Uncertain times, but racing in Australia is set to continue – for now


As we continue to get to grips with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the world as we know it is changing by the minute. So too is racing, but for the moment it’s expected to continue – with some exceptions – at least in the short term.

The Tasmanian Government has closed all racing codes for a month, effective from 2 April, citing community risk. Premier Peter Gutwein said he made the decision to stop any chance of racing, which operates in city and country areas, from the potential of spreading the COVID-19 virus throughout the wider community.

Local racing

Racing continues in all other states but under strict protocols. The following is a breakdown of the current situation regarding the three codes of racing, state by state.

Thoroughbred racing

Victoria: Stricter protocols are being introduced regarding horse movements and the isolation of 21 jockeys, known as the ‘Green Team’, who are only permitted to ride in races and not participate in track work. Jockeys from interstate, whether Victorian based or not, are also banned from competing in Victoria from 26 March unless they do a 14-day isolation. The picnic racing season has been abandoned. Racing Victoria has announced that prize money has been reduced by 20 per cent for all metropolitan races and 10 per cent in the country.

NSW: The all-important Sydney autumn carnival remains in full swing with the industry hopeful it can get through at least until the final meeting of the carnival at Randwick on 18 April. Prizemoney for the major races throughout The Championships has been cut by up to 50 per cent. Jockeys are not permitted to travel from interstate to ride in NSW and riders are not allowed to move between districts.

Queensland: Racing Queensland (RQ) has abandoned its winter carnival which was to have been held during May and June. RQ states that the economic saving will be used to help racing’s participants when racing can resume in full. Racing in general continues, but the state has been split into five sections using 16 tracks. Jockeys and horses must compete in their allocated sections and cannot to transfer between zones unless for non-racing purposes. The regions are: Metro North (Brisbane and Sunshine Coast); Metro South West (Gold Coast, Ipswich, Toowoomba); Darling Downs and SEQ Coast; Central West and Central; and North West and North.

South Australia: Racing in general continues, but prize money will be slashed. Racing South Australia has abandoned the famous Oakbank two-day Easter carnival. The Clare carnival also has been abandoned.

Western Australia: Racing continues, but the WA borders have been shut.

Tasmania: Racing has been shut down from 2 April for a month.

Harness racing and greyhounds

Victoria: Harness and greyhound racing continue under strict protocols.

NSW: Harness racing continues under strict protocols. Greyhound racing continues will be held within designated regions.

Queensland: Queensland harness racing will continue racing at three tracks – Albion Park, Redcliffe and Marburg. Queensland greyhound racing continues with racing to be held in four regions.

South Australia: Harness and greyhound racing continues under strict protocols.

Western Australia: Harness and greyhound racing continues under strict protocols.

Tasmania: Racing has been shut down from 2 April for a month.

Autumn and spring racing

Autumn racing

The biggest sigh of relief that racing is going ahead would have come from NSW, which is in the middle of its massive autumn racing carnival, headlined by the Australian Turf Club’s two-day The Championships, run at Randwick on the 4 and 11 April.

The Championships is preceded by the final meeting of the Rosehill carnival on Saturday 28 March, which features the Group 1 Tancred Stakes and Group 1 Vinery Stud Stakes Sportsbet has all the futures betting markets covered.

“Thoroughbred race meetings in NSW will continue to proceed under strict biosecurity risk management protocols in accordance with government and health authority advice. These protocols have been in place since 16 March and include the conduct of race meetings without public attendance and appropriate social distancing of industry participants.

“Racing NSW will continue to apply and update these protocols in accordance with advice from government and health authorities to ensure the safety of all industry participants.”

Spring racing

The financial implications of a racing shutdown are huge, and could mean a dramatic drop in prize money for the major spring races – if racing is operating then.

Racing NSW CEO Peter V’landys has already said that the impact of the coronavirus is already likely to see The Everest’s prize money reduced from this year’s promoted $15 million purse, and he certainly expects other races to be slashed.

There is no news yet regarding the Melbourne Cup and the other big spring events from Racing Victoria and the Victoria Racing Club.

The big problem for racing will be keeping stables operating during a shutdown, so that racing can get going quickly when the ban is lifted. There are huge costs associated with keeping horses in work when the prize money income has dried up, and so many trainers have indicated that sending their horses to the paddock might be the most cost-effective option.

International racing

New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing, which controls thoroughbreds, harness and greyhounds, has announced that it will stop all racing for four weeks from Tuesday 24 March. New Zealand also announced on Monday morning that all international equine flights are cancelled, which means the Australian Oaks contenders and the highly fancied Jennifer Eccles and Two Illicit won’t be coming to Sydney.

The Dubai World Cup 2020 meeting, scheduled to take place at Meydan Racecourse on Saturday 28 March, has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A statement issued by the government of Dubai’s media office read: “To safeguard the health of all participants, the higher organising committee of the Dubai World Cup 2020 has decided to postpone the 25th edition of the global tournament to next year.”

The British Flat Racing season also has shut down until the end of April, although there is speculation that a 1 May start is optimistic. This puts the running of the Epsom Derby and the famous Royal Ascot carnival, both run in June, in doubt.

Irish racing was shut down on 24 March until 19 April after the Irish government suspended all sporting events. South African racing also has been stopped.

Racing continues in Hong Kong, where the major April meetings at Sha Tin include the Group 2 Sprint Cup and Group 2 Chairman’s Trophy on 6 April. The Group 1 trio of the QE11 Cup, Chairman’s Sprint and Champions Mile will run on 26 April.

In the USA, the Kentucky Derby, traditionally run on the first Saturday in May, has been postponed until September. It is the first time since the end of World War II that the ‘Run for the Roses’ won’t be run at Churchill Downs in the first week of May.

Although some tracks have closed, there is racing in other US jurisdictions, with the focus on the Group 1 Florida Derby at Tampa Bay Downs on 28 March.

What next?

With news breaking daily, and decisions being made and announced even as we write, Australian and international racing continues to hobble along. For how long, we’re not certain, but stay to tuned to Sportsbet for regular updates about how the coronavirus crisis is affecting the racing landscape.

In the meantime, Sportsbet has betting options available on all sporting competitions still in operation, as well as providing punters with a wide range of novelty betting markets, including TV, music and politics.


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