Plans for the resumption of racing in Britain have been put back until 1 June in three weeks’ time, following a government announcement that there will be no professional sport in England, even behind closed doors, until at least the start of next month.
The British Horseracing Authority has been working on plans to stage meetings under strict quarantine conditions since mid-March, when all racing in Britain was suspended shortly after the Cheltenham Festival to combat the spread of coronavirus.
The Authority is believed to have been planning to stage meetings at courses with on-site hotels to accommodate jockeys and other race-day staff, and it published a schedule for the first seven days of a resumption – naming only the areas where 13 cards would take place rather than the exact locations – at the end of last week.
Plans had also been published by the Pattern Committee, which oversees the top-level racing programme, for two weekends of high-class racing at the end of May and a rescheduled Guineas meeting in early June with the Derby and Oaks to be run in early July. All the plans, however, needed to align with a “best-case scenario” for government restrictions in place at the time, and will now need to be redrawn.
The government’s “Covid-19 Recovery Strategy”, published on Monday afternoon, does suggest that step two of its “road map” out of lockdown, which cannot start any earlier than 1 June, would permit “cultural and sporting events to take place behind closed doors for broadcast, while avoiding the risk of large-scale social contact”. The BHA will now shift its planning towards a possible resumption on 1 June, while schedulers will attempt to salvage as much of the early part of the Flat season as possible.
A further significant blow for the sport, however, is a possibility that paying spectators will not be allowed into racecourses for many months. The opening of venues such as sports stadia, according to the strategy document, “may only be fully possible significantly later depending on the reduction in numbers of infections”.
Racing is Britain’s second-most popular spectator sport after football, with around 5.5m paying customers in 2019 generating vital revenue for racecourses, in particular at major festivals like Royal Ascot, Glorious Goodwood and York’s Ebor Festival in August. Smaller tracks, meanwhile, often depend on the income from a few big days each year, such as cards on Saturdays or Bank Holidays, for their survival.
Sottsass and Victor Ludorum, the most high-profile runners on a 10-race card at Longchamp, were both beaten at odds-on as top-class racing resumed in France on Monday.
Victor Ludorum only just held on for third place in the Prix de Fontainebleau, a trial for the Poule d’Essai des Poulains (French 2,000 Guineas) on 1 June, as Pierre-Charles Boudot rode a well-judged race from the front on The Summit, a 24-1 outsider. Ecrivain, who was a length behind Victor Ludorum when fourth in last year’s Group One Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere, was three-quarters of a length in front of him on Monday but still nearly two lengths adrift of the winner.
Victor Ludorum was unbeaten in three starts as a juvenile and while the ground was testing and he raced freely in the middle part of the race, this was still a disappointing prep for next month’s Classic over the same course and distance. Andre Fabre’s colt, who was the favourite for the Poulains on Monday morning, is now top-priced at 9-2 second-favourite behind his stable companion Earthlight (4-1), who missed Monday’s race due to injury. Ecrivain is 8-1 while The Summit is top-priced at 10-1 to become the third Prix de Fontainebleau winner in four years to follow up in the Classic.
Sottsass, third behind Waldgeist and Enable in last year’s Arc, looked sure to benefit from his return to action but was beaten entering the final furlong in the Group Two Prix D’Harcourt, the feature event on the card. Shaman, trained by Carlos Laffon-Parias, held off Way To Paris by three-quarters of a length with Simona in third.
Sottsass was pushed out to 25-1 for the Arc in October, in a market headed by Enable, the winner in 2017 and 2018, at 6-1.
Favourite backers had more to celebrate after the Prix de la Grotte, a trial for the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches (French 1,000 Guineas) as Tropbeau (2-1) kept on well to beat Dream And Do with Khayzaraan, the winner’s main market rival, tailed off and last of the nine runners.
Tropbeau, the only winner on the day for her trainer Andre Fabre, is now clear favourite for the fillies’ Classic on 1 June at 2-1.