They're off! Racing is back today - here's what's coming up at Goodwood, Ascot, Epsom and other top tracks
Racing has received its share of criticism during the coronavirus lockdown, with almost as many accusing fingers pointing at the Cheltenham Festival as at a wet market in Wuhan.
However, it will become one of the first major competitive sports to return to action today, albeit behind closed doors and under strict Covid protocols.
It will resume almost three months after the Festival escaped the clutches of the impending crisis to attract tens of thouands of racing’s most ardent of devotees.
Spectators mingled in packed stands and bars on track, socialised in packed pubs, restaurants and hotels in Cheltenham, and travelled to and from the extravaganza on a packed fleet of trains and shuttle buses.
Deploying the hindsight of failed tipsters, experts have been queueing up to tell us the Festival should never have gone ahead.
One of the more sophisticated critics even compared the event to a petri dish, suggesting that Cheltenham’s heaving masses created the perfect breeding ground for the cultivation of the virus.
And only this week, a respected professor went so far as to say the Festival “caused increased suffering and death that wouldn’t otherwise have occurred”.
I myself contracted coronavirus at Cheltenham, and was laid low for three weeks. It is the reason I couldn’t pen my usual review of the great meeting. But in no way do I blame the course, or the British Horseracing Authority (BHA)..
The decision to go ahead was made on the basis of government and scientific advice, while the decision to go along, even though the Covid clouds were gathering, was a personal choice made by each of those who did.
When the dust has settled and the inevitable inquiry is held, I have little doubt that the government will be scolded for imposing its lockdown too late. But as the tapes went up for the Supreme on Tuesday March 10, I don’t remember a public clamour for the Festival to be halted.
Conversely, there is now a clamour within racing circles to get back to business, providing, of course, that it is safe to do so.
The BHA should be praised for the hard work it has put in to draw up a plan and schedule for the resumption, especially as up to two-thirds of its workforce has been furloughed.
The new schedule has necessitated the sacrificing all the spring Classic trials, plus the Group One Lockinge Stakes. But new dates have been found for the first four Classics and, thankfully, the major meetings at Royal Ascot, Glorious Goodwood and York look likely to survive untouched and unmoved.
Indeed the royal meeting in mid-June has even been enhanced, with the creation of six fresh races to bolster the usual 30.
No spectators are allowed at any of this summer’s meetings, but every race from this Monday will be televised, either by Racing TV or Sky Sports Racing, with the major contests also covered by ITV.
And, as an added boon for punters, 72-hour declarations have been introduced, meaning the final fields will be known three days in advance.
Here are all the new dates to set alerts for in your calendar or to make a note of in your diary:
MONDAY JUNE 1 -- racing returns in the UK with a ten-race card, from 1 pm, on the all-weather surface at Newcastle. France also stages its first Classics of the season, the 2,000 Guineas and 1,000 Guineas, at Deauville.
TUESDAY JUNE 2 -- the UK comeback continues with more all-weather action at Kempton and Newcastle.
WEDNESDAY JUNE 3 -- the quality of racing steps up a gear at Kempton, with the first two Pattern races, including the Group Three Classic Trial, normally held at Sandown. The first turf card also takes place at Yarmouth.
THURSDAY JUNE 4 -- the opening day of a four-day blockbuster at Newmarket, including a host of contests for 2yos.
FRIDAY JUNE 5 -- the first Group One race of the new season as Newmarket hosts the Coronation Cup, normally held at Epsom. Headquarters shares the limelight with Lingfield, where its Derby and Oaks trials take place.
SATURDAY JUNE 6 -- a superb card at Newmarket features the opening Classic of the UK campaign, the Qipco 2,000 Guineas.
SUNDAY JUNE 7 -- another Classic at HQ, courtesy of the Qipco 1,000 Guineas. Haydock also opens its doors.
MONDAY JUNE 8 -- racing resumes in Ireland with a meeting at Naas.
FRIDAY JUNE 12 -- Ireland stages its first Classic, the 2,000 Guineas, while racing also returns to Newbury for the first time since lockdown.
SATURDAY JUNE 13 -- the Irish 1,000 Guineas takes centre stage, but there is also lots of fine action in the UK, at Sandown, Newbury and Doncaster.
SUNDAY JUNE 14 -- racing returns to Goodwood with a two-day meeting. There is also Sunday sport at Newmarket and Doncaster.
TUESDAY JUNE 16 -- Royal Ascot gets under way. The iconic meeting comprises five days of top-quality action, featuring no fewer than 36 races. The schedule includes six new heats and a bumper eight-race card on Saturday June 20.
MONDAY JUNE 22 -- jumps racing is back in Ireland, with a card at Limerick, and Flat racing is back in Scotland, with a meeting at Ayr..
SATURDAY JUNE 27 -- it’s Irish Derby day at The Curragh, while Newmarket and Newcastle share the pick of the UK action.
SUNDAY JUNE 28 -- more racing from Newmarket and The Curragh, which hosts the Group One Pretty Polly Stakes.
SATURDAY JULY 4 -- what promises to be one of the high spots of the year, with the re-arranged Investec Derby and Investec Oaks set to take place on the same day at Epsom.
SUNDAY JULY 5 -- a bumper weekend continues with the Group One Coral-Eclipse Stakes at Sandown, open only to horses aged four and older, and also the French Derby and French Oaks.
MONDAY JULY 27 -- the seven-day Galway Festival is expected to get under way in Ireland.
TUESDAY JULY 28 -- Glorious Goodwood begins, and continues until Saturday August 1.
WEDNESDAY AUGUST 19 -- York hopes to launch its four-day Ebor Festival..