Barring an 11th-hour setback, racing will resume in Britain next Monday, a week before the Irish action recommences on June 8. It’s been a fraught time for the industry and there remains much for racing to consider ahead of its return according to
The perception factor.
Should perception matter? Perhaps. Does perception matter? Absolutely. And post-Cheltenham, the perception of racing is anything but good.
Given little evidence has yet been produced to support the claim Cheltenham contributed significantly to the spread of Covid-19, much of the criticism of the decision to go ahead with the 2020 Festival has bordered on the absurd. However, fair or unfair, there’s no doubting the fallout has been deeply damaging for the industry.
The fact Ireland is not already back racing is proof of that. After all, the industry had already proven it could safely run meetings behind closed doors before the lockdown so, other than the fear of a public backlash, there really was no reason why racing couldn’t have returned last week.
When it does resume, racing’s return needs to be silky smooth as a spate of positive tests and the resultant negative publicity is the last thing a bruised industry needs.
A blockbuster return.
Having endured a drought of over two months, racing fans won’t have long to wait for the finest wines. On Friday week, Newmarket hosts the Coronation Cup, first Group 1 of the season, the perfect aperitif ahead of Guineas weekend when we’ll find out if the unbeaten Pinatubo, a higher-rated juvenile than the mighty Frankel, has trained on.
If he has, the racing public is in for some treat as the Pinatubo who annihilated his opposition in the National Stakes at the Curragh last September looked an absolute monster. And staying on the Guineas theme...
Ger Lyons has waited a long time to get his hands on a genuine Classic contender but in Siskin he finally has a colt capable of taking his trainer to new heights. The Khalid Abdullah-owned colt has already helped Lyons break new ground, providing his trainer and jockey Colin Keane with a first Irish Group 1 success when winning the Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh last August.
That victory stretched his unbeaten sequence to four races but his season ended on a low note when he had to be withdrawn from the Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket after becoming upset in the stalls before the off. Regardless of that, he remains a high-class prospect and with the Irish 2000 Guineas on June 12 now confirmed as his first port of call, it’s no surprise he’s the clear market leader.
For soccer, rugby, and the GAA the single biggest roadblock to a return remains the question of how social distancing cab be maintained in contact sports. The road back to normality for those sports promises to be long and rocky but their absence from the stage provides a rare opportunity for racing to broaden its appeal in the weeks, and perhaps, months ahead.
A Royal Ascot puzzle.
Unlike the jumps where punters have four months of assembled evidence ahead of Cheltenham, the biggest meeting on the Flat comes early in the season. This is even more the case this season with Royal Ascot staying in its traditional slot despite the delayed start to the campaign.
This spells danger for punters as horses who would ordinarily be arriving at Ascot having had the benefit of a prep run will instead be making their seasonal reappearance on the biggest week of the Flat racing calendar. The uncertainty of recent months has been a nightmare for trainers and punters will be taking match-fitness on trust rather than hard evidence. Expect the unexpected.
Ballydoyle's Derby dilemma.
No race matters more to Ballydoyle than the Derby and an eighth victory in the Epsom Classic would make Aidan O’Brien the most successful trainer in the race’s illustrious history. He’s already the most successful trainer in Irish Derby history, a staggering haul of 13 and counting illustrating that success in the Curragh Classic still means plenty too.
That leaves Ballydoyle with a real first-world problem as this year's Irish Derby will be run before the Epsom equivalent and there’ll only be a week between the two races, a tight timescale that means it’s unlikely, though not impossible, that his premier middle-distance three-year-old colts will run in both.How O’Brien goes about juggling his cards will be fascinating.
A kiss of life.
In the normal course of events, the Tattersalls Gold Cup is one of the weaker Group 1 contests on the calendar but that may not be the case this year after Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) tweaked the race conditions to allow three-year-olds be entered.
That looks a clever call as this year the Coral-Eclipse, a 10-furlong contest that normally sees the first clash of the generations, will take place 24 hours after the Epsom Derby and will only be open to four-year-olds and older horses. The Curragh will hope that Sandown’s loss will be their gain.
The prospect of a fairytale ending.
Everyone loves a happy ending and it would be oh so fitting if Enable could win a record third Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on the first Sunday of October. The magical mare fell agonisingly short when undone by testing ground in her three-in-a-row bid, a reversal that prompted connections to roll the dice one more time in 2020.
That was a brave call but it was also the right call as bowing out after a defeat to Waldgeist, a horse she had swatted away with relative ease on three previous occasions, would simply have felt wrong. With her entire season revolving around Paris, we’re unlikely to see much of Enable before her attempt to set the record straight in France. But it would be thrilling if she could deliver one more time to give Frankie Dettori a seventh Arc success a couple of months before his 50th birthday.
The flamboyant jockey has given no indication that he plans to retire any time soon but, if he privately wants to emulate the likes of Ruby Walsh and Mick Kinane by going out at the very top, steering Enable to immortality would be the perfect way to do it.
Horse racing schedule
11th: Gowran Park.
12th: Curragh (Tattersalls Irish 2,000 Guineas).
13th: Curragh (Tattersalls Irish 1,000 Guineas).
15th: Fairyhouse, Roscommon.
17th: Gowran Park, Limerick.
19th: Tipperary, Gowran Park.
22nd: Roscommon, Limerick (NH).
24th: Naas, Roscommon (NH).
26th: Curragh, Tipperary (NH).
27th: Curragh (Irish Derby).
29th: Limerick, Kilbeggan (NH).
1st: Leopardstown (e), Tipperary (NH).
2nd: Sligo (e), Bellewstown.
3rd: Navan (e).
4th: Naas, Bellewstown (NH).
5th: Cork, Fairyhouse.
7th: Roscommon, Killarney (NH) (e).
8th: Gowran Park (e), Bellewstown (NH).
10th: Curragh (e), Kilbeggan (NH) (e).
12th: Cork, Dundalk.
13th: Killarney (e), Roscommon (NH).
15th: Killarney (e), Downpatrick (NH).
16th: Leopardstown (e).
17th: Limerick, Kilbeggan (NH) (e).
18th: Curragh (e), Tramore (NH).
19th: Curragh, Tipperary (NH).
20th: Ballinrobe (e) , Gowran Park (NH).
22nd: Naas (e), Ballinrobe (NH).
23rd: Leopardstown, Limerick (NH) (e).
24th: Down Royal, Cork (NH) (e).
25th: Gowran Park, Tramore (NH) (e).
27th: Galway (e).
28th: Galway (e).
29th: Galway (NH) (e).
30th: Galway (NH) (e).
31st: Leopardstown, Galway (NH) (e).