By Nicholas Godfrey
New Zealand: The racing industry in New Zealand has been given the green light for a planned restart at the start of July after receiving government approval for a return to training, trialling and racing as national COVID-19 alert levels have been eased.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced this week that New Zealand’s lockdown alert levels will be downgraded to Alert Level 3 (from Level 4, which requires the most stringent procedures) at 11.59pm on Monday April 27.
Under Level 3 guidelines, the operation of the racing industry is at the discretion of government, which has given the go-ahead as long as the relevant ‘behind-closed-doors’ protocols are strictly adhered to. Similar social-distancing measures must be followed in training establishments.
Both racing and training in New Zealand were suspended a month ago as a precaution against the further spread of coronavirus. Training can now resume from Tuesday, while racing is set to come back after the shutdown at the beginning of July.
New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing (NZTR) earlier this week released a proposed calendar taking in the months of July until early November; the 2020-21 NZ season starts on August 1.
NZTR had suggested it was targeting a July 1 resumption “in accordance with the strict government and public health obligations”.
However, the first meeting on the new schedule actually comes on Friday July 3 at the Canterbury Jockey Club at Riccarton Park in Christchurch. Meetings in July will act as a build-up for the new season in August.
With several trainers having sent horses to the spelling farm, only six venues – chosen largely owing to their proximity to the equine population – will be used in July. They are Awapuni. Pukekohe, Te Rapa and Wanganui on the North Island plus Riccarton and Southland (Invercargill) on the South Island.
However, it appears probable the New Zealand Guineas could be switched from Riccarton to the North Island for the 2020-21 season. Te Rapa is set to stage the NZ 2,000 Guineas on November 7, with Ellerslie, the nation’s premier track, set for the 1,000 Guineas a week late. Ellerslie returns to the revised calendar in September.
Outlining the latest government advice on Friday, NZTR issued a statement, saying: “At Level 3, the government has advised NZTR that on-site work is permitted for training and racing of thoroughbreds, provided that all employers have a COVID-19 control plan in place, with appropriate health and safety and physical distancing measures for both staff and contractors.
“As an industry, we must continue to prove that we can keep all participants safe and eliminate, or mitigate to the greatest possible extent, the risk of transmission of COVID-19.
“It is important that every one of our industry participants continues to play their part in ensuring workplaces are safe for everyone and this includes maintaining social distancing and proper hygiene practices, with handwashing etc.”
• Find out more about racing in New Zealand at loveracing.nz