The Racing Hub Round-up: the week’s top stories
Your weekly round-up of top racing stories in a nutshell, plus upcoming fixtures and TV races
Racing and Racecourses
British racing has been suspended by the BHA until the end of April at the earliest whilst the situation with coronavirus continues. It had already been announced that the 2020 Grand National had been cancelled.
BHA chief executive Nick Rust said: “This has been a discussion across the whole of racing. This is extremely tricky and there have been slightly different views, but generally speaking this is an effort where racing has come together and got behind this.”
Racing leaders are working to a detailed plan coordinated by the industry group set up to tackle COVID 19. The focus of the plan has shifted since Monday from allowing racing to continue behind closed doors, maintaining high medical and welfare standards, to meeting the immediate needs of individuals facing hardship and working on a financial response in the light of the suspension of racing.
Senior executives from the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), Racecourse Association (RCA), National Trainers Federation (NTF) and the Racehorse Owners Association (ROA) met again on 19 March to work on an assessment of immediate needs and identify the funding available from government and industry sources as a priority. Few details have been given so far of the processes involved in applying for government assistance, but the BHA is constantly engaged with key departments to ensure they are aware of the issues that have already been encountered. All this will assist in enabling the industry to put forward a request for government support.
The Industry Group is meeting again on Friday morning to finalise an initial plan. As well as the immediate response to the shutdown, it is coordinating teams and resources to focus on the problems and issues the industry needs to address and resolve. It is already developing a resumption plan to enable racing to get up and running when that becomes possible.
Irish racing is set to continue behind closed doors with the situation under review. A revised fixture list is coming into place and only Irish trained runner can participate.
The full list of fixtures up to and including Sunday March 29 is as follows –
- Friday 20 Dundalk (afternoon)
- Saturday 21 Thurles
- Sunday 22 Downpatrick
- Monday 23 Naas (from Sunday March 22)
- Tuesday 24 Clonmel
- Wednesday 25 Dundalk (afternoon) (from Friday March 27)
- Thursday 26 Cork
- Friday 27 Navan (from Saturday March 28)
- Saturday 28 Curragh (from Sunday March 29)
- Sunday 29 Limerick
The BHA has closed its London HQ in Holborn due to suspected coronavirus cases among members of staff
Racing in France has been suspended until 15 April at the earliest
The Kentucky Derby has been postponed from 5 May to 5 September
The BoyleSports Irish Grand National was a notable gap in champion trainer Willie Mullins’ CV until Burrows Saint stormed to victory under Ruby Walsh last year and the 2019 hero is back for more, featuring among the 97 entries for the €500,000 showpiece at Fairyhouse on Easter Monday, 13 April.
Mullins has 17 entries for the race, seven fewer than the trainer’s championship rival Gordon Elliott. Elliott in turn provides the top-weighted horse with Delta Work, already the winner this season of the Grade 1 Paddy Power Gold Cup and the Grade 1 Savills Chase at Leopardstown, allotted the maximum weight of 11-10.
Tiger Roll (11-8) and Magic Of Light (10-12), first and second in the Randox Health Aintree Grand National last year for Elliott and Jessica Harrington, are other notable entries.
However, the ante-post favourites with the sponsors BoyleSports share the same distinction – they are the two most recent winners of the Kim Muir Handicap Chase at Cheltenham.
Ted Walsh, who was successful in the race with Commanche Court back in 2000, is on the hunt for a second win with Any Second Now (10-06) which started a well-backed 10-1 for this race last year after winning the 2019 Kim Muir but fell at the eighth fence. Owned by JP McManus he comes into the race on the back of an impressive win in the Grade 3 Whatoddspaddy? Chase at Naas late last month.
Sharing the mantle of favouritism with BoyleSports is Milan Native (10-3), an impressive winner of the Kim Muir at Cheltenham last week for Elliott and top amateur rider Rob James.
Paul Nolan’s gallant Discorama, which recorded a third successive Cheltenham Festival placing when finishing third in the Ultima Handicap Chase last week, has been given 10-4.
Betting and Bookmakers
Betting operators are awaiting further information on the financial package announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak to support the economy. However, betting shops are exempt from the business rates relief.
Betting and Gaming Council chief executive Michael Dugher said: “The chancellor promised he’d do ‘whatever it takes’ and that help would be available to all businesses in retail, hospitality and leisure. That is manifestly not the case when it comes to business rate relief.
“This decision is a hammer blow to an industry that pays billions in tax, employs 70,000 hardworking, decent people in this country, and it is one that helps keep sports alive, in particular horseracing.
“Without any form of support or help we will see the wholesale collapse of a number of businesses in our industry.”
Shares of publicly quoted firms, Flutter, GVC and William Hill saw major falls in share prices, and bottom-end estimates put losses for each of them at around £100m.
The halt in racing is predicted to see on-course bookmakers struggle, and forced out of business
Media and Marketing
ITV Racing will broadcast five races from Thurles (pictured) on Saturday 21 March, on air from 1.30-4pm on ITV4.
Ed Chamberlin will present the show, which will be produced in the UK with the smallest possible team.
As well as racing from Thurles, the team will look back at the recent Cheltenham Festival and the 2019-2020 jumps season.
The Opening Show will not be broadcast.
The Thurles races being shown are:
- 1.40 Adare Manor Opportunity Maiden Hurdle (5yo+) 2m
- 2.10 www.thurlesraces.ie Hurdle (5yo+) 2m6½f
- 2.40 Horse & Jockey Handicap Hurdle (4yo+ 80-95) 2m6½f
- 3.10 Pierce Molony Memorial Novice Chase (Grade 3) (5yo+) 2m2f
- 3.40 Duggan Veterinary Handicap Chase (5yo+) 2m4½f
Ratings for ITV’s coverage of the Cheltenham Festival began with record figures, but fell back as the week wend on.
The opening day drew an audience of 1,411,000 compared to 1,383,000 last year. The audience share was 14.8% against 13.9%. Record numbers for ITV were again achieved on the second day, but day three saw the peak viewing numbers at 1,268,000 (13.8% share) compared to last year’s 1,454,000 (14.9% share). Gold Cup day saw a peak figure of 1,445,000 and a share of 14.3%, whilst the 2019 figure was 1,643,000 (17%) share.
Total audiences for the past four Festivals were
- 2017: 4,994,000
- 2018: 4,756,000
- 2019: 5,654,000
- 2020: 5,435,000