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15 April 2020

Goggles and pies at the ready – International racing holding together and playing its part

The International racing scene paints a varied picture, with the sport still churning out winners in the USA, Australia and Japan, whereas Ireland and France, as with the UK is in complete shutdown. There is no doubting, however, a shared ambition across all racing nations to find ways to help their wider communities during the global pandemic.

Safety net needed more than ever

“We are all in this together, and the Safety Net serves to help our hardworking industry in these uncertain times,” said Shannon Kelly Executive Director at the US Jockey Club.

The Jockey Club Safety Net Foundation (TJCSNF) is a charitable trust that provides financial relief to needy members of the Thoroughbred industry and their families. The Foundation donated 1,000 Kroop’s (race goggle suppliers) face shields to the New York Racing Association (NYRA) racetrack community as it deals with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We started seeing a lot of a particular goggle moving on our website and Amazon — this was four to six weeks ago — and we assumed it was in response to the virus. We started noticing where they were going, medical supply companies and doctors, and we realized that they need goggles and can’t get them,” said Andrew Trembley, president of Kroop’s. “We’re using components and equipment used to make the jockey goggles to make the shields.”

NYRA’s Aqueduct Racetrack is also being relied upon, to act as the location for a temporary medical facility being constructed to help during the pandemic.

“Donations to the Foundation are earmarked for backstretch workers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the current priority is stocking food pantries at racetracks around the country,” added Shannon Kelly.

With a more light-hearted twist but with equally serious intent, is the Battle for the Backside: Pies Against COVID-19 (Sponsored by Runhappy). This pie eating contest is to raise more funds for the TJCSNF. The contest will take place on April 25th. Instructions seem simple enough: ‘Pie eaters must have the ability to take part in a video call, and ability to buy a pie. The pie will come from the local small business of the participant’s choice, of a uniform size.
“Once the field is set, you can “bet” by donating to TJCSNF and messaging proof of donation (a screenshot, etc), along with which pie eater you think will win the contest. We will be revealing several prizes (consisting of racing memorabilia!) which will be awarded via a raffle system – size of donation determines the number of entries – once our field is set. At the conclusion of the contest, everyone who picked the winning competitor will be entered into another raffle, again with amount donated determining number of chances.”

Irish racing had a short period operating behind closed doors before shutting down on March 24th.

Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) was quick off the mark to contribute to the Feed the Heroes initiative. They coordinated prizes and hosted an auction site to drive donations to the scheme, which was set up by family and friends working in frontline services. The groups recognised that several catering businesses were being closed as a result of the current restrictions. The donations raised have been used by catering companies/ restaurants to buy supplies to cook meals for frontline services. Through the Feed The Heroes initiative more than 18,500 meals have been delivered nationwide to staff at the Covid-19 Testing Centres, HSE Contact Tracing, the National Ambulance Service and the Fire Brigade, as well as hospital workers.

HRI has also been working with the Health Service Executive and Government to identify ways in which it can assist efforts to fight the transmission of Covid-19. Cork Racecourse in Mallow is now operational as a much-needed testing centre for the virus. The authority is seeking to identify how racing’s personnel and infrastructure could be used to support the Government’s efforts, also.

Recruitment can’t stop

Across the channel, France was the first major racing country to call a halt to meetings through their governing bodies France Galop and Le Trot.

From a school in Normandy donating hundreds of face masks that they had from a previous epidemic to plans to help stable staff, France has responded along similar lines to its European neighbours.

“We organised some live Q&A interviews on Facebook and Instagram in late March and are feeding our social media accounts with reminders on the careers and training courses we offer, plus quizzes and questions. The recruitment needs to continue!” said Penny Johnston of AFASEC (The Training and Social Action Association of Racing Stables).

Looking to the future, France has plans to engage its racing professionals and stable staff with a view to setting up school initiatives, such as the one organised by France Galop in Chantilly for later this year.

Australia and Japan race on

Racing in Australia has been operating without spectators for some time, running on the bare essentials of jockeys, trainers, grooms and stewards. Motivated by a desire to preserve the 250,000 employed in the industry, the authorities have managed to keep racing going but other initiatives have been halted.

Lindy Maurice, from Thoroughbred Industry Careers, said: “Our Cadetship is on hold at the moment because our training facility has been closed down and no one is employing people in case racing is fully shut down. Racing over here is going to great measures to ensure it continues and I think that is remarkable really.”

Just over 4,000 miles away in Japan, the sport is also managing to continue. The Japan Racing Authority (JRA) is holding races on weekends, but these, too, are out of reach from the public. With over 85% of betting money coming from online, the industry is functioning, although the school system and universities are closed and most activities apart from racing are cancelled.

Reflecting on the loss to the community of equestrian sport, JRA’s Shingo Kanzaki said: “With the Tokyo 2020 Olympics being postponed until next year due to coronavirus, JRA is very sorry that the investment made in the facility of an equestrian competition will not now be there for those who don’t know about horses. It should have been a great opportunity to see the horse and to learn about the horse culture.”

Read how British racing has responded to the coronavirus outbreak here.

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