Horse racing has held up much better than any other sport in the time of coronavirus.
Sha Tin Racecourse is one of the two racecourses for horse racing in Hong Kong. It is located in Sha Tin in the New Territories. It is managed by Hong Kong Jockey Club. Picture: iStock
Action has continued in the powerful racing jurisdictions of Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and the US – all behind closed doors with only essential workers present.
But the strains of keeping the flag flying are beginning to show – notably with California’s Santa Anita racecourse being forced to shut down by local authorities this week.
The Los Angeles County Health Department dropped the axe just hours before the start of a three-day meeting at the famous venue that is sometimes described as the best racetrack in the world. Only a skeleton team of carers was allowed to stay on site to look after the 1,700 horses stabled at the facility.
Stakeholders, including the track owners and trainers’ associations, are up in arms and pleading for the decision to be rescinded.
“The continuation of live racing does not present a health risk to the 1,000-plus workers on the backstretch, who live in dormitories and must be at the track to support the training of 1,700 horses every day,” read a statement.
The trainers noted that the care and exercise of horses are already deemed essential activities and urged the county to send inspectors to the track to witness the safety precautions in place.
“If there is a prolonged period of no racing many of these jobs will certainly be eliminated and up to 1,000 people could be added to the current LA homeless problem.
“What we are seeking is not extreme or without precedent. All other counties in California where live racing is conducted have accepted these arguments and are allowing live racing to continue under the strict safety precautions that we also have at Santa Anita,” read the appeal.
Santa Anita could become a test case for the rest of the racing world, including South Africa – if the rationale of the argument in favour of closed-doors racing is persuasive.
For the record, racing has shut down in the UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Canada and Dubai, as well as SA.
Millions of dollars, pounds, euros and rands – not to mention jobs – are being shed and all those countries will be eager to start racing again as the Covid-19 threat ebbs – and they will be arguing along the same lines as Santa Anita.
The Hong Kong Jockey Club is said to be holding on by the skin of its teeth as the coronavirus resurges in the city. Wednesday’s Sha Tin meeting only got a government nod at the last minute.
Cancellation of the fixture would have been a blow for Joao Moreira’s followers, as the Brazilian jockey they call “Magic Man” scored a five-timer to snatch the lead in the Hong Kong championship from keen rival Zac Purton.
The Australians are changing their game plan by the day, restructuring their programmes to ward off any potential government interference. The state of Queensland, for example, has scrapped its popular winter festival to save money and scrutiny. It has also closed most of its 100 tracks to focus on health and safety measures at just 15 venues.
(A hundred tracks in one state/province? That tells you something about the racing fanaticism in Oz!)
Punters around the world, relying on action in the five hold-out regions, are hoping the valiant folk of California prevail and set an example.
South Africans have particular interest in Hong Kong, where Grant van Niekerk and Karis Teetan are riding very successfully; in Singapore, where Ryan Munger is a name they can follow, and Japan, where our reigning champ Lyle Hewitson has racked up nine wins and 10 seconds in just a few weeks.
For more news your way, download The Citizen’s app for iOS and Android.
BACK TO CITIZEN
BACK TO PREMIUM
The Citizen. All rights