of a return for punters. There is a real chance that the whole Flat season could be run without a paying spectator seeing any action, but in these unusual times it seems that is the way it will have to be for quite some time.
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