The Racing Hub Round-up: the week’s top stories
The Racing Hub Round-up – your weekly briefing on racing’s top stories
Racing and Racecourses
Next week’s meeting at Leicester is to be the subject of further discussions between the BHA and relevant authorities before a final decision is made on whether or not it will go ahead.
The BHA will also speak to representative bodies within the industry regarding the issues arising from local lockdowns and the impact they may have in future on racing. A decision on the meeting, due to take place on Tuesday 7 July, will be taken by lunchtime Friday 3 July. Entries are being taken as normal.
The evening meeting held on 30 June went ahead whilst a local lockdown was imposed in the City following a spike in Covid19 cases. With only four stall handlers prepared to work at the course, flip-starts were used. Trainers Mick Appleby, Alan King and Graeme McPherson withdrew their runners.
A BHA spokesperson said:
“Yesterday’s race meeting was held with the approval of the local authority and Public Health England under the strict protocols agreed in advance of the resumption of sport behind closed doors. The lockdown effectively reinstated restrictions as they were on June 14th, in the view of local officials, when racing was permitted in accordance with UK government guidelines.
“Given that the local lockdown measures may still be evolving, it’s important that dialogue continues ahead of any future events in Leicester. Our industry colleagues will be briefed on this dialogue and will consider any potential impacts on racing. Our focus continues to be on making sure racing behind closed doors takes place as safely as possible.”
In a Twitter poll conducted by The Racing Hub, 84.5% thought the meeting should not have gone ahead.
Racehorse owners will be able to start attending race meetings behind closed doors from Saturday 4 July in a safe and risk-managed way, under plans agreed by the Racecourse Association, Racehorse Owners Association and the BHA.
The return of owners to English racecourses will be a phased process, with interim safety and infection control measures in place to minimise risk for owners, prioritise the wellbeing of all attendees, and ensure that the sport is aligned with government guidance relating to attendance at elite sports venues.
Two test fixtures will be held on Wednesday 1 July at Southwell and Kempton Park to pilot the protocols and allow for a review of the processes in place to facilitate a smooth implementation. This will enable owners to experience racing behind closed doors and provide feedback ahead of the wider planned rollout from Saturday 4 July. Owners are being notified via email about how to register for the test events, once their horse is declared to run.
The following measures will apply, until further notice, to all race meetings where the racecourse is able to facilitate the return of owners:
- Maximum of two owners (or representatives) per horse can attend for their race(s) only
- Only confirmed attendees will be granted access to the racecourse – owners will be emailed automatically with details on how to register once their horse is declared to run
- A health screening process, which includes the BHA’s COVID-19 online learning module and a personally administered health assessment in advance of raceday, followed by health questions and a temperature check upon arrival
- Owners to arrive no earlier than 45 minutes before their first horse is due to run and leave the racecourse within one hour following the final race in which they have a confirmed runner
- Dedicated ‘owner zones’, which will separate owners from raceday workers (trainers, stable staff, jockeys, officials, media etc) for infection control purposes – no movement will be permitted between the two areas
Jockeys are no longer required to wear masks during the running of a race although the recommendation is that a mask should still be worn whilst riding. Wearing of masks remains compulsory leading up to the race and after runners pass the winning post.
Newbury are to host a two-day pop-up “pub in the paddock” when lockdown measures are eased on 4 July.
With a capacity of 300, already fully-booked, attendees can watch each afternoon’s ITV Racing coverage (the Oaks and Derby of 4 July and Eclipse on 5 July) followed by Sky Sports Premier League matches.
The sport will be shown on the paddock’s big screen with visitors able to buy food and drink in a “safe and socially distanced” environment. All payments will be cashless.
Newmarket’s Henry Cecil Open Weekend will not go ahead in its usual format this September due to the coronavirus pandemic but organisers are planning to create a virtual online version instead.
Parts of the two-day event, scheduled for September 19 and 20, are now set to be shown digitally, with footage of some stables, the Warren Hill gallops event and the popular show jumping expected to be shown.
The weekend’s organiser Stephen Wallis said: “We’ve made a decision to stage a virtual only Newmarket open weekend this year so there won’t be an opportunity for people to come to the town but instead to access it in a fun way online.”
The weekend has raised over £300,000 for charity since it was resurrected in 2012.
The BHA’s director of equine health and welfare, David Sykes, is to leave the position at the end of the year. Sykes, who has held the post for over three years, is to return home to Australia for family reasons.
A two-furlong section of Redcar’s running rail has been destroyed by vandals.
General manager Amy Fair said: “The damage is to the running rail, about two furlongs’ worth. They’ve broken rail, legs and generally caused chaos. It’s really frustrating to be quite honest.
“The section that is damaged needs to be completely replaced. It’s a very solid plastic, it’s there for the horses so it is designed to break but you have to be giving it some to break it.
“They’ve come in one direction and gone off in another direction, basically breaking the rail as they’ve gone.
“We’re all working flat out and we’re having a difficult time like lots of other businesses, our income has disappeared. Thankfully we’re back racing again, but we don’t have spare cash.
