It is anyone’s guess how long it will last, but British racing will head behind closed doors at Kelso on Monday and, from “later in the week”, at the remainder of Britain’s racecourses too.
No spectators, no bookies, no Tote, no atmosphere. Jockeys in particular will soon be working in a very odd environment, at least for as long as it is possible to run a race meeting without breaching the government’s rules on mass gatherings.
But they will be working, which is the crucial point, generating betting turnover both in betting shops and online, earning media rights payments for the tracks and rewarding winning owners with prize money, at least a proportion of which will remain in circulation within the sport, paying training fees, staff wages and being reinvested, eventually, in more horses.
If racing stops, horses still need to be fed, mucked out and attended to by vets, all of which costs a great deal of money. Racing is also an industry with seasonal rhythms, built up over centuries. It would, of course, be possible to simply switch off the racing programme overnight – it happened for a week during last year’s equine flu outbreak, after all – and it may become essential at some stage. But every passing week would make it more difficult to switch it back on again, and deepen the hole from which the industry will eventually need to clamber, to get back to something approaching normality.
Since racing supports around 15,000 jobs directly, mostly in rural areas, and as many as 50,000 indirectly, the BHA believes it has a duty to all those who depend on it for a living to keep the show on the road in some form, for as long as the government is content for it to continue. This is why the Authority has not followed the Premier League, rugby and other major sports by suspending all activity for the next few weeks at least.
It will not be easy or cheap as far as racecourses are concerned, as they will be losing not only the gate money, but all the associated spending that goes with it. There are also practical matters to be considered like the integrity of the starting prices, which would normally be returned from the racecourse betting ring (albeit from the boards of bookies who are often just using Betfair’s exchange as a tissue and adding a smidge for themselves).
Kelso’s meeting, and subsequent spectator-less fixtures, will have an “industry SP” generated off-course, as sometimes happens with races abroad. It will be interesting to see if there is any obvious disparity in the size of the margins when set against the meetings at Southwell and Hereford, which will be returning SPs in the normal way.
Kelso might normally have expected to get between 1,500 and 2,000 paying spectators for this card, when Proper Ticket (3.40) would have been a popular choice to pay for a few drinks. Fergal O’Brien’s lightly-raced seven-year-old has run well without threatening to win in three novice hurdles to date and may have been let in a little light for her handicap debut on a mark of 108.
Skyhill (3.10) also has decent prospects on the same card, while at Hereford, Demachine (3.20) is another handicap debutant on a fair weight and Angel’s Envy (4.20) should go well later on the card.