Racing must determine its own fate in these coronavirus times
The racing industry needs to make its position absolutely clear in order to ensure its immediate fate is not taken entirely out of its hands during the Covid-19 crisis.
Australian racing has already developed protocols far beyond those in other racing jurisdictions with the highest standard of separation and mitigation measures; temperature checks in place for working attendees and participant reduction with almost 95 per cent located outside.
A preparedness to do even more may be necessary – including no cross state-border competition, at least, in the short term. So be it.
The message needs to be clear. Not a mish-mash of statements from various jurisdictions and various clubs.
Of course, I have a vested interest – and a desire as a simple fan – in racing continuing.
But I do not blithely argue that it must. Rather my pitch is that a sensible decision, based on the best risk assessment and medical advice, is made.
We ought not respond on an emotive basis – or under some sense of duress – but assess the facts and certainly not react on the basis of what others have done before assessing why they have done what they’ve done.
The Emirates Racing Association has abandoned the Dubai World Cup meeting. Perhaps altruistic, but consider that it has nothing to gain revenue wise from continuing. New Zealand has announced a temporary closure but it is in a state of rebuild.
Government measures, to date, have not brought all activity to a standstill and racing has already demonstrated its ability to manage this crisis with no incident or Covid-19 outbreak at no-attendee meetings since March 13.
Racing has been able to draw on the experience of managing the Equine Influenza outbreak in 2007.
At Warwick Farm on Wednesday, there will be no fewer than seven separate jockeys’ rooms to segregate riders based on where domiciled and where they last rode.
As of last night, any jockey not currently located in New South Wales will not be allowed to attend any NSW racecourse or licensed premises until further notice – and likewise any jockey who leaves the state.
Racing is continuing, under strict management, in major jurisdictions including Hong Kong and Japan and has done so for some time now, along with Ireland. Racing remains a massive employer, directly and indirectly, in this country.
In my state, Victoria, alone, racing generates over $3.2 billion in economic activity and, more importantly, about 25,000 people depend on it for their livelihood.
Further, following the sport remains a huge source of joy for hundreds of thousands (if not more) of Australians – particularly those in our older, less mobile and coronavirus high risk category – whose passion is not defined by a gambling addiction but rather by following their favourite horses, jockeys and trainers with or without an occasional dollar or two each-way.
There is also the issue of the welfare of the horse on whom the sport-cum-industry is centred.
Trainer Robbie Griffiths, president of the Australian Trainers’ Association, outlined this message yesterday when interviewed on Racing.com.
“I think it (a ban) would be crippling, absolutely crippling to everyone in racing because we can’t just close our doors,” he said. “We’ve got a horse welfare issue that we need to attend to. We can’t just go home and hibernate for two, four, six weeks, whatever it takes for the virus to burn out, because we’ve got to come to work every day, clean the boxes, feed and water the horses and make sure they’re cared for.
“So, because the horses need constant care, we can’t close the doors like other businesses. I think it would be absolutely devastating in racing if we are closed.”
That is part of the reason why racing is unlike any other industry. Ask any CEO who has walked into a position of authority in racing and thought to himself, “I’ll nail this in a couple of weeks.” It just doesn’t happen.
Again, I stress this is not a myopic plea to abandon all reason and simply keep racing.
It is a plea that we do our best to keep the industry operating if medical authorities accept that it is not an unacceptable risk to continue to do so.