“It’s also a manpower issue as it will take most of the day to put it back – there isn’t a fantastic machine to repair it, it’s a physical job.”
Fair added: “It’s really hard not to take it personally, actually, when someone damages your property.
Karen McLintock (pictured) is taking a break from training to help overcome mental health issues which she has suffered from since a road accident last March in which seven-times winner Rockwood was killed.
Having trained a winner last week McLintock said: “I’ve just struggled mentally since that accident. Five months ago, I felt like I needed a break but with help from friend and people around me I carried on with a reduced string, but I feel I am back in the same dark place. I need to have a pause, recharge my batteries and get my head straightened out.”
She added, “After a break, I may well start back again. I’d never say never in that regard.”
Andrew Balding, who had said that he would not be offering contracts to would-be apprentice jockeys due to a rule change over payments to apprentices, will now be offering positions to two pony riders.
The rule change, which would have given apprentices a bigger share of prize money but meant they had to meet their own costs, has been put on hold during the coronavirus pandemic.
As a result, Harry Fisher and Taylor Davies, have been offered positions to start next summer by Balding who was opposed to the rule change.
Siskin, trained at Ger Lyons’ County Meath yard, will be ridden by Colin Keane in Goodwood’s Sussex Stakes on 29 July if travel restrictions permit.
Siskin was an eye-catching winner of the Tattersalls Irish 2,000 Guineas and the Group 1 contest is the next target for the First Defence three-year-old.
Speaking on Nick Luck’s new Daily Podcast, Lyons said: “I’m trying to be kind to the horse, but he’s getting fresh.
“I don’t think you can have an easy run in a Group 1 and he lost a bit of weight, so the timing is perfect between the Irish Guineas and Goodwood.
“Getting him there is the next problem and then – hopefully in the middle of July it won’t be an issue – but there’s the 14-day isolation which means Colin can’t go over and ride him.
“We’d have to run him still as it’s his three-year-old career, we can’t lock the horse up so we’d have to go over – there’s loads of jockeys so that’s not a problem, but Colin’s his jockey and it’s nice to keep your own man intact.
“We sing off the same hymn sheet so it would be nice. Hopefully the Government restrictions will be lifted by then.”
Qaader, the Coventry Stakes runner-up could make his seven-furlong debut in the Group 2 bet365 Superlative Stakes at the Newmarket July Festival.
Assistant trainer Charlie Johnston said: “The July Festival is where you are likely to see Qaader next – although we are flexible as to which race we will run him in.
“We could go up to seven for the Superlative or stay at six for the July Stakes.
“He was still quite green in the race at Ascot, and didn’t get beat through a lack of speed but through a lack of experience.
“We would have no problem taking on the Coventry winner again at some point, because Qaader moved through the race like a very good horse.”
Of Eye Of Heaven, who could only finish ninth in the Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot, Johnston said he will go straight to the Markel Insurance Molecomb Stakes at Goodwood.
Betting and Bookmakers
William Hill are to merge their UK online and retail divisions in a further shake-up of company. The online managing director Phil Walker will take control of the merged departments whilst his retail opposite number, Nicola Frampton (pictured), will be leaving the company.
Chief executive Ulrik Bengtsson said: “We will be immensely sad to say goodbye to Nicola Frampton when the time comes. Nicola has been with William Hill for ten years and has been a driving force on the executive team as well as being instrumental in reshaping and transforming our retail business.”
Walker and Frampton will work together during a six-month transition period.
Scottish bookmakers have called for changes to the “ridiculous” rules relating to the reopening of the nation’s 900 shops.
Ministers at the Scottish Assembly have said shops can only be open for the taking of bets, and therefore racing cannot be shown on TV screens, shop chairs must be removed and gaming machines cannot be played.
John Heaton, chairman of independent bookmaker Scotbet said: “It seems to me that the policy has been devised by someone who has never been in a betting shop. Dozens of customers handing around watching TV is a thing of the past.
“People come in, watch a race and leave again.
“The whole thing is just crazy and a slap in the face for an industry which has done its bit for the national effort to tackle Covid-19. I hope that, even at this late stage, the Scottish government will think again.”
Media and Marketing
Paris-Turf, the French racing daily, has entered its ninth day of non-publication due to strike action in protest at the control of the paper transferring to telecoms entrepreneur Xavier Niel following a court order. Staff fear that 250 full-time and freelancers’ roles are at risk.
Paris-Turf and its sister publications were put into administration in May by majority shareholder Jacques-Henri Eyraud after heavy falls in revenue arising from the coronavirus pandemic.
A 22 June deadline was put in place by a commercial tribunal for bids for all or part of the business. Two bids were forthcoming. One from Niel’s NPP business and one from racing publisher Mayeul Caire, the latter planning to safeguard 185 jobs.
Workforce criticism has been levelled at Eyraud for his perceived straregy of managed decline of the title and the hastiness of its disposal under a “pre-pack liquidation” package.
Nick Luck Daily is a new podcast hosted by the Racing TV presenter supported by bookmakers Fitzdares, the Racehorse Owners Association and Thoroughbred Commentary. It can be heard each weekday from 10am.