By Nicholas Godfrey
South Africa: After several false dawns, the National Horseracing Authority (NHA) of South Africa has announced that horse racing in the country will resume on Monday June 1 on a behind-closed-doors basis.
An eight-race Polytrack card at Greyville in Durban – for which there has been a mammoth total of 376 entries – is set to provide the first action in South Africa since the coronavirus shutdown at the end of March. Vaal follows on Tuesday, followed by Kenilworth on Wednesday.
Given previous last-minute knockbacks, perhaps it would be wise not to take too much for granted. However, a statement was issued in the name of NHA chief executive Vee Moodley outlining strict protocols under which racetracks must operate following the June 1 resumption.
“The NHA is pleased to announce that Horseracing in South Africa will resume on 1 June 2020 behind closed doors,” it said, adding that field sizes will be restricted to a maximum of 12 runners per race, with the exception of Pattern races, which can have 14 runners.
Jockeys must stay in a single region of their choice and will not be permitted to move in between provinces; horses will also not be allowed to move between provinces unless they are moving on a permanent basis.
Racing will not be allowed after 4.45pm, while Flamingo Park racetrack will remain shuttered for the month of June.
Moodley’s statement went on: “Any relaxations shall be implemented in conjunction with the status of the coronavirus pandemic, together with any positive changes to the Governments adjusted risk strategy from July onwards.”
After president Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement on Sunday evening that South Africa was dropping to Lockdown Level 3 status, it was widely expected racing would be able to resume on June 1.
However, similar sentiments applied last month when the planned resumption was scuppered with less than 24 hours’ notice after racing was “deemed not to be an essential service” by the government under Level 4 conditions.
After the decision, senior trainer Mike de Kock warned of a “grim reality” featuring “loss of jobs and euthanasia” of significant parts of the horse population if racing was halted indefinitely.