By Jon Lees
Sweden: While racing in Britain, France and Ireland remains suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sweden bucked the European trend as the 2020 campaign got under way with a behind-closed-doors card at Bro Park on Sunday.
Bro Park, 40km outside Stockholm, was the venue for the only thoroughbred race meeting staged in Europe where a seven-race card went ahead with attendees limited to key track staff and those involved with saddling runners.
The Swedish government has so far taken a softer approach to the coronavirus outbreak than the nation’s neighbours in Europe. Gatherings of more than 50 people are banned and the public advised to work from home, avoid non-essential travel and the elderly or sick to stay indoors, but shops and restaurants remain open.
However, the country’s three biggest racing events – the National Day Race, the 50th running of the Swedish Grand National and the Women’s Jockeys’ World Cup, all set to take place in June – have been cancelled.
But the rest of the regular season, which runs from April to December, was able to kick off at Bro Park with international bettors, including customers of Britain’s Tote and France’s PMU, able to bet into the Sweden’s tote, ATG.
Dennis Madsen, sports manager of Svensk Galopp, said: “From what I know it was the only meeting in Europe. People were told about the situation three weeks ago – we had no spectators and no one tried to come in.
“It wasn’t that difficult to race this way,” Madsen went on. “The restrictions in Sweden are very much guidelines but the difference between us and other countries that are closed are not that much.
“Swedish people act responsibly and take no chances with this virus; we don’t need to be locked inside completely. People who can work from home do that otherwise we follow guidelines on workspace.
“The racetrack is a workspace – we deliver a gambling product for gambling companies in the same way a plastic component factory does for other businesses. It’s the consensus in Sweden that we carry on. We don’t want to stop society but we must behave responsibly.”
Madsen confirmed that ATG were in discussions with TV officials in Britain and France to show Swedish racing. The next race meeting takes place on Wednesday at Jagersro.
However, he claimed that any international betting was merely a by-product and little bearing on their decision to stage racing.
“We carry on for our own betting company and to keep the business going on,” he explained. “There are a lot of people involved in racing. It is Swedish opinion that if you close down society there will be a lot of other downsides.
“If the authorities say we have to close down workspace, then of course we will close down immediately but as long as other places are open, we are open too.”
Alice Elmerskog, who has been a professional trainer for four years, stole the headlines on the track at Bro Park. The 30-year-old, who has only 12 horses, registered her first double, which included the card’s feature race with Visiteur Du Pom.
“I knew before the race that I had the horses fit and would run well,” reported Elmerskog. “Visiteur Du Pom has won at Listed level before and my plan was to get his confidence back. He won very easily and will probably have to go to bigger races now.”
Elmerskog admitted the atmosphere – or lack thereof – resulted in quite a weird experience. “It was a bit strange to have no people there,” she said. “There was no interview with any of the winners, and we had to stay away from the jockeys so they left the saddle on the table before we could get them. I gave my instructions earlier by phone.
“But I think everyone was happy to race with no spectators,” she went on. “All the owners were at home watching the races in their kitchen. It’s better than nothing and I thought the raceday worked out well. I guess it will keep on going as long as no one here gets sick.
“The sport here is a bit small and many trainers don’t have such good economics so it’s important that we can keep going. After the winter break there are many horses that have been off that need to get going.”