Mike Cattermole speaks to Dale Gibson, Executive Director of the PJA, as jockeys prepare for a potential return to the saddle on June 1st.
The government’s announcement this week that no professional sport will be permitted until June 1 at the earliest, was a huge blow to those who had hoped that racing would be up and running again in this country before the end of this month.
Racing’s “Resumption Group” has been quiet so far in its response, as indeed has the BHA, but they will already be working on forming a revised programme before they are due to meet by video conference on Wednesday, May 13.
The original resumption proposal had included some Classic trials on May 23 and the more the comeback is delayed, the more the programme book will inevitably become compressed as time moves on.
That said, it is a surprise to some that Royal Ascot, due to start on June 16, has not issued any change of arrangement. The Queen’s racecourse has been quiet since announcing last month that the meeting would take place behind closed doors, but there seems to be no prospect presently of the showpiece being delayed at all.
Indeed, in an interview with BBC radio this week, John Gosden suggested that it would still work well if the Guineas meeting took place on the first weekend of June.
There will be some frustration here in the UK as we watch France gallop on with a busy programme but racing’s restart issues are not unique.
The Premier League’s “Project Restart” has already hit a number of complications, one of which is the reluctance of certain professionals to play not just because of a risk of infection but also while there are still hundreds of people dying per day.
The Premier League will talk to players and managers this week and, mirroring that, it is good to hear that our senior jockeys are due to be consulted when the Professional Jockeys’ Association talk to the BHA on Thursday (May 14).
Former rider Dale Gibson, now the Executive Director of the PJA, told me: “The jockeys are reasonably confident of the set-up and the circumstances that will be in place, but there are a handful who have reservations because there might be a vulnerable member of their family to consider, and that is understandable.”
Already in France we have seen that it is mandatory for the riders to wear masks but I understand that issue remains to be decided upon here, although similar protocols such as the use of showers and saunas being ruled out will be duplicated.
Gibson confirmed: “There will be significant changes to the regular weighing room set-up and some regular amenities will not be in use. The use of adjacent buildings, bars and restaurants will be needed to help with social distancing and there will be a fair amount of pre-race checks. We will all have to adapt.”
The entries for the French cards this week have been huge – there were over 1,000 entries for Monday’s Longchamp card - and that is likely to be similar here, with many yards and connections set to be disappointed.
Unlike the fields in France, where there have been several line-ups of up to 18 runners, field sizes here are likely to be limited to 12 in the first phase, and the card consisting of no more than eight races.
Gibson explained: “That could change as we move forward into the next phase. A lot will depend on the capacities of racecourse stables, of course.”
There will certainly be significant numbers of eliminations, which is sure to test the patience of connections.
Talks are on-going about which locations will be in use when racing does return, although there are rumours that Newmarket, Newcastle and Lingfield remain under consideration. We will hear more quite soon.
Gibson confirmed: “While there is the chance of another spike, we have to be led by the government in this. Ultimately we have been trying to act as a team with the BHA and racecourses and all parties.
“But the jockeys are ready. They are a resilient group of sportsmen and women.”