Frustration was vented by senior racing officials on Thursday after a claim by a Welsh government minister, linking last week’s one-off admission of a crowd at Doncaster with an outbreak of Covid in Wales, was proved to be baseless. “There would be bits of my response you probably couldn’t print,” said David Armstrong, chief executive of the Racecourse Association, which has been working hard in recent weeks to persuade local health authorities that the return of crowds can be managed safely.
Armstrong was one of many who felt Wednesday’s statement by Vaughan Gething, the Welsh health minister, risked putting racing back in the Covid-19 pillory, where it had been in the weeks after the Cheltenham Festival in March. “It was just frustration that a headline gets grabbed on the back of other headlines about Cheltenham and creates this storyline that’s not real. We’ve got enough problems at the moment without having to deal with that as well.”
Similar comments were made by Mark Spincer of ARC, which runs Doncaster and was first to point out that Gething’s assertion could not be true, as the course had no record of a group from the Covid-affected area buying tickets and had received no contact from NHS Test and Trace. “So frustrating. It doesn’t help us and it definitely doesn’t help the sport,” Spincer said. “I would hope that over the next 24 hours, we will get some form of retraction and correction.”
Gething’s office accepted that the group in question had not entered Doncaster racecourse but declined to comment on any suggestion his statement had damaged racing’s reputation. A Welsh government spokesperson said: “The Doncaster group cluster is one of a number of clusters in the Rhondda Cynon Taf area. Contact tracing teams are continuing to trace contacts from this cluster.”
Armstrong said he had every hope the furore would not impact on racing’s ability to arrange the return of spectators, saying that local health authorities would not be distracted by a bit of controversial news. “Those organisations probably don’t pay an awful lot of attention to a headline. That’s the impression I have. They’re much more focused on the detail of what’s happening at our venues in their area.”
The RCA has found it “tough going” meeting the standards set by local health officials, Armstrong reports. “They’re looking to put in place exacting standards. We are working to the protocols we’ve been asked to by Sports Ground Safety Authority and the government and there’s an extra layer that’s being added at the local authority level which we’re finding very difficult.
“For Warwick next week, we calculated that under the guidelines we could hold 2,400 people, but we thought we’d start with a pilot of 1,250, about half. That’s gently been rowed back by the local authority to the point where we’re only going to have 500. And that’s at a track with a capacity of 10,000 in normal times.”
Friday’s best bets
It’s Bronze Cup day at Ayr and it’s no surprise to see interest in both of Tim Easterby’s runners in the cavalry charge, considering he had five winners on Thursday. I wouldn’t be getting wildly excited about that, as his recent strike-rate had only been 10% beforehand, but he clearly has a fine chance with Music Society (3.55).
The grey won this race last year and comes here on the same rating, with Paul Mulrennan back in the saddle and drawn in a similar stall. His build-up form has not been so impressive as in 2019 but his latest outing, when second of nine on his side at Ripon, was his best since this day last year and he should give us a run at 8-1.
The bookies seem to have been knocked over by fans of Mr Strutter (4.40), who opened at 13-2 last night but is now generally 5-2 for a seven-furlong handicap at Catterick. I guess I wasn’t the only one who thought he could have finished a lot closer last week, when he found all the trouble going.
Friday’s horse racing tips
Tips by Chris Cook
1.10 Bedford Flyer 1.45 King’s Charisma 2.20 Sarsaparilla 2.55 Basilicata 3.30 Leafhopper 4.05 Aliento 4.40 Mr Strutter (nb) 5.15 Ashington
1.20 Haajoos 1.55 Tacitus 2.30 King’s Caper 3.05 Rhythm 3.40 Baradar 4.15 D’bai 4.45 Lucid Dreamer 5.20 Dynali
1.40 Invincibly 2.10 Wobwobwob 2.45 Queen Of Rio 3.20 Star In The Making 3.55 Music Society (nap) 4.25 Beechwood Jude 4.55 George Ridsdale 5.25 Cassy O
4.00 Sky Storm 4.35 Daleelaty 5.10 Bagara 5.40 Anna Of Lorraine 6.10 Publicise 6.40 Moving Light 7.15 Gentleman At Arms 7.45 Deft 8.15 Uzincso
He is that type of horse, though, so I’d hope he would drift back out a bit. Franny Norton, aboard the veteran for just the second time, might get a better outcome.
At Newbury, the step up in distance looks a good move for Rhythm (3.05), who was outpaced in Salisbury’s Dick Poole last time. Though held that day, she’s on a fair mark for handicaps and 9-2 appeals.