Leicester lockdown and Newbury “lock in”
Mike Deasy asks if the Leicester lockdown should have resulted in the cancellation of racing
Leicester is a racecourse which in normal times holds about 30 fixtures a year for mostly moderate horses and goes about its business without causing much of a stir.
The sporting headlines of the east midlands city are normally generated by its football and rugby teams and the county cricket side.
This week, however, racing at Leicester made the headlines because an evening meeting was held as the area went into local lockdown after a spike in Covid-19 cases.
The official line was that there was no reason for the fixture not to go ahead. The protocols now in place at racecourses are rigorous so at the venue there was the same relatively low degree of risk as there had been before the coronavirus hike.
That, however, didn’t prevent three trainers withdrawing their runners from the meeting and a number of stall-handlers refusing to work at the track, resulting in flip-starts for the races.
So, should the meeting have gone ahead?
The argument “for” is that being at Leicester racecourse was no more or no less risky on Tuesday night as it had been any other day since racing resumed.
In such circumstances, horses should have been allowed to race because that’s what their owners are paying the bills for. It also meant that betting revenue would have made a much-needed contribution to racing’s desperate finances.
The argument “against” is more emotive. Both locally and nationally, public perception cannot be ignored, even if it is ill-informed. But ill-informed observations are shaped against a background of shops and schools being closed and further lifting of lockdown restrictions not happening for at least two more weeks.
Should racing take account of public perception, even if it is ill-informed? If it does, and racing is cancelled, the negative views are dissipated. But is cancelling a race meeting too high a price for that to happen? And does it set a dangerous precedent? What if it was York and not Leicester.
The fact that some trainers decided against running their horses is a key factor. The likes of Messrs Appleby, King and McPherson are not the sort to take rash decisions – they fall into the level-headed category.
They were no doubt concerned about the risk to members of their staff even if such risk differed not from a fixture the next evening at Kempton. Their decision avoided a situation for people in their yards of either having to refuse to got to Leicester or feel they had to do so under, probably non-existent, pressure.
It also speaks volumes that the majority of stall handlers decided against working at the track. That resulted in some ragged starts when the flag was dropped. You can forget about draw advantage in future trends analysis, as can punters who placed bets taking such factors into account.
It is a tough call but, for the sake of one meeting, cancellation would have been the best call, albeit that it’s a view that’s been difficult to arrive at.
Somewhat surprisingly, it’s a view that was firmly echoed in a quick Twitter poll carried out by The Racing Hub. Nearly 85% said the meeting should not have taken place.
A small step in the right direction for owners
The Derby/Oaks one-day meeting on Saturday could have a smattering of owners at Epsom racecourse. It does, however, look as if it’s going to be something a soulless affair.
No more than two owners per horse can attend if they pre-register and undertake the Covid-19 online learning module. They cannot enter the course more than 45-minutes before the race in which their horse is due run, and must leave within an hour of the race finishing.
Owners will not have access to the paddock and will be limited to a cordoned-off area of the course. There will be those who will want to witness their runners, but if their runner under-performs, it is likely to make the journey home a long one.
Nevertheless, it’s a start in getting people back on racecourses, albeit a small one, and nobody deserves it more than owners. They will not get refunds or be able to transfer their expenditure to future events. The money has been spent.
That’s a point to be taken into account by anyone who feels they have a better entitlement to be at a racecourse.
♦ Leicester’s next fixture under review http://wp.me/s8e3Dl-16626
Cheers to Newbury’s “pub in the paddock”
What shouldn’t happen is annoyance directed at Newbury racecourse for their enterprise in creating a “pop-up” pub in the paddock .
The fact they can accommodate upwards of 300 people to watch racing form Epsom this Saturday and Sandown on Sunday, plus ensuing football matches, on big screens, is not an indication that racecourses can start accepting racegoers.
Nor are those attending receiving any priority over anyone else who would want to go racing.
The paddock will be the extent of the facilities on offer at Newbury. On a raceday, under current protocols, it would serve its usual purpose but without the presence of owners.
Any race viewing would be in a restricted area for restricted numbers, and would require the BHA to introduce further protocols.
Newbury is the only recourse to have lost a Group 1 race – it should therefore seek as much alternative revenue as it can by way of compensation.
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Give Khadijah your support
Social media can be an unpleasant and spiteful place and offers the opportunity for lowlife to undertake cowardly actions.
It was therefore appalling to see that the Twitter account of Kahdijah Mellah, who memorably won last year’s Magnolia Cup at Goodwood, her first ever race, was hacked and she lost roughly 6,000 followers.
She is already back to nearly 2,000 followers and it would be great to see the number continue to rise. If you have a Twitter account, do please follow her to demonstrate that she has the support of decent people.