Australia: Racing ready to resume after jockey Mark Zahra gets COVID-19 all-clear

Horse Racing Mark Zahra jockey
Mark Zahra: Racing in Australia was on tenterhooks awaiting news of COVID-19 test.
Photo: Racing and Sports

By Nicholas Godfrey

Australia: Following a brief hiatus owing to the coronavirus crisis, racing in Australia is set to resume on Friday after star Melbourne jockey Mark Zahra was cleared of COVID-19.

Although the sport has been continuing behind closed doors, Wednesday’s meetings at Sandown in Melbourne, Warwick Farm (Sydney) and Ascot (Perth) were abandoned mid-programme as a precautionary measure when it emerged Zahra had unwittingly shared a commercial flight from Sydney to Melbourne on March 12 with an infected passenger.

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The identity of the jockey at the centre of the scare had been a closely guarded secret until 37-year-old Zahra was unmasked last night; he had been in contact with jockeys from the jurisdictions concerned.

Zahra, who has ridden 16 G1 winners including last month’s Lightning Stakes on Gytrash, was given the all-clear on Thursday night, which means racing will resume on Friday ahead of the big Tancred Stakes meeting at Rosehill in Sydney on Saturday.

Racing Victoria released a statement on Thursday night confirming that racing would resume in Victoria. 

“Race meetings at Warrnambool and Pakenham will proceed as programmed under the strict COVID-19 protocols governing the conduct of racing in accordance with all the current directives, guidelines and advice established by the Victorian Government on the advice of the chief health officer,” the statement said.

“Zahra has advised that, whilst he has been cleared to resume riding immediately; he is not booked for any rides until the Golden Mile meeting at Bendigo Saturday 28 March.

“A standing order remains for all industry participants to remain at home if they are feeling unwell, are displaying symptoms of COVID-19 or have been in contact with a confirmed case. No other riders are currently displaying symptoms of COVID-19.”

RV chief executive Giles Thompson said: “We appreciate everyone’s patience as we await the result of the test, in particular for Mark who has been placed under undue pressure through no fault of his own.

“I know that the best wishes of the industry are with him and I want to again thank and publicly acknowledge the professional and responsible manner in which he has acted.

“As I have stated on numerous occasions we have two clear objectives; to protect the health and wellbeing of industry staff, participants and indeed the wider community; and to provide a framework that allows for the safe continuation of Victorian racing for the 25,000 people whose livelihoods depend on it and for our horses which require ongoing care and attention.”

On the other hand. Queensland’s winter carnival has been scrapped owing to coronavirus precautions. Instead, the state is moving to segregated racing in five separate regions with selected feature races.

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