CORONAVIRUS IN HORSE RACING
CORONAVIRUS IN HORSE RACING:
With the spread of COVID-19 increasing across the UK & Ireland everyday, questions are continually being asked about the immediate cancellation of race meetings, or to host them behind closed doors. Plenty of other sporting events have already been postponed for the time being, including all Premier League & EFL football fixtures until April 4, the Six Nations Rugby, major Golf and Tennis tournaments, to name a few.
There was plenty of speculation surrounding the go ahead of the Cheltenham Festival in the weeks leading up to the festival, with the ‘Will Cheltenham Go Ahead’ market going as short as 6/4 for ‘NO’ on the Betfair Exchange and other online betting sites. Thankfully racing got the green light with numerous hand sanitiser stations dotted around Prestbury Park and though numbers were down on previous years there were still over 250,000 racegoers across the four day meeting (15,000 down on last year’s record breaking year).
The BHA have stated that it’s ‘business as usual’ though all Irish race meetings will be run behind closed doors until March 29 at the very earliest with the first of those held at Dundalk on Friday evening and the first UK meeting is scheduled to take place with the same measures on Monday March 16 at Kelso. This is due to a statement released by the Scottish government informing the general public that all social/sporting events will be cancelled if there are over 500 people going. There’s still no word about meetings elsewhere but it’s only a matter of time before others follow, otherwise they risk losing those fixtures.
Currently abroad the Dubai World Cup (Saturday March 21), which is the world’s richest horse race with a purse of $12million, will be held behind closed doors and the US are taking the same actions by only allowing a handful of owners and race officials into the course.
The Grand National is the next big talking point for the sport, with Aintree’s three-day meeting scheduled to take place between April 2-4. A lot will depend on what happens in the next week or so but with just three weeks to go until the most watched horse race in Britain takes place a decision will have to be made sooner rather than later. The government has said that mass gatherings are soon to be banned, so it’s either a behind closed doors Grand National or no Grand National if this is implicated. The current odds on the Betfair exchange are suggesting that the meeting will be abandoned with it currently 1/4 to be off, whilst it’s 9/2 to be on.
There’s on average between 130,000-140,000 attendants at the Liverpool meetings across the three-days and with those numbers looking more than likely to not be in the Merseyside area at the beginning of April, hotels/restaurants/bars are going to take a big hit as this is a big turnover weekend for those businesses. As for stable staff, they will still be required to look after the horses with them still needing to be ridden out each day and be trained but without racing itself yards will also struggle financially with their no chance for their horses to earn them prize money.
One other issue with behind closed doors racing means there are no on-course bookmakers which usually provide the SP for all races. However, on Friday’s
meeting at Dundalk the SPs were produced by the company SIS, and along with The Press Association (PA), they will continue to do so until racing
can go ahead with the public in attendance again.