Plumpton helps provide relief as racing resumes following shutdown

Hope's Wishes (left) wins at Plumpton
Hope's Wishes (left) wins at Plumpton

A midweek meeting at Plumpton would rarely register with the wider world - but to a racing nation rocked by the six-day shutdown for equine flu, Wednesday's return to normality really mattered.

The past week had seemed like an eternity away from the sport for so many, with meetings cancelled and more than 170 yards put on lockdown since last Thursday.

The British Horseracing Authority took decisive action after three cases of equine influenza, rising to six, were found at the yard of Donald McCain.

But just under a week later, finally racing was able to swing back into action at four courses around the country - including Plumpton, in rural Sussex.

There may have been no Grade One action for punters to feast their eyes on, with the best prize on offer a Class Three novices' handicap chase - but to the track's leading trainer Gary Moore, and so many more like him, the return of any racing was a huge relief.

"It had to be given the go-ahead - and I can't believe we got into this situation, to be perfectly honest with you," he said.

"I'm glad we are back, because it seemed a bit drastic.

"I think with the Irish letting British runners over helped - plus they carried on there and in France, where a yard that had to be tested had a runner over the weekend."

If Plumpton had been due to race at the start of the week, as it habitually is, local trainer Moore would not have been able to welcome his sport back on his doorstep.

"Thank God that Plumpton was on a Wednesday, and not a Monday like it normally is," he added.

"Meetings like this and those at Fontwell and Lingfield are our bread-and-butter meetings, and ones where we often have winners, so they mean more when they are called off.

"We are not all lucky enough to have good horses that can always run at big meetings - and these types of meetings are good for us, without going a million miles away."

The recent break gave many jockeys the chance to recharge their batteries.

But there is no denying how much the decision made by the BHA late on Monday, to get racing back on the road again, was greeted by members of the weighing room.

Grade One-winning rider Wayne Hutchinson said: "I did spend some time with the family - which I normally wouldn't get to do at this time of year - but I am delighted racing is back up and running and that we can get back to doing our day jobs.

"It was a shock when I woke up on Thursday morning to the news - but it was what it was, and we just had to deal with it.

"All I can say is it was a late night Monday waiting to find out what was going to happen - but at least when the decision was made we know where we stood."

Bookmaker Julian Head, who has held a pitch at the track under the name of Goodwin Racing for around three years, managed to mitigate losses during the shutdown.

He said: "The on-course business is about 10 per cent of what we do - and obviously that has had an impact with no opportunity for making money.

"Off course, it has stood up reasonably well. We are very much a horse racing firm, and we have a very strong telephone business.

"Normally 70 per cent of our turnover is UK horse racing. I looked at the figures this morning and we were still achieving 60 per cent of what we would normally do.

"We did find that people did back horses at Cagnes-sur-Mer and Meydan more than they normally would.

"It surprised me how well we did do when the BHA locked down racing. But it was tailing a bit of a death towards the end, because I think the novelty wore off - so it is vital we are back."

Not since a certain AP McCoy claimed his 3,000 winner aboard Restless D'Artaix in 2009 has Plumpton been in the spotlight quite as it was on Wednesday.

With all eyes on the venue once again, clerk of the course Mark Cornford was happy it passed its latest with flying colours.

He said: "It has created a bit of extra work, and even an increased stress level, but we have crossed the ts and dotted the is.

"I think everybody is doing their job, and everything the BHA has put in place was right and was well thought out. We did our bit by doing a good clean of our stable yard. Touch wood, everything has gone well.

"We lost our previous meeting to the snow, so potentially losing two meetings would have been a major loss to us - and potentially a lot of money would have been lost.

"I've been a bit stunned by the publicity. I know it is a massive industry, and it has been a big loss for six days, but it is almost like we haven't raced for three months.

"It is lovely that everyone is interested - and it is marvellous for Plumpton, because we are only a little racecourse and we are one of the first to get the show back on the road."

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