UK racing leads the way for live sport behind closed doors

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Newcastle kicked of the resumption of UK horse racing on Monday with considerable success. There was racing at the track again and Kempton Park on Tuesday, while Yarmouth, Newmarket, Lingfield and Haydock have also scheduled meetings in the first week back.

The coronavirus led to a halt in British racing on March 17. Despite a late government announcement, the industry now knows for certain that racing is back. Pending no difficulties that are insurmountable, the 2,000 Guineas and 1,000 Guineas will take place at Newmarket on Saturday and Sunday. Royal Ascot is happening in the third week of June and the Derby is scheduled for July 4.

Newcastle put on a smooth operation on Monday. The course provided live TV action and betting opportunities that tapped into pent-up demand. In terms of turnover, it was a bonanza day for online bookmakers. Lessons learned at the track on the resumption of racing will no doubt filter through to Kempton and the other four courses that stage racing this week over 15 fixtures.

Racing behind closed doors in the UK has adapted to accommodate the following health protocols:

  • Jockeys wearing face masks
  • No owners at the track
  • Remote TV coverage
  • Maximum fields of 12 runners
  • One groom and trainer per horse in the paddock
  • Health questionnaire
  • Two pushing stalls handlers
  • Only online betting
  • 72-hour declarations
  • Less prize money

Due to the nature of the coronavirus, these protocols are constantly under review. The transmission rate in the UK is below 1.0 and the government has eased some lockdown rules. Horse racing must comply with the letter because it is in the spotlight this week and there can be no compromises.

While the sport is back with no racegoers in attendance, it’s a big step towards normality in its particular environment and wider life in the UK. The English Premier League and football in general now have a path forward, but racing set the ball rolling.

So, after a devastating 10 weeks for the sport, the UK bookies are expecting a manic week of betting even though retail betting offices remain closed until June 15 at the earliest. Betting records at an All-Weather track and on a regular Monday were under threat at the Newcastle fixture, which was the curtain-raiser for the sport after over two months of inactivity.

Turnover was up significantly for a Monday as bettors flooded to online sportsbooks to have a flutter on the Newcastle races. That momentum carried forward to the 19 races on Tuesday’s cards, of which 18 had a full field of 12 runners.

There has been a dearth of live televised sport in the UK for more than two months, a fact that was highlighted when Monday’s racing was broadcast on the Sky Sports Main Event channel. The last three days of the newly conceived Newmarket meeting will be shown on terrestrial television from Friday to Sunday, which means the biggest potential audience will see if Pinatubo’s reputation is justified in the 2,000 Guineas.

British racing has many facets and the industry is well versed in following instructions and guidelines. It’s usually the welfare of the horse that is paramount, but the coronavirus crisis has seen the health and safety of human beings take precedence. Newcastle and Kempton on the first two days cut the mustard, which augers well for UK racing behind closed doors.

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