French breeders were given the go-ahead on Friday evening to continue with their season with the Ministry of Agriculture approving an extensive list of protocols.
It was drawn up by veterinarians and breeding industry experts to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 while transporting mares and while at the breeding shed.
The breeding season had been under threat in light of the country’s government-mandated lockdown, and earlier on Friday Haras de Bouquetot, home of last year’s leading first-crop yearling sire by average, Shalaa (Ire), announced it would close its breeding shed for two weeks.
Those that contributed to writing the protocols include veterinary advisors to France Galop and LeTROT, representatives of the AVEF, IFCE and the Societe Hippique Francaise and Camille Vercken, founder of equine biosecurity consultancy Equiways.
“The continuation of the breeding season is an absolute necessity for the players in the horse industry, whether for breeders or stallion owners,” European Federation of Thoroughbred Breeders’ President Loic Malivet said.
“The continuation of the breeding season is an absolute necessity for the players in the horse industry, whether for breeders or stallion owners.” – Loic Malivet
“So the industry had to come together to propose solutions allowing the continuation of breeding in absolute respect of the rules of hygiene and security facing COVID-19.
“These steps also respond to the call of the President of the Republic, who [wishes] to maintain economic activity in France despite the particularly painful circumstances that our country is going through today.”
The protocols include the submission of all paperwork, including a signed copy of the protocols related to the covering electronically before arrival at the stallion farms, having just one person with the mare and having that person stay in the vehicle at all times, leaving foals at home as much as possible and not stopping to or from the run to the breeding shed except in case of emergency.
The protocol advises that farms that cannot follow the protocols should cease operations.
Stud delays opening
The stud said on a statement on its website on Friday that coverings already booked through Sunday will be honoured, but no new bookings will be taken.
“Fully aware of the economical impact this decision may have on breeders, our priority remains the health and safety of our staff and clients, considering the gravity of this crisis and in accordance with all drastic measures recently taken across Europe.”
In addition to Shalaa, who was so well-received in Australia at Arrowfield Stud and Europe’s leading first-crop sire by average at the yearling sales last year, Bouquetot is home to Olympic Glory (Ire) and Toronado (Ire), G1 Investec Derby winner Ruler Of The World (Ire), who is standing his first season in France this year as well as Al Wukair (Ire), Ectot (GB), Mekhtaal (Fr) and Zelzal (Fr).
Ardern addresses nation
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has advised New Zealanders over 70 and those with immune or respiratory conditions to stay home.
"It's not about whether or not you're worried about yourself. It's that you should be worried for those around you, so please take it seriously. This is about saving lives,” she said in a nationwide broadcast on Saturday.
Ardern's remarks came as New Zealand faced a new challenge in the fight against COVID-19. For the first time there are cases that are not linked to overseas travel, raising the threat of potential community transmission.
As the threat level escalates, the Government will roll out increasingly severe responses, with the fourth and final stage meaning the country will be in almost complete lockdown, with the exception of supermarkets and pharmacies, which will stay open no matter how severe the crisis.
The threat level will be assessed and updated daily. It could also apply to regions rather than the nation as a whole.
Staff facing redundancies
The closure of racing in Britain due to the coronavirus pandemic is having a huge effect on stable staff with reports of redundancies.
George McGrath, chief executive of the National Association of Racing Staff, has been inundated with calls for help from his members since Tuesday's announcement racing was to cease until at least May in light of the coronavirus outbreak.
"In terms of my membership it is catastrophic and it is only heading in one direction," McGrath said. "Without a doubt the main concerns are job losses and redundancies.
“Where do they get money from? Some have gone into work to be turned away by employers and they are asking what their rights are.
"It's carnage out there at the moment because people are very worried, and that includes trainers. Nobody wants to let their staff go but if money isn't coming in how do you pay people."
"It's carnage out there at the moment because people are very worried, and that includes trainers.” – George McGrath
Questions have been asked why racing in Ireland can continue behind closed doors while in Britain those measures were only in place for one day, but McGrath understands why the decision was taken.
"Obviously, we aren't the only sector having these sorts of issues, but as an industry we are doing our utmost to keep things ticking over until a time comes when we are able to stage racing again, but if you've no money coming in you can't pay wages," he said.
"Since the first announcement of no racing we have had members put out of work. The industry was gearing up to race behind closed doors with a reduced fixture list, but the landscape changed so quickly the rug was taken from under our feet when the political ramifications were made clear and medical advice said we couldn't continue."
In what is traditionally low-paid work, McGrath is worried for the future for many of his members.
"Traditionally most staff will survive from one week to the next. Most of my members are paid weekly, some fortnightly - very few monthly. Like a lot of people in the country they might be able to survive without one pay cheque, but if you've got to go two or three you're going to struggle," he said.
"Trainers are doing their utmost to help staff keep their jobs, but by and large they are small businessmen with a massive cash flow problem."
Show goes on
Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields will conduct live racing this weekend.
A state-wide stay at home order California Governor Gavin Newsom issued on Thursday evening in an attempt to curb the spread of the coronavirus, telling residents to remain indoors with the exception of essential trips and services, had cast some doubts about the viability of live racing going.
However, Aidan Butler, acting executive director of California racing for the Stronach Group (TSG), explained in a text that racing would go ahead as planned.
All week, TSG has gradually tightened the screws on which personnel are allowed entry to their California facilities.
On Tuesday, the company circulated a letter explaining that anyone, including trainers, assistants, grooms and jockeys, who travel internationally will not be allowed entry to their tracks for 14 days.
“In addition, they would have to pass a physical exam prior to being cleared to enter the racetrack including the stable area,” the letter stated.
On Thursday, they tightened the restrictions even further, closing the stable entry gates at Santa Anita Park, Golden Gate Fields and San Luis Rey Downs to new personnel, while unveiling a detailed list of protocols for those permitted entry to these facilities in an attempt to minimise the possible spread of coronavirus.
Oaklawn has announced that it is moving its signature race, the GI Arkansas Derby, from Saturday, April 11 to Saturday, May 2.
Due to the closing of the casino and racetrack to the public, Oaklawn could have raced with purses intact through April 18, but will reduce prizemoney across the board and, as a result, the Arkansas Derby purse will be reduced to US$750,000 (AU$1.3 million).
“Churchill Downs understands the circumstances created by the current health crisis, and, therefore, will allow the full 170 points toward Kentucky Derby eligibility (now scheduled for Saturday, September 5) as long as we meet the minimum purse threshold of US$750,000,” Oaklawn President Louis Cella said.
“The purse reductions are across the board. If operations return to normal between now and May, we will adjust them accordingly.”
Racing on hold
Officials at the Maryland Jockey Club announced the cancellation of Friday’s scheduled live racing program at Laurel Park and will pause racing indefinitely following an executive order from the office of Maryland Governor Larry Hogan.
“In accordance with the Maryland Governor’s Executive Orders and as part of the continuing effort to protect the health and safety of essential personnel and the horses they care for, the Maryland Jockey Club will temporarily pause live racing at Laurel Park and Rosecroft Raceway,” it said in a statement.
“Our top priority is the well-being of every person and every horse in our community and we look forward to resuming when the state and federal leaders and health authorities deem it appropriate to do so.”