Professional sport returned to Britain with a 10-race card in Newcastle on Monday | Race News
Just after 1 p.m. the stalls erupted on a sunny day in Newcastle, jockey James Sullivan sent underdog Zodiakos 22-1 in the lead and professional sport returned to Britain for the first time since March 17.
But the specter of the coronavirus pandemic remains and it was a racing meeting with a somewhat odd feel – behind closed doors and with strict measures in place to try to keep participants safe.
Perhaps the most vivid reminder of this came in the paddock as the horses paraded before the races.
Normally a hive of activity, with owners, trainers, jockeys and broadcasters clustered together, while racing enthusiasts crowd the outskirts to assess horses, jockeys now carve isolated, lonely and socially distant figures in waiting to board their mounts.
Runners were also required to wear face masks and admitted this made the experience somewhat uncomfortable on a hot day.
Tony Hamilton, winner of Brian The Snail, said: “In the second race the bounce went into the mask and it was in my throat and I was almost sick of getting up.
“So I put on tights underneath and now the bounce doesn’t come in.
“But I’m the only person who’s had a problem with that and the masks are there for a reason, we all know what they’re for.”
The jockeys also used a makeshift locker room in the stands to allow for adequate social distancing.
But Paul Mulrennan seemed to speak for the majority when he said: “They have done a great job here in a short period of time.
“It’s just great to be back and I hope we can go ahead and crack and get the owners back.
“Riding with masks on is a little different, but some of us use them in all weather anyway for the rebound, so it’s nothing too weird. “
Champion jockey Oisin Murphy made a successful comeback, winning over promising four-year-old Alignak, coached by Sir Michael Stoute.
But the events of that race cast a shadow over the day as December 2 suffered a fatal injury as one of two cutters in the straight.
“He’s gone, I’m afraid,” distraught coach Phil Kirby said.
A spokesperson for the British Horseracing Authority conveyed his condolences to Kirby, the owners and the staff of the stable, while stressing that the welfare of the horses was paramount.
“Their safety has been an important consideration in our return planning, but it is impossible to completely eliminate the risk,” he said.
“On average, a horse falls once in 1000 runners in flat races.
“Statistics show that horses are more likely to be injured at home in a field than on a flat racetrack, and at the racetrack our horses have access to the best possible care.
“December 2 was treated by vets seconds after his fall.
“Those who watch the sport over the next few weeks will have no doubts about the exceptional well-being standards set by British racing.”
On a much happier note, a potential Classic contender has emerged in the form of Frankly Darling, who is as low as 10-1 with some bookies for the Investec Oaks at Epsom after an impressive Premier League win from the Betway Maiden.
Jockey Robert Havlin said: “She saw the mile and a quarter.
“She is by no means a slow filly, but I think she can see the mile and a half with no problem.
“She fills her frame well and she’s going the right way.”
In France, Victor Ludorum seemed to be one of the stars of the season when he won the classic success of the Poule d’Essai des Poulains in Deauville, whetting the appetite ahead of our own Guineas Festival this weekend.
But perhaps the star of the day was 22-1 underdog Zodiakos, a seven-year-old gelding who, having taken the lead in Newcastle’s very first race, simply refused to give up.
He galloped bravely for Sullivan, fending off a host of challengers and winning by a neck, to make the history books as the first winner, the day professional sport returned to Britain after a long hiatus.