Virus presenting challenges for racing industry

By Andrew Johnston

RACING was already the sport of kings. Now it seems to be the only one left standing.

While Racing Victoria has seen two days of shutdown as a jockey was tested for COVID-19, the sport has seemed largely immune to the outside world.

But those inside the sport are seeing things as far more challenging.

Michael Cornish said he and Donna Gaskin's stables had been cut in half, and staff had been let go as a result.

“It really cuts us deep to have to lose people,” he said.

“But we're in a time where we've had to make those decisions. We have ten horses currently doing work, with another 15 who won't be coming back until this crisis is over.

“Our owners are shutting their own businesses, which obviously makes putting money into what is essentially their hobby very difficult.”

Cornish-Gaskin has three runners nominated for the weekend, though Cornish said on Friday he didn't expect racing to still be in play next week.

“We're all waiting for the next stage of restrictions to kick in,” he said.

“We're in a tough position, and I honestly can't see the sport operating for much longer.”

Echuca trainer Gwenda Johnstone said a lack of trials, as well as new regulations has made the business quite difficult.

“They want you to get into the track, race, and basically leave,” she said.

“They need to keep numbers under 100, which we fully accept as we need to keep people safe, but it does make the day difficult in terms of preparation and organising after a race is run.”

While the sport is currently returning to normal after two days were suspended last week, Racing Victoria's chief executive Giles Thompson has suggested the sport should brace itself for a lengthy delay.

“There is the stark reality … scenario planning for one, three, six (weeks) or even longer has to be done, not just at RV's level but at every stakeholder group's level,” Thompson told RSN on Thursday.

Johnstone said people within the sport would like a clear decision.

“If they're going to stop it, we'd just like them to make the decision,” she said.

“We've had it temporarily suspended then restarted, it's definitely difficult to plan properly when there is a chance it could be cancelled at any time.

“With the tested jockey in the clear, we are now back on, so we will continue to do what we can, but we would like a clear call so we can make changes accordingly.”

Alan Newton and both Rhys and Daryl Archard had runners entered into now cancelled races during the week.

Now Newton said their training runs are a day-by-day prospect.

“It's having a huge impact on those in the industry,” he said.

“We've already had a race cancelled, we have a runner on the weekend but we don't know what is going to be happening in the following days. We're reassessing each day what we are going to do.”