The Racing Post, the sport’s trade newspaper, will “temporarily suspend” publication of its print edition from Friday, leaving a number of its journalists “temporarily stood down” while the operation’s news service continues online.
The Racing Post launched in April 1986 and has been the sport’s only daily newspaper for most of the 22 years since the closure of the Sporting Life in 1998. It also produces a separate print edition for display on the walls of Britain’s 7,000 betting shops. The closure of all shops earlier this week as a result of measures to stop the spread of coronavirus, along with the end of racing behind closed doors in Ireland, appear to be behind the decision to suspend print operations.
In a letter to readers in Thursday’s edition, which was published online on Wednesday evening, Tom Kerr, the Post’s editor, says that “unfortunately, with racing in Britain and Ireland halted, betting shops closed and our governments urging everyone to stay at home as much as possible to slow the spread of coronavirus, we have been left with no other choice.”
Kerr goes on to pay tribute to the work done by the Post’s journalists in recent weeks “from dozens of makeshift home offices” to “provide our readers with the information they need to understand what is happening [and] keep those employed in racing and facing difficult financial times ahead informed about the support available to them.”
The Racing Post does not report its circulation figures to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, which compiles national newspaper circulation data, but filings of accounts at Companies House suggest its print circulation declined from a daily average of 66,000 in 2008 to just under 35,000 in 2017. This daily figure is certain to vary significantly because of seasonal and other factors, with a much higher sale expected on Saturdays and during major festivals such as Cheltenham and Royal Ascot.
The Post, which has a cover price of £3.50, also operates an online subscription service, with packages allowing full access to its extensive form database and race replays available for £19.95/month and £34.95/month, although early access to the print edition is a key selling point of the premium package.
“I know many of you will share our enormous disappointment that this is the last edition of the Racing Post for a while,” Kerr says in his letter to readers.
“However, we will continue to publish on racingpost.com and on the Racing Post mobile app, ensuring that racing professionals, punters and fans of the sport are informed and entertained for however long this shutdown might last. Racing might be suspended but we know your passion for the sport and need for accurate information continues. We’re still here to serve you.
“At some point in the coming weeks or months, when the worst of this disease has passed, horse racing will resume. When racing is back, the Racing Post newspaper will be back as well, filled with all the wit, wisdom, data and analysis that you expect from us.”
Few racing professionals would ever be without their daily Post. While the suspension of print operations may have been inevitable with most of the global racing programme and all other domestic sporting action suspended, the sudden loss of the paper edition will still come as a shock in racing centres across the country.
With a long suspension of racing also casting a shadow over the future of many betting shops, there will be a real fear in the industry that Thursday’s print edition of the Racing Post could yet prove to be the last.
Cork racecourse to become coronavirus testing centre
Cork racecourse will become a testing centre for coronavirus from Thursday morning as Irish racing lends its support to government efforts to stop the spread of the virus, following the suspension of all racing in Ireland until at least 19 April.
Horse Racing Ireland, which was forced to abandon its programme of staging race meetings behind closed doors on Tuesday by new restrictions on sporting events, also said in a statement on Wednesday that it is “working … to identify other elements of racing’s personnel and infrastructure that could be used in the co-ordinated reaction to the crisis.”
HRI also warned of the “potentially catastrophic impact of a sustained period without racing on all sectors of the industry” and suggested it will look to return to racing behind closed doors at the earliest opportunity.
Cork racecourse, near the town of Mallow, is about 30 miles from Cork City, Ireland’s second-largest city after Dublin with a population of nearly 200,000. Croke Park in Dublin, the 82,000-seat headquarters of the Gaelic Athletic Association, opened a Covid-19 testing centre last week and more tracks seems likely to follow Cork’s lead in a country which has the highest number of racecourses per head of population in the world.
“What is most important is that as a country, we do all we can individually and collectively to fight the transmission of Covid-19 and focus on our health,” Nicky Hartery, the HRI chairman, said after a meeting of the organisation’s board, “ensuring that resources such as medical facilities and personnel are allocated where the need is most.”