SYDNEY, Australia (AFP) — Punters in the UK had to make do with a Virtual Grand National last weekend, but in Australia and Asia they are still able to enjoy a flutter on the real thing, albeit only online.
Sydney’s autumn racing festival burst out of the gates Saturday (April 4) to little fanfare, on an Australia Derby Day held without the customary throngs of well-dressed spectators.
Royal Randwick racecourse was open only to “essential” Racing New South Wales and Australian Turf Club staff, as well as a handful of participants and media.
Owners were kept away as jockeys competed in the first day of the Aus$20 million (US$12 million) ‘The Championships’, though the day’s races were broadcast live with bets taken online.
Champion New Zealand trainer Murray Baker recorded a fifth win in the Derby with Quick Thinker and one he is likely never to forget, as he had to watch it from his sofa back home in Cambridge on the other side of the Tasman Sea.
“When you’re in lockdown, any win is good,” Baker told the Sun-Herald newspaper.
“We’ve got no horses here, there are no cars driving past, so it’s quite eerie,” Baker said before revealing how he would celebrate.
“I can have a beer,” he said. “I’ll have more than one.”
Racing in Australia has continued behind closed doors in all states except Tasmania, which last week enforced a shutdown.
Five cards were run on Sunday from New South Wales to western Australia, while in Asia behind-closed-doors meetings were also taking place in Hong Kong and Japan.
Horse racing is one of the few global sports to be left standing in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, though the Singapore Turf Club finally caved in on Friday and suspended all racing until May 4 after soldiering on with a reduced programme in March.
The championships in Sydney continue next Saturday in front of empty stands, as Australia seeks to slow the spread of COVID-19 through restrictions on mass gatherings.