Glencassley at 9-4 was the last winner to go into the British form book, until May at least, when he won the 5.25 at Wetherby on Tuesday. That followed an announcement earlier in the day that all racing in the country will be cancelled until the end of next month, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The suspension will include the end of the 2019-20 National Hunt campaign and the start of the new turf season on the Flat. The news was met with a mix of resignation, acceptance and deep concern by those whose livelihoods depend on the sport.
In addition to the Grand National meeting in early April, which was cancelled on Monday, the All-Weather Finals on 10 April, the Craven meeting at Newmarket from 14-16 April and the Jumps Finale at Sandown on 25 April have also been lost. Tattersalls’ important Breeze Up Sale of two-year-olds on 13-15 April has been postponed until 29 April, with the position “under constant review”.
Nick Rust, the BHA’s chief executive, said in interview with Racing TV on Tuesday evening that the racing industry “is rooted in the rural economy and we are in unprecedented times”. He continued: “We’ve been asked essentially by the government to not put a drain on public services.
“In order to race, we need ambulances, but not only that, we need the resources of the NHS to support it. We need to support the national effort, and look after all the people who work in the sport and customers of the sport as best we can.
“We had been preparing to go behind closed doors for some time. We had kept up with government advice, that’s what we followed all the way through. Last week, the government was fully onside with us racing at Cheltenham, but things moved.”
Racing has been wholly or largely cancelled for an extended period several times in the past, including during outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease in 1967 and 2001, and for nearly three months during the harsh winter of 1963-64. Many in the sport, however, fear that the current stoppage will extend well beyond the end of April.
“None of us know how long this is going to go on for,” Mark Johnston, who has trained more than 4,000 winners, said. “It’s obviously going to hit racecourses very hard [and] the implications of cancelling the entire Flat season don’t bear thinking about.”
In Newmarket, Hugo Palmer admitted that “none of us know when racing will restart”, adding: “I have to say, I think it’s a flight of fancy that come the first of May, we will all jump out and go racing.” The racecourse is the heart of racing’s economy, the place where all the money spent on bloodstock and training fees mingles with the betting turnover and is then redistributed around the system. Those hardest hit initially by the suspension will be its freelancers, including almost all of Britain’s 450 licensed jockeys, while the country’s 400 on-course bookmakers are also self-employed.
“If we’re not riding, we can’t earn,” PJ McDonald said, “but outside the racing bubble, the whole country will take a hit. There’s no getting away from it, it’s going to be tough, but you just have to deal with your own situation the best you can.”
Robin Grossmith, an on-course bookmaker for almost 40 years, has called for the Gambling Commission to allow bookies to renew their licences at the lowest possible rate, given the uncertainty about when racing will resume. “Foot-and-mouth had a lifespan, but this virus, no one knows how long it will last,” Grossmith said on Tuesday. “It’s one thing that the Gambling Commission can do. If we can renew at the lowest rate, it will ease the burden and help bookmakers in this uncertain time.”
Ireland is now the only major racing nation in Europe still staging meetings, albeit behind closed doors, but is due to review the situation on Wednesday.