Horseracing
A scene from a competitive racing day at Sha Tin in Hong Kong on Monday. Image Credit: Twitter

Dubai: Even as the Coronavirus pandemic ravages the world and has shut down the biggest sporting events including the $35 million Dubai World Cup meeting at Meydan on March 28, it’s business as usual for horseracing in several countries including Australia, Ireland, USA and Hong Kong.

Over the past week, regular race meetings were held at over 20 racecourses in Sha Tin (Hong Kong), Kranji (Singapore), Val, Fairview, Flamingo Park, Turffontein Standside and Durbanville (South Africa). Nakayama and Hanshi (Japan), Clonmel, Naas, Downpatrick and Thurles (Ireland), Golden Gate Fields, Tampa Bay Downs, Gulfstream Park, Will Rogers Downs and Santa Anita (USA) and Ascot and Rosehill (Australia).

Racing has been conducted - strictly behind closed doors and without spectators - even as the World Health Organizations (WHO) categorized the virus as a pandemic.

Tom Biddington, Racing Editor for the South China Morning Post, the largest and most influential English newspaper in Hong Kong, explained why it was important for the sport to continue in the country with a population of 7.5 million people.

“Everyone associated with racing is safe and protected,” Biddington told CNN while highlighting the precautions taken by the highly profitable Hong Kong Jockey Club.

“Everyone on track premises undergoes temperature checks when entering the facility and all employees wear masks, with the only exception the jockeys when they race. All are told to limit exposure outside of the track and wash hands frequently,” he said.

Everyone on track premises undergoes temperature checks when entering the facility and all employees wear masks, with the only exception the jockeys when they race. All are told to limit exposure outside of the track and wash hands frequently

- Tom Biddington, Racing Editor of South China Morning Post

“The Hong Kong Jockey Club has the buy-in of all the participants, and it is in their best interest to keep racing and keep their livelihoods going,” Biddington added. “If they want to continue, that means doing the right thing. That may mean making sacrifices, such as limiting interactions away from the track.”

Racing has been an intrinsic part of the local culture since 1973, and the Hong Kong Jockey Club is the city’s No. 1 taxpayer which substantially benefits the government.

Despite the fact that Hong Kong borders China, the source of the Coronavirus, the Hong Kong government and Hong Kong Jockey Club have worked closely to sustain horseracing meetings - featuring top thoughbreds and leading jockeys like multiple champion Joao Moreira Zac Purton, Karis Teetan, Vincent Ho and Chad Schofield.

Meanwhile across the pond in North America, leading racecourses like Santa Anita, Gulfstream Park and Belmont introduced additional safety protocols and checks prior to staging recent meetings.

Keeneland, Oaklawn Park, Santa Anita and Golden Gate have restricted access and implemented safety protocols as well.

However, on Friday, racing at Santa Anita was halted temporaily because of an order from the LA County Department of Health.

An eight-race programme is scheduled to be held at Sha Tin on Wednesday with over 100 horses in action.

In Liverpool, England, the highly popular Grand National scheduled from April 2-4, has been cancelled following the British government’s new public health guidance in light of the coronavirus.

Aintree Racecourse, meanwhile, have said that with emergency services having been withdrawn from supporting mass gatherings from Tuesday - they have decided to cancel the event.