The show is back on the road on Monday as horse racing in the UK resumes behind closed doors at Newcastle. The track has put extensive measures in place to reduce the risk of the spread of the coronavirus. One of the main bars is now a changing room for jockeys. With social distancing in place, the weighing room could only accommodate 28 jockeys, but now the new facility has enough space for 45 riders spaced two metres apart.
Newcastle stages four meetings in the first week after the break, but the Tapeta surface can handle racing as often as the track is allowed. The racecourse owners have worked overtime to put on a meeting with no racegoers in attendance, but the circumstances are unprecedented and everyone involved will be learning on the hoof.
The track stages the only fixture in the UK on the first day of racing since March 17. There are two meetings over each of the next four days and then three on Saturday and three on Sunday. There will be action at six tracks over the seven days, with Haydock Park the only other venue racing in the north. Newcastle on Monday is the guinea pig and the course can pass on the lessons learned to the other tracks with meetings in the first week back.
With a maximum field of 12 runners per race, each of the 10 contests on Monday’s Newcastle card were at least twice oversubscribed. The field restrictions limit the need for personnel and facilitate social distancing. There will be a reduced team of stall handlers and only two pushing the horses into gate. Trainers have been asked not to enter potentially difficult horses that could cause problems at the start. The jockeys and handlers will be wearing masks.
The first race is at 1pm and the other nine races are run at 35 minutes intervals. The programme provides more time to meet the protocols that were guaranteed before the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) and UK government gave the meeting the green light. The new changing facilities and parade ring are close so there is minimal potential for transmission of the coronavirus. The further easing of restrictions in England was the final piece in the jigsaw.
The racing is ordinary, but quality is secondary to the return of horse racing in the UK. The card features one Class 3 race and others at Class 4, 5 and 6 level. The total win fund is about £40,000, with top prizes ranging from £2,782 to £6,728. The number of entries justified two races being added to the original eight-race programme, meaning a maximum of 120 runners will race at Newcastle from an initial entry of 369 horses.
If you are looking for quality, Deauville in France is the meeting for you. Staging a Classic on a Monday must be rare or possibly a first. The Poule D’Essai Poulains and Poule D’Essai Pouliches are the French equivalent of the 2,000 Guineas and 1,000 Guineas. The Group contests offer over €400,115 in total win prizes. The current favourites are Victor Ludorum and Tropbeau, and the double pays +800 with BetOnline.
Over at Newcastle, backing winners could be difficult with no recent form to assess. Official ratings will be key to finding decent bets. The latest betting suggests Mutasaamy (13.35) and Frankly Darling (17.40) are the bankers. It is too early to have strong opinions on the racing, but the double combining two odds-on shots pays over +300 with BetOnline.