Australian racing goes on amid pandemic

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FILE - In this Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017, file photo, horses enter the track before the start of the Melbourne Cup at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne. In Australia, where horse racing is arguably more popular than in any other country on the planet, the sport is continuing, minus the spectators, despite the nation's struggle to contain the new coronavirus. (AP Photo/Andy Brownbill, File)

SYDNEY (AP) — It’s arguably more popular in Australia than any other country, so it’s no surprise that horse racing is continuing — minus the spectators — despite the increasing travel and other restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The multi-billion-dollar racing industry employs 250,000 part- and full-time workers in Australia, where there are more than 360 thoroughbred tracks. That’s roughly one for every 68,000 people, a world-leading ratio by a considerable margin.

Australia boasts some of the world’s richest races. The Melbourne Cup — “the race that stops a nation” — is one of the country’s strongest cultural institutions. Sydney hosts The Everest, the Au$8.6 million sprint. It also has the most lucrative race for two-year-olds, the Golden Slipper, to be run tomorrow, in front of empty grandstands. Rosehill Racecourse would usually be crowded for this.

At least racing can exist without on-location spectators, with devotees able to watch and wager from home. And that’s been the only option since measures were brought in last week limiting race days to participants only: jockeys, trainers, racetrack officials, media, and workers such as farriers and ambulance personnel.

The virus outbreak has coincided with some of the biggest events of the southern hemisphere autumn carnivals in Australia’s two largest cities of Melbourne and Sydney. The Golden Slipper day, for instance, features five Group 1 (or Grade 1) races.

Aside from the removal of race day atmosphere, participants are having to become creative