This year’s Grand National was canceled due to the spread of the novel coronavirus, for the first time since World War II. Instead of the traditional horse race, the UK’s Channel 4 broadcast a virtual horse race created by Inspired Entertainment, a company providing betting companies around the world with various virtual sports events. People could bet on the novel race – the benefits would go to the NHS to help the fight against the pandemic.
England’s racetracks were not the only ones that saw their races postponed or suspended due to the spread of the virus. The most beautiful racetracks have closed their gates, some of them to viewers only, others, to jockeys and horses, too.
The British Horseracing Authority has suspended all horse races in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The BHA hopes for the horses to return to the racetrack in May but this depends, of course, on the measures imposed by the government. Even if the horses return to the tracks, spectators will have to stay away: all races will take place behind closed doors.
The organizers of the Royal Ascot (June 16-20) hope to still organize the event, albeit behind closed doors – it all depends on whether the government and the BHA approve it.
In Japan, most racetracks have been closed due to the pandemic, except those in Tokyo, Kyoto, Fukushima, and Niigata where races can still be held behind closed doors. The races of the Japanese Triple Crown will be held but spectators won’t have access to the grandstands.
Horse racing is very important for the inhabitants of Hong Kong – some say it’s part of their DNA. About a tenth of its population bets on the races – so there, racing never stopped. Racecourses closed their doors to the public, though, and there is no telling when the roaring crowds will cover the grandstands again.
In the US, horse racing never stopped – not even in the areas hit hardest by the pandemic. A stablehand at the Belmont Park racetrack, just east of New York City, was diagnosed with coronavirus and passed away – but racing is still going on. New York is not the only area with an open racetrack: others are holding events in Tampa Bay, Florida, and Grand Island, Nebraska, are also running their horses.
Finally, Australia is another country where horse racing has not been shut down – except for Tasmania, where the authorities suspended all races at the beginning of April. In the meantime, the local authorities have re-examined the situation in the light of the evolution of the pandemic and decided that Tasmania will resume races in June. Without spectators, of course.