Australian horse racing glides through global pandemic

| November 19, 2020

Twenty twenty has been the most extraordinary year. The global pandemic spread like a shockwave through continents, wreaking havoc and destroying entire economies. Sport was not spared as unprecedented cancellations were announced, including major events which boasted hundreds of years of history. Horse racing in Australia however, continued unabated, managing to find a way forward while keeping participants safe from the dreaded disease.

Entry of international raiders

One of the most remarkable aspects was the successful importation of Melbourne Cup candidates from international Covid-19 hotspots. The extraordinary feat of shipping international horses to Australia under strict quarantine regulations, maintaining isolation, and abiding by local mandates was truly incredible and a credit to the professionalism of the industry. Hard to think that under such conditions there were no major local Covid-19 outbreaks in the horse racing industry in Australia.

Not without hiccups

Owing to the restrictions, punters were not permitted on course to watch and bet. Online betting surged due to people remaining at home and continuing to bet from connected devices. Punters flocked online to find the best ways to bet, much like the US gamblers accessing the best casino sites. Racing was not devoid of hiccups of course. The online TAB went down on Mackinnon Stakes day at Flemington, costing the company millions of dollars in turnover. This proved to be a bonanza for rival corporate bookmakers as TAB punters flocked to other providers. Unibet Australia was more than equal to the task. My bet is that those punters will be lost to the TAB as they experience the supreme customer service at Unibet.

Another hiccup occurred when racing minister Martin Pakula planned to allow 500 owners and connections to attend the Moonee Valley feature meetings. After the loud community backlash, he was forced to back down and instigate a total ban. It was devastating for owners of Manikato Stakes winner Hey Doc and Cox Plate champion Sir Dragonet who watched their horses’ triumphant exploits from their homes. 

Severe restrictions

While national sports, like the country’s premier football competition (AFL) thrived by moving interstate, horse racing stayed put under severe safety restrictions. In retrospect, the Spring Racing Carnival came a month too soon, as Covid-19 numbers in the state plummeted to zero soon afterward. The decisive crushing of the Covid-19 virus in Victoria prompted the easing of restrictions. Who knows what decision would have been made if the carnivals commenced during the later, relative virus-free period.

Racing in Sydney wasn’t as dramatically affected because Covid-19 numbers were well controlled. However, one of the marquis races, The Everest, was watched by 11,000 people at Randwick racecourse, well below the usual 40,000 of other years. Racegoers needed to pre-book to attend and a temperature check performed on arrival. With these restrictions in place, no apparent problems or repercussions were evident. Lucky were those fans privileged to witness the superb performance of Classique Legend in the rich event.

Lockdowns and Covid-19 breaches

With such a huge industry, abundantly linked throughout the country, any hint of a Covid outbreak or breach was quickly acted upon. A stable at Cranbourne training complex in Victoria was locked down, workers isolated and horses quarantined. A stablehand had tested positive to Covid-19. Due to the severe and rapid response, the situation was contained and no further infections were found.

Elsewhere in the industry, Covid-19 protocol breaches were quickly pulled up, and hefty fines handed out. Areas were locked down until suspected cases were resolved. There were for example some instances where participants were identified as close contacts of an infected individual and were instantly isolated until test results obtained. These instances showed the determination of the industry to continue safely in the midst of the global pandemic.

Highlights of the 2020 carnivals

It was the supreme success story for the horse racing industry to get through the carnivals without major setbacks. Those punters who were fortunate enough to back winners were duly compensated. Local online betting turnover was through the roof and US patrons obtained their best payout casinos online with no trouble or effort. With the disruption caused by Covid-19, new innovative products in online betting is undoubtedly leading to better service and customer experience.

If not for the restriction measures, we would not have witnessed such phenomenal performances, including our top key moments of the Spring Carnival. Sir Dragonet in Australia’s horse racing championship, the Cox Plate, winning like a seasoned WFA performer. Johnny Get Angry victorious in the Derby for a former football hero, now horse trainer. Irish import Twilight Payment staying on down the straight to win The Cup. Damien Oliver getting Personal in the Oaks. Perhaps as the final exclamation point, the strapping colt Bivouac smashed the Sprint Classic on the final day of the VRC carnival like the horse racing industry did to Covid-19. Horse racing was superb in every sense. One can only imagine what further heights will be scaled once the adoring fans and eager punters are welcomed back to the racetrack.

Category: Racing

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