COVID-19: Racing in New Zealand suspended while Australia continues

By Jon Lees

New Zealand: Racing in New Zealand was brought to a halt by the coronavirus pandemic on Monday when a four-week suspension was announced, but the sport will continue in Australia under restrictions.

The decision by the New Zealand government to move to level 4 of its COVID-19 alert system within 48 hours, effectively putting the country into lockdown, made the decision inevitable. Racing in New Zealand had been operating behind closed doors.

The New Zealand government’s recent announcements regarding further travel restrictions and New Zealand border closures due to COVID-19 had resulted in the suspension of all international equine flights.

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Limits by airlines on cabin occupancy meant professional grooms would not be able to accompany horses travelling overseas, including those hoping to target some of the lucrative upcoming races in Sydney. 

New Zealand followed Britain, France, Dubai, where the Dubai World Cup was called off on Sunday, and some tracks in the United States in ordering a cessation of horse racing in the face of spiralling numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths. 

Other countries such as Ireland, where the 2020 Flat Turf season started on Monday, Japan, Hong Kong and South Africa continue to race with no paying spectators.

In Australia, where a number of country meetings have been cancelled, the two main jurisdictions, Racing Victoria and Racing NSW, on Monday opted to continue to race within the government protocols.

Racing Victoria chief executive Giles Thompson said: “The Board gave appropriate consideration as to whether racing should continue in light of the updated restrictions and advice over the past 24 hours.

“Having considered all the relevant information, including the strict protocols currently in place across the industry, the latest Government and health advice, the importance of protecting the livelihoods of the hardworking men and women of our industry and the ongoing care and welfare of our horses, we have determined that racing and training will continue in Victoria until otherwise advised.

“We’re acutely aware that our horses require daily and appropriate hands-on management whether we are racing or not and we equally know that they thrive upon exercise and the daily routine they are afforded in their training environments. This has been an important factor in our considerations.

“The decision to continue racing and training is not one that has been taken lightly, but we make it knowing that Victorian racing will continue to do everything to remain compliant with all the current directives, guidelines and advice established by the Victorian Government on the advice of the Chief Health Officer.”

A statement from Racing New South Wales said: “Thoroughbred race meetings in NSW will continue to proceed under strict biosecurity risk management protocols in accordance with government and health authority advice.

“These protocols have been in place since 16 March and include the conduct of race meetings without public attendance and appropriate social distancing of industry participants.

“Racing NSW will continue to apply and update these protocols in accordance with advice from government and health authorities to ensure the safety of all industry participants.”

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