John Gosden saddled a winner here on Thursday and then spoke about the “grim outlook” for racing as it absorbs the news that its grandstands will remain empty for the next six months. “Of course you miss the crowds, and you start worrying about the future of a number of racecourses which may well have to go into receivership,” he said. “If it went on and on, I think it’s an inevitability that there will be major casualties.”
Gosden can remember the 1970s – when “half the yards in Newmarket were empty” – and sees major ownership operations and stables as being under threat as well as the tracks where they send their horses to race. He is also one of the better-connected trainers in government circles, but is inclined towards “self-help” as the best way forward, as tracks start to count the cost of what seems certain to be an entire year without crowds.
“I think you’ve got to look at self-help,” he said. “Saying [to the government] lob some money at it is not the approach, they want something that stabilises our industry and also in time delivers revenue to the Treasury, because the youth of our country are being saddled with a debt the likes of which they’ll never be able to work off.
“We have to reorganise ourselves in every way possible and if this doesn’t focus the minds of everybody in all constituent parts of the racing and breeding industries in this country, nothing will.”
Gosden’s view does not seem in complete accord with that of the British Horseracing Authority, which has appealed for “direct financial support” to get the sport through the winter. Like the BHA, however, he accepts the need to adhere to the latest restrictions, while remaining adamant that racecourses can offer a Covid-secure environment.
“I feel much more secure going to a racetrack than I do going to the supermarket or petrol station,” he said. “We should be able to have managed crowds. Look at these huge open spaces, you’re talking hundreds of acres of open air.
“We’re not in an enclosed stadium sitting cheek-by-jowl, and we’re not at the Crucible for a snooker match inside. To that extent it’s very feasible, but legislation is a blunt tool and it’s not able to distinguish between different sporting events. The French have carried on quite happily with their crowds, but it’s going to be inch-by-inch, isn’t it?”
Friday’s Newmarket preview
It says a good deal about how Kameko’s season has gone since he landed the 2,000 Guineas in June that he returns to the same track and trip for the Group Two Joel Stakes on Friday and is not even sure to start favourite.
He has now run well in defeat three times at Group One level without ever looking a likely winner and Benbatl (3.35) is a tough opponent for a horse in need of a confidence boost. Saeed bin Suroor’s evergreen six-year-old produced one of the runs of his life to win this last season after an 11-month break, so a 209-day absence this time around is no great concern.
Newmarket 1.50 A big field but perhaps not a huge amount of strength in depth and while Ummalnar is back from 440 days off the track, her win at Ascot in July 2019 was a career-best. William Haggas is more than capable of getting her ready first time and she can extend the frustration for followers of Cloak Of Spirits, second in the 1,000 Guineas but without a win in four starts since.
Greg Wood’s Friday tips
Uttoxeter 12.30 Topofthecotswolds 1.00 Fusil Raffles 1.30 Our Rockstar2.00 Knight Commander 2.35 Lillington 3.10 Tea Clipper 3.45 Absolute Jaffa 4.20 Cotton End
Newmarket 1.15 Roscioli 1.50 Ummalnar 2.25 Katara (nap) 3.00 Santosha 3.35 Benbatl (nb) 4.10 Laafy 4.45 Kattani
Haydock 2.15 Vulcan 2.50 Terrichang 3.25 Marlay Park 4.00 Blind Beggar 4.35 Prince Alex 5.05 Imperium 5.35 Hesslewood
Newcastle 4.15 Bellatrixsa 4.50 Ghumama 5.20 King Of Stars 5.55 Lord Of The Glen 6.30 Proclaimer 7.00 Sea Storm 7.30 Eldelbar 8.00 Blue Cable 8.30 Fair Alibi
Newmarket 2.25 Alpinista’s five-length second to Love in the Yorkshire Oaks last time is form that leaps off the page, but she set off at 33-1 and did not test the winner at all. Her price looks short enough in the circumstances and the lightly-raced Katara (nap) is a tempting alternative. She has improved dramatically on her last two starts, and the time of her latest win marked her out as Group Three class at least.
Newmarket 3.00 Santosha is third-favourite in a field of five for the Rockfel but had second-favourite Isabella Giles nearly two lengths behind her at Ascot in July. A slow start meant her race was over before it started at York but a quicker getaway today would put her in the mix.