As of March 18th, 2020, there will be no horse racing in the UK, until early May at the earliest.
We already know of specific race meetings that will not take place, but here are some thoughts on other implications.
At this point, there is no certainty over how long government restrictions – and therefore racing restrictions, will be in place.
It appears likely that the social impact of COVID-19 is likely to endure for months rather than a few short weeks.
With other major sporting events rescheduled by up to a year (in the case of the EURO 2020 tournament), cancelled or postponed, the likelihood of things getting back to some sense of normal in British racing, by early May, are unlikely.
There is at that point likely to still be a huge demand on medics – and as medics are required for racing to take place, racing is likely to be unable to take place given higher priorities.
Furthermore, we don’t know what percentage of the racing industry will be directly infected at that point.
There are more immediate concerns for British stables.
No racing means no prize money. There will be a huge reliance on owners paying their fees on-time, in the short-term, with no return on that investment of course.
So trainers and owners – and indirectly riders and staff, will be under financial pressure from the outset.
For trainers, this could intensify the longer this ban prevails – and has implications for supply chain.
Horses will still need to be fed, watered, exercised and cleaned.
If there are travel and business restrictions, this could place limitations on the supply of items such as feed and bedding. That in turn could put pressure on prices.
Trainers will need to plan ahead as much as possible, negotiate agreements and where possible, look at other sources of income, for example livery services if possible.
Bloodstock sales are already being hit and this has implications for owners and breeders. Sales are the lifeblood of many breeding ventures and lack of revenue affects households but also capital for the next generation of investment.
For bloodstock and racing staff, the immediate concern is to remain safe and well.
If one member of a yard’s team is suspected of having coronavirus, there is a requirement for all members to self-isolate. That means a yard’s workforce could be decimated in a day.
It appears unlikely travelling on a big scale will be permitted by early May – so international runners would be unlikely.
The Kentucky Derby, scheduled for the same weekend as the Qipco Guineas Festival, has been postponed until September 5th. It seems hard to see that running the Guineas Meeting is anything more than wishful thinking at this point, based on the evidence before us and decisions being taken in other jurisdictions.
Ticket sales are likely to be dire and one wonders, if racing was able to take place in front of an audience, if free entry might be a prudent move to bring people back to the sport.
However, if the situation has improved and COVID-19 is under better control, there could be the scope for racing to resume, behind closed doors.
I suspect we won’t be holding a Guineas Meeting in 2020 and that the Derby won’t take place in early June.
On the reasonable assumption that in four months time, there is a better understanding of COVID-19 and how to deal with it, along with warmer weather, it might be more reasonable to expect a resumption of racing in July.
Would it be inconceivable to see an August Derby? Epsom Downs has race meetings in August and this would go some way towards helping define the Classic generation’s potential sires and champions.
There have been many calls for the Classics to be run later in the year and this initiative might give further strength to that argument.
The dynamics of the race would of course change. The Derby might see later-maturing three year-olds in the line-up – horses lacking the mental or physical strength to line-up in June, but beginning to blossom by mid-to late summer.
An August Derby might also help to boost the St Leger the following month – it would be a natural stepping stone to go from one race to the next, as traditional targets for Derby runners are re-defined by a later event.
If racing resumed in July or early August, the York Ebor Festival could be one of the greatest ever feasts of racing.
York staged Royal Ascot in 2005 and could potentially put on a substitute event should the original be impossible to run in June.
Either way, with so many big races already lost, Group One races would surely attract the very best horses in their numbers, creating real championship races, on account of horses having no other races to run in and avoid one another.
We could be in for a vintage few weeks of competition.
Whilst I entirely acknowledge that there is a wider world and a bigger picture with coronavirus, it is also vitally important for people within racing and outside of it to remain positive and upbeat.
Like all industries and aspects of society, we must remain vigilant, innovative and agile enough to adapt.