LONDON, United Kingdom – English racing is due to move up a gear with the first classics of the flat season this weekend after leading British trainer John Gosden described the sport’s resumption as having “a sticky start” following the coronavirus lockdown.
Gosden has trained more than 100 Group One winners across the globe, clinching the Epsom Derby twice and the Prix de l’Arc three times.
This weekend’s racing at Newmarket will feature the 1,000 Guineas and the 2,000 Guineas.
The 69-year-old Englishman has just one runner in the two classics, Shimmering in Sunday’s 1000 Guineas, but runs one of his stable stars, Stradivarius, in Friday’s Coronation Cup, ridden by Frankie Dettori.
That race, he says, is a dry run for his major target — a third successive Ascot Gold Cup later this month, while his other star, Enable, will return in July as she targets a third Arc de Triomphe in four years.
Gosden said the shutdown had been a difficult time for the industry.
“We had a pretty intense week of racing, which was a bit sticky on the first day,” he told AFP.
“But now we enter a period with generally decent class horses. That should brighten the picture with four days at Newmarket.”
Gosden, speaking from his Newmarket stables, described coming out of lockdown as a “minefield” but he welcomed the decision to get racing up and running again.
“We are a major entertainment industry and breeding one, with 20,000 people relying on it for work. It was right to get started.
“We are not a contact sport. If you make contact in a race you will find yourself in front of the stewards.
“We train horses and race them in large open spaces with an abundance of fresh air. We are not working in factories or offices so to that extent we are fine.”
Gosden said his staff had not taken their foot out of the stirrups even in lockdown.
“You can’t lock horses in stables — they would go insane,” he said. “The main thing is to be careful not to over-train them both physically and keep them mentally fit.
“With horses, it is very hard to bring them back down without racing.”
Gosden said morale had remained high, even before they were given green light to resume.
“Morale is grand. We are very positive and following every bio-security protocol on and off the racecourse,” he said.
Despite optimism about the return of racing, Gosden admits the sport does not have its fate in its own hands, with uncertainty over the future course of COVID-19.
He points out while equine viruses and the foot-and-mouth disease have previously played havoc with racing, at least there was an end point on each occasion.
“This is a far greater challenge as it is a very sinister disease and affects people,” said Gosden.
“We are coming out from lockdown in managed herd immunity, which is what it is, and know very well until a bulletproof vaccine is found we have to live with this and hope it does not surge again.”