Picture used for illustrative purpose only.
The authority responsible for maintaining Epsom Downs on Tuesday gave its backing to the staging of the Derby and the Oaks after the coronavirus delayed this year’s running of the English classic horseraces.
Epsom and Walton Downs Conservators gave their unanimous support to the two races going ahead without spectators.
Afterwards Delia Bushell, the chief executive of the Jockey Club which runs Epsom Down racecourse, said in a statement: “We are working hard on a practical and deliverable plan to stage the 2020 Investec Derby and Investec Oaks at their traditional home, without a crowd and once racing is approved to resume by (the UK) government.
“These two Classics play a vital role in the thoroughbred racing and breeding industries, so it’s of great importance for them to be able to go ahead during this difficult period.”
The first four of England’s annual Classics were postponed last month because of COVID-19, with the Oaks and Derby due to run at Epsom on the weekend of June 5-6.
In its document, Our Plan to Rebuild, the UK government said it planned for sporting and cultural events to resume behind closed doors as part of the second step of lifting the current virus restrictions from June 1 at the earliest.
But until then the present lockdown guidelines -- which have led to the suspension of all major sport in Britain -- are set to remain in force.
On Monday the government gave the go-ahead from Wednesday to limited recreational golf and tennis, which will be permitted so long as social distancing rules are maintained.
The Derby, the most prestigious of the Classics, was first run in 1780. All five races are for three-year-old horses but the Oaks, along with the 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket, is restricted to fillies only. Racing in Britain was suspended on March 17 in response to the spread of the coronavirus after the British Horseracing Authority was criticised for allowing that month’s four-day Cheltenham Festival jumps meeting, which attracted more than 250,000 spectators, to go ahead.
An initial ban on spectators is expected when sport resumes in Britain, which has already seen more than 32,000 deaths during the pandemic -- the worst tally in Europe and second only to the United States.
Meanwhile, Belmont Park’s main track re-opened for training on Tuesday, with preparations underway for a resumption of live racing and the start of the spring-summer meet, which has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Wearing face masks and gloves, outriders and gate crew led horses to the main track for exercise. The dirt training track has remained open throughout the suspension of live racing.
Assistant trainer Blair Golen says the horses are able to relax more on the main track and not be passed by anybody because of the space.
Only essential personnel are allowed at the track and they undergo daily temperature checks. They also must abide by requirements for masks, gloves and social distancing.
Separately, after several delays because of coronavirus concerns that ended up postponing the Kentucky Derby to Labor Day weekend, Churchill Downs opened its stables for the first time since winter renovations began in December.
Racing will resume on May 16 without spectators, an interesting challenge for a storied track accustomed to fans cheering the thoroughbreds beneath the Twin Spires.
The horses’ arrival for training is encouraging for a sport that’s mostly been on hold, along with everything else, because of measures designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Last weekend’s Arkansas Derby without fans offered a long-awaited glimpse of live action, if not some hints of which colts to watch when the 146th Kentucky Derby runs on Sept.5.
Seeing the backside barns slowly fill up at horse racing’s most famous track, even in colder-than-expected weather for May, was another positive step toward resuming the routine that horsemen and track workers thrive on.
More work lies ahead for Churchill Downs and an uncertain Triple Crown. The Run For The Roses wasn’t held on the first Saturday in May for the first time since 1945, and it remains to be seen whether the new date will draw the same crowds and attention. Likewise for the Triple Crown, where the Preakness and Belmont Stakes could precede the Derby instead of following it. As those scenarios play out, Churchill Downs prepares for the sweet sounds of horses galloping on the track.
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