The Grand National has been cancelled, all British racing is now behind closed doors and the question facing an industry that supports the employment of tens of thousands of people, many of them in rural areas where alternatives are increasingly scarce, is how long that can possibly be maintained.
Racing continued, albeit in a very truncated form, through two world wars, as this newsreel footage of a wartime Derby at Newmarket, with an immense crowd in attendance, reminds us. But as the voiceover implies, the decision to continue was not without controversy. “We agree with the government that war workers should have occasional relaxation,” it says, “but we find it difficult to believe that these tens of thousands are war workers who can be spared in midweek.”
There will, of course, be no paying punters at all at Taunton and Wetherby on Tuesday, but there will be two private ambulances at both tracks to maintain the necessary cover for jockeys and staff. If, or more probably when, those ambulances are needed to support the effort to counter the virus, racing will stop, certainly for weeks and possibly for months.
And then what? Will the crowds come roaring back to the races as they did in the immediate post-war period in the late-1940s? Perhaps, and as Jonathan Garratt, the MD at Kelso, pointed out to me on Monday, there was also a surge in attendance at courses such as Carlisle, in Cumbria, when they finally reopened after an extended period of closure due to foot-and-mouth restrictions in 2001. “People realised how much they had missed it,” he said.
But the difference here, of course, is that racing had not stopped completely in either case. Thoroughbreds were still being bred, reared and raced, and the racing economy did not crash completely. All sports will suffer along with every other part of the economy as the pandemic unfolds, but none are as vulnerable to an indefinite suspension of activity as racing and so the effort to keep the show on the road needs supporting for as long as it lasts.
One glimmer of good news is that Gordon Elliott still hopes to be able to return to Aintree next year with Tiger Roll, who will be an 11-year-old the next time that the field goes to post for a Grand National.
“It is disappointing, but everyone from Aintree and involved in it has to do what’s right to get everything back on track,” Elliott told Radio Four on Tuesday morning. “So listen, we’re all on the one team, you know. From Rose Paterson, the chairman of Aintree, to everyone underneath her, they all have to make the right decision, and we’ll be backing them up 100%.
“There is every chance of him competing, he hasn’t got many miles on the clock and we will be training him back for the Grand National again. All we can do is dream, so you never know what might happen.”
Tuesday’s best bets
They race at Wetherby and Taunton, and though Bobndave (3.45) has taken a very sharp walk in the market on Tuesday morning, he could still be worth an interest at around 7-1 for the handicap hurdle at the former track. The worry, clearly, is that he has not been out since August, but his overall form includes several promising runs and this is not a race that will take much winning.
Espoir Moriviere (4.55) has made a more positive move in the betting and should go well later on the card at around 100-30, while Playa Blanca (4.00) and Adherence (4.35) look best at Taunton.