With horse racing postponed indefinitely since March 17th due to the coronavirus outbreak, fans, punters and connections alike are awaiting a return to normality and that green light to signal a restart to racing. It was only last month that fans were betting on horse racing, as a virtual edition of the Aintree centrepiece, the Grand National took place, but it just wasn’t the same. It didn’t do much to fill that void that horse racing – and sport generally – has left in the lives of many worldwide. However, with news that racing has returned in the likes of Germany and France, and with regular updates from the government and BHA, it surely won’t be too long before the UK and Ireland follow suit.
Authorities were originally hoping for a return to action this month, albeit behind closed doors. However, the most recent updates from the government outlaw any professional sports taking place until June 1st. And while this means that we will have to wait a little longer for the Classics to commence, a statement on behalf of racing’s executive committee announced that relevant parties will “ensure that race planning and the provisional fixture programme, including the scheduling of the Classics and other flagship races, meet the new government timeline”. June 1st is very much the target, with horses continuing training throughout the spring, conforming to social distancing measures.
The Guineas at Newmarket should have taken place during the weekend of May 2nd and 3rd and are now set to go ahead six weeks later than planned, while it’s believed Epsom will host the Oaks and Derby sometime in July, or possibly August. The Derby Festival was scheduled for June 5th and 6th, and the Jockey Club were handed a boost earlier this week when councillors gave the Festival the go-ahead at Epsom.
The Jockey Club had asked permission for both the Classics, the Oaks and the Derby to feature on the same day, as part of a seven-race card. However, the main issue was restricting access to the site, as while the Downs are owned by Epsom, the surrounding areas consist of public footpaths and bridleways. In their application, the Jockey Club suggested that if their request couldn’t be met, the races would have to be ran elsewhere – with Newmarket looking like the most likely alternative. But it was good news, with a unanimous vote in favour of Epsom Downs hosting the classics this year – with the relevant restrictions in place for 24 hours.
During the meeting, Councillor Jan Mason said: “This is the most famous race in the world. We don’t want it to go elsewhere. It’s vital that it’s held here, retaining the home of the Derby.” With the exception of both World Wars when it was hosted at Newmarket, Epsom has been home to the Derby since 1780, and it’s considered the most prestigious of the five Classics. Within its history and honours list are famous names such as leading jockey, Lester Pigott and leading owner, Aiden O’Brien, as well as horses like Nijinsky who won the Triple Crown in 1970 and the 1981 winner, Shergar.
Although it’s too early to be scrambling for the latest racing tips as far as the Derby is concerned, an updated racing calendar will be announced in due course. As we’ve already seen on the continent, it’ll be a return to racing with a whisper rather than the famous roar. But live action will no doubt rekindle our love for such a historic and thrilling sport – and make us appreciate a day at the races all the more when normality resumes.