KINGSTON, Jamaica – Turning for home without the sound of fans vociferously screaming and shouting from the stands, and posing in the winners’ enclosure flanked by only photographers with no applause from racegoers were all new aspects of racing experienced for the first time by leading rider Dane Nelson.
All this because on Tuesday, March 17, racing was conducted for the first time in the 60-year-old history of racing at Caymanas Park without spectators. This situation was occasioned by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), which has already been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization.
From the three-furlong (600m) marker to home, one could only hear the sound of horses galloping, jockeys shouting for room to manoeuvre their mounts through traffic as well as the cracking of whips. The stands were empty; the racetrack was very quiet as only the voice of commentator Brian “Spuddy” Rickman brought a modicum of excitement usually associated with the hustle and bustle of the sport of horse racing.
“To be very honest, this feeling is very different. I mean, you are used to punters cheering you on, and you can feel the electricity surging through your veins as you bring home a winner. Coming back to the winners’ enclosure, you get accustomed to punters applauding you for a very good ride, and you get to interact with them as well.
“I feel completely different as I am used to the racing fans as they are key in bringing colour and excitement when you win races. But I am happy whenever I win races, but this situation feels different,” Nelson said after his victory aboard Contractor for trainer Patrick Lynch in the day’s second race.
Dubbed “Spaceman” for his exploit on the international racing circuit, Nelson said that the new situation was just like an exercise morning workout for him.
“The whole thing seems to me like one of those early morning workouts where they are no many spectators around, just horsemen, connections of the horses working on the day,” said Nelson, who is a former three-time champion jockey and winner of over a 1,000 races at Caymanas Park.
Licenced persons who entered the racetrack on March 17 were sanitised at the three main gates at the Park — Independent City, Meadowvale, and Gregory Park. Temperature checks were also done; washstands were stationed in designated areas for regular washing of hands, and medical stations were put in place to handle emergencies.
“This whole situation is to protect everyone from the coronavirus. Safety comes first. We have to protect ourselves and protect the public as well, and Supreme Ventures has done very well in minimising the risk of catching or spreading the virus.
“Also, I am happy for the opportunity to ride in competitive races at this time as well, as we don’t know when again we will be riding again due to this thing. I hope this virus thing blows over, and we could return to normal racing, but for now, we just have to do what we have to do and work together,” shared Nelson.