Punters are reeling after the British Horseracing Authority was forced to suspend all meetings until the end of April due to the coronavirus outbreak. Tuesday’s racing at Wetherby and Taunton went ahead without any spectators, but all subsequent meetings were scrapped. The Grand National is the most prominent casualty, but many more prestigious races have been cancelled too. Yet there is still some action taking place around the world:
This year’s Dubai World Cup will go ahead without spectators. It is the richest meeting of the year, with a total of $35 million up for grabs across the card. The $12 million Dubai World Cup is the main event, but fans can also look forward to the $6 million Sheema Classic, the $6 million Dubai Turf, the $2.5 million Golden Shaheen, the $2.5 million UAE Derby, the $2 million Al Quoz Sprint, the $1.5 million Dubai Gold Cup and the $1.5 million Godolphin Mile.
The action takes place on the evening of Saturday, March 28, at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai. Only connections, racing officials, media members and sponsors will be allowed into the racetrack. Supporting events, entertainment, the welcome reception and the post-position draw have all been cancelled, but the main show will go on, so you fans of sports spread betting should still find plenty of wagering options.
Benbatl, who won the Dubai Turf last year, is the favourite to win the Dubai World Cup, ahead of Pegasus World Cup winner Mucho Gusto in the betting. Bob Baffert’s Mucho announced himself as a force to be reckoned with by winning the Affirmed Stakes last year, and he has been on an upward curve since then. Tacitus, Chrysoberyl, Capezzano and Matterhorn are the other big names gearing up for the Dubai World Cup, while there should be a strong field in all of the races.
This week it was announced that the Kentucky Derby would be moved from May 2 to September 5. The other two legs of the Triple Crown – the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes – have also been shifted to later in the year. However, some big races are still scheduled to continue, albeit behind closed doors. Fourteen of the finest three-year-olds in the business will line up for the $1 million Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds Racecourse at the weekend.
The Florida Derby is also still scheduled to take place at Gulfstream Park on March 28. The Wood Memorial remains on course for the following weekend at Aqueduct, while the Blue Grass Stakes, the Santa Anita Derby and the Arkansas Derby – all key prep races for the Kentucky Derby – are still on as things stand. However, there is talk of the $1 million Arkansas Derby moving to early May to fill the gap in the schedule left by the Kentucky Derby. The Sunland Derby is off due to coronavirus fears.
Racing continues unabated in South Africa. The season there runs from early August until the beginning of July, with meetings hosted at Greyville, Milnerton, Turffontein, Arlington, Fairview, Vaal, Scottsville, Flamingo Park, Durbanville and Kenilworth. It all builds up to the biggest race of the year – the Grade 1 Durban July at Greyville – and interest in the South African horse racing scene is sure to increase over the next few months.
Sha Tin and Happy Valley Racecourse in Hong Kong are still hosting big races, despite the coronavirus originating in China. Sha Tin’s biggest meeting is in December, but we still have the Queen Elizabeth II Cup to look forward to in April, and the Hong Kong Champions & Chater Cup, Champions Mile and Chairman’s Sprint Prize in Mau, all of which are Group 1 races. Happy Valley hosts live racing on Wednesday nights and sometimes on weekends from September to July each year.
Racing in Ireland continues to go ahead, albeit behind closed doors. Reporters described wet, windy, miserable and dystopian scenes inside famous racecourses on St Patrick’s Day, but the action has still taken place. Horse Racing Ireland meets this week to discuss the situation, but for now the Irish Grand National meeting is still planned for 11-13 April and the Punchestown festival remains scheduled to start on 28 April. Punters will be keen for them to go ahead, as they are two of the most exciting meetings of the year.
When will normality resume?
The rest of the 2019/20 National Hunt season will have to be written off. More than 250,000 brave punters defied coronavirus fears to enjoy four days of top-notch racing at the Cheltenham Festival last week, but there will be no more jumps racing for the year. The start of the flat racing season is likely to be delayed too, and it could end up being called off. The Kentucky Derby organisers clearly hope that the coronavirus outbreak will be under control by September, but there are no guarantees. A vaccine is a year away, and the global racing sector could be in for a lot more disruption going forwards, so punters will have to keep abreast of the situation in different countries and hope that action continues behind closed doors.