By Nicholas Godfrey
UAE: Christophe Lemaire is taking no chances with the coronavirus ahead of Almond Eye’s bid to defend her crown in the Dubai Turf at Meydan on March 28.
As a precautionary measure against further spread of COVID-19, the Dubai World Cup card will take place behind closed doors after organisers announced restriction on access to all but horses’ connections, officials, credentialed media and sponsors.
Similar measures have been introduced elsewhere – notably in Japan, Hong Kong, Ireland, France and several major US racetracks.
Worried over potential travel problems, the Japan Racing Association’s reigning champion jockey Lemaire, who has 36 winners to his name so far this year, will miss out on a weekend’s riding in Japan to ensure safe arrival in Dubai for early screening for the virus that has large parts of the world in lockdown.
The Frenchman is planning to fly to Dubai next week, fully ten days before he is due to ride Almond Eye in the $6 million Dubai Turf.
“I will go to Dubai on Wednesday [March 18],” the 40-year-old told Japanese reporters. “She is the most important thing because she is a horse of a lifetime for me. I was very worried I might not be able to get back into the country during the Saudi Cup. If I could not get on her, I would go crazy.”
Almond Eye beat compatriot Vivlos by a comfortable length and a quarter in last year’s Dubai Turf. Seeking her seventh G1 success, the five-year-old goes to Meydan after a break following an uncharacteristically lacklustre effort in the Arima Kinen.