While British racing waits on tenterhooks to learn whether it can spring back to action in the coming weeks, the sport in France is in the midst of fevered preparations for Monday, when strict precautions will be in place for the resumption of action at three tracks. Despite a late anxious moment on Friday, officials in France have persuaded the government that racing should be allowed to go ahead and they have done so without committing to a regime of Covid-19 tests for the participants.
Access will be strictly controlled for Monday’s racing at Longchamp, within three miles of the Eiffel Tower, as well as at Compiegne in the north and Toulouse in the south. The wearing of masks will be compulsory for all those present, including the jockeys, who must keep their masks in place during races, a measure that has not been insisted upon for recent racing in Hong Kong and Australia.
Racing professionals have been told there will be just one point of entry and exit at each track, and they must sign in on arrival, at which point their temperature will be checked. Owners and breeders will not be allowed to be present. Trainers can attend along with one member of staff per runner to attend to the horse, and the names of those stable staffers must be notified to the course the previous day. A maximum of five media professionals will be allowed access.
Hand sanitiser dispensers will be available at various points and people will be encouraged to use them. Jockeys, trainers and staff have been told they should leave as soon as possible after their runners have taken part.
As another means of limiting the possible spread of infection, almost all buildings on the sites will remain closed, including private boxes, restaurants and the media centre. Only the weighing room and the stable sections will be opened and those present will be told to keep their time in those places to an absolute minimum. The grandstand steps can be used for viewing but can be accessed only from the front.
Jockeys will not be permitted to take showers or use the sauna and, like all other attendees, will be told to maintain a distance of 1.5m from each other, though obviously that will not apply during the races, when the riders will inevitably be more closely bunched at times.
All racing professionals in France were sent a sternly worded message by the ruling body, France Galop, last week, urging compliance with these restrictions and warning of what may happen otherwise. “The authorisation to race behind closed doors is revocable,” the statement said. “It depends on the commitment of each and everyone to scrupulously abide by the rules.” Officials will be on patrol to ensure compliance.
But the French have decided against other measures thought to be necessary here. While British officials have delayed jump racing and limited Flat races to 12 runners to reduce the risk of injury and minimise any need to use NHS services, in France jump racing will resume immediately at Compiegne and no fewer than five hurdle races there today will have 18 runners taking part.