Horse racing fans felt the ground move under their feet when the news was announced Tuesday afternoon, moments after Jockey Club officials said the first four classic races of the year, the 1000 and 2000 Guineas, the Derby and the Oaks, had to be postponed indefinitely. The Guineas would normally take place in Newmarket in May, the Derby and the Oaks in Epsom in early June, but it is now accepted as impossible to continue such important races on these dates.
It was widely imagined that Royal Ascot could also be postponed until, say, the end of July in the hope that the race could be operational by then. But many of the races to be held there are designed for a particular time in the development of two- and three-year-old thoroughbreds. Delaying them would mean running into competing races on other tracks later in the summer.
Those running the Queen’s trail admit that it must be mid-June or nothing, and they see no prospect, given the current restrictions made necessary by the coronavirus, of being allowed to bring in up to 70,000 people. daily for only two months from now.
But Ascot’s spokesperson Nick Smith ignored a suggestion that the mood on the staff must be depression. “To be absolutely honest with you, that is not the case. Things that happen in the world in general put this kind of thing in perspective.
“It will be an extremely busy time for the team as we have to make around 10,000 phone calls, make sure all customers are informed and understand what’s going on. At least we have the aspiration to race races and deliver something for the industry. The mood is pretty positive, actually. “
Although no traffic jams are popped in the stands, organizing races would be beneficial for jockeys, coaches, owners and lone home fans who need entertainment, not to mention punters and bookmakers. It would also provide the blood industry with its essential annual overview of animals worth raising. “Many of these races should be run if we can,” said Smith. “We are a racetrack, that is our reason for being. “
The royal meeting is insured but there are uninsured costs, so Ascot faces what he describes as “a difficult year” which will significantly affect his finances. The price levels must be reduced, even if the races are organized.
“There will clearly be a material impact on prices,” said Smith. “This is the reality for, I think, all the races that will take place this year. This is the landscape in which we will have to operate. But it is better, I am sure, to organize Pattern races for the good of the breed and breeding, for television and betting, than not to run the races at all. . We will do our best, but material price reductions will be inevitable. “
It is also not taken for granted that the royal races will indeed be organized, even behind closed doors, given the current uncertainties. “There is no way to know,” said Smith. “The advice from the government will be clear, as will the interpretation of that advice by the British Horseracing Authority. We will operate according to these tips and we will be happy to do so. “
Earlier, the Jockey Club said it should postpone its classic races to provide certainty to coaches of potential contenders. “Trainers need to know whether to speed up preparations for their Guinean horses or to pause that for a later date,” said Amy Starkey, who runs Newmarket. “The future is too uncertain at the moment and there is no opportunity for preparatory races before such important competitions for the 2020 Classic generation. “
This means that some of the most important horse races are now in undated limbo, as officials have to wait to find out when the sport can make some kind of return to action. It is only then that it will be possible to identify new dates for the two Guinean races, the Derby and the Oaks, generation contests that will be saved even if it means running them for months. outside their usual niches.