Letter to the Turf Talk Editor – There are reasons for UK’s restrictions – 20 March 2020

Mar 20, 2020

TurfTalk Newsletter - David Allan

 There are reasons for UK’s restrictions

 I refer to your headline “UK Racing Loses its Cool” with reference to my brief report on UK’s racing shut down until 1st May (or longer), written for Turf Talk 50-60 minutes after it was announced.

UK is in the middle of the jumps season – 260,000 people at Cheltenham only the week before last – with all-weather flat racing also going on and only a few days to the start of the Flat proper. There are 60 racecourses of which only 15 are “Flat only” and another twenty something are mixed and busy, all of which are accessible from any training location in the country. Distance affects only to a certain extent principally because owners pay for transport to and from racecourses which can approach or exceed four figures sterling (ZAR20,000-) for longer trips. But just look at the distances travelled for a single race by top trainer Mark Johnston’s horses – often well over 300km each way.

Many of our runners will stay overnight (one or two nights) depending on the schedule e.g. need to arrive plenty of hours before running and to get preferred racecourse stabling, and the time of feeding and departure well after actually running; driver regulations demand x hours down time and drivers are no longer permitted to assist with tacking up and leading up for that reason; accompanying staff stay in the racecourse hostels and use the racecourse canteens. In terms only of big festivals, Ascot may be all in one day from Newmarket or Lambourn – but not Middleham – but Goodwood is an overnight from Newmarket and Chester would be two nights and many miles on the road, all involving crack of dawn starts come what may. Even “local” Yarmouth is at least a 3 hour round trip from Newmarket plus racecourse time.

All that amounts to a hell of a lot of mingling of people even de minimis. (And to my mind the risk of importing infection back to a racing yard is colossal).

Imagine the scenario of (for example) the Western Cape having (I wish!) racecourses at Kenilworth, Durbanville, Franschhoek, Hermanus and Langebaan with daily runners from Joburg, PE and Durban training centres. That would be more of a comparison. UK racing tried desperately to work behind closed doors but even then ambulance services better used elsewhere had to be committed, and the ever-changing health recommendations became insurmountable and the blow to us all enormous but unavoidable.

Ireland is bravely working round it with its small population overall and mostly cosy distances – applying the sort of rules that currently apply on very busy stallion farms in both UK and Ireland handling hundreds of visiting coverings at the height of the breeding season – and we shall see how their efforts fare as the coronavirus situation mutates.

There are no further official racing developments this morning and nothing on the jungle drums. The optimist in this writer hopes that rather than following Chinese or Italian curves, related and developing intelligence will provide different curves helped by marked improvement in the hitherto awful pan-European weather.

– David Allan, London, UK