Major UK meetings fall victim to virus

Seamie Heffernan on Anthony Van Dyck (r) won last's Epsom Derby, but this year's event is postponed.
Seamie Heffernan on Anthony Van Dyck (r) won last's Epsom Derby, but this year's event is postponed.

Days after raising hopes of a return by the start of May amid the coronavirus outbreak, British horse racing organisers announced the postponement of two of their biggest Flat-racing festivals and said the prestigious Royal Ascot meeting might only be staged behind closed doors.

The Guineas Festival at Newmarket on May 2-3 and the English Derby Festival at Epsom on June 5-6 will not take place on those dates, The Jockey Club said on Tuesday, removing two of the few remaining major events on a British sporting calendar otherwise wiped out by the pandemic.

Then came the announcement that Royal Ascot on June 16-20, an event typically attended by Queen Elizabeth II and other Royals, would not be open to the public - if the event can take place at all.

"It may prove possible to run the Royal Ascot races behind closed doors, dependent on government and public health policy and the approval of the British Horseracing Authority for us to restart racing," Ascot Racecourse said.

"This would be for the benefit of the industry, our valued partners and suppliers and our television audiences at home and internationally.

"Planning for this is now our complete focus."

Organisers said they were looking at alternative dates for the Newmarket and Epsom meetings "given the importance of (them) to the careers of that generation of horses, and the racing and bloodstock industries as a whole."

The Derby is the most prestigious Flat race in Britain, while the 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas - two of the other "Classics" in the British racing calendar - take place at the Newmarket meeting in early May.

The Jockey Club said a decision needed to be made on postponing the meetings as trainers wanted to know whether to step up preparations for the races.

Racing has officially been suspended until the end of April. The BHA was hoping for a resumption on May 1 as part of what it called a "COVID-19 operational plan"

Flat racing became the priority of the BHA, ahead of jumps racing, "principally for reasons of safety and to minimise demands on emergency services," the organisation said.

Australian Associated Press