In the words of a local regular, Hollywoodbets Greyville was ‘ever so eerie’ at the last meeting on Wednesday before increased coronavirus restrictions were implemented nationally, commencing at Turffontein on Thursday afternoon.
While it is yet to be confirmed, Barrier Trials are likely to be suspended in KwaZulu-Natal.
The facility is really a luxury, supposedly loved by only a select few, and many will be hoping that’s the end of that – certainly on a compulsory basis.
This week South African horseracing reacted promptly with widespread COVID-19 containment measures.
But travelling jockeys and interprovincial raiders, with out-of-province grooms accompanying them, are two additional aspects that probably need to be addressed urgently.
Jockeys were not mentioned in the additional measures implemented late on Tuesday and, ironically, they are also probably the one stakeholder group who would get up closer and more personal to each other on average than the official, groom, owner or trainer would, by virtue of changerooms, showers and sweatboxes.
Every major venue in South Africa would ordinarily entail air travel by visiting jockeys, although Gauteng riders do travel by road to Kimberley – and some of the Cape jocks take the under ten-hour N2 scenic run up the Garden Route to Fairview.
“I feel it makes sense to do everything we can to ensure racing keeps ticking over. If we have to stop for an extended period of time, I fear the worst and doubt that many will recover. In that light, it is imperative to be seen to be doing our absolute maximum and ensuring every reasonable conceivable containment measure is implemented. Jockeys and grooms are two sectors where travel can be locked down completely, with ease. At least if the worst happens, and there is an outbreak in one province, we can still hopefully race in another. That’s why we need to shut down the interprovincial movement flow immediately.”
Those were the thoughts of Summerveld trainer Garth Puller, who said that even first world countries had failed to contain the spread – and travel was a sure way of creating a playground for the deadly virus.
He said there were well-intentioned efforts to introduce the COVID-19 awareness practices into the grooms’ accommodation locally, but that South African racing still lacked the technology and science to monitor individuals effectively.
“Let’s turn the jockey travel ban into a positive. It gives the local guys more chances and there are surely enough riders resident in the various provinces, maybe barring the East Cape, to ensure that racing goes on. As for the travelling grooms, that is another aspect that can be suspended by putting the brakes on raiding horses from other provinces,” he added, saying it was a small price to pay for additional peace of mind.
Puller added that while the weather was still relatively warm, we were ‘probably okay’.
“I was reading up and see that that the coronavirus isn’t comfortable at temperatures of 26 degrees upwards. That’s why the jockeys should all be spending ten minutes in the sweatboxes! But, seriously, when the temperatures plummet and winter sets in, that’s when we will be tested.”
British and French racing have been suspended.
Like Puller cautioned team, British trainers are already warning that an extended shutdown will send their businesses to the wall.
“It’s devastating,” trainer Eve Johnson Houghton told The Racing Post. “Hopefully, it’s not going to be more than a month as then it will really start to impact us. I still have to pay my staff, the vet, the feed man, the farrier – those costs are still there for us.”
As of Wednesday morning, Australia was pushing ahead with plans to conduct spectator-free racing including at Saturday’s rich Golden Slipper meeting.
However the British move may well make the entire Australian racing industry sit up and pause for thought. They have already clamped down on jockey movement.
In the UK, the shutdown also comes as another blow to bookmakers who have already had millions of pounds wiped from their share values in recent days.
The Racing Post has reported operators Flutter Entertainment and GVC Holdings – the parent companies of Paddy Power Betfair and Ladbrokes Coral respectively – along with William Hill say the suspension of sports events would reduce their earnings by more than £100 million apiece.
They also warned that cancellation of horseracing, along with betting shop closures, would further reduce earnings by tens of millions of pounds per month.
We can only hope that everybody does the right thing here and we can beat the scourge.
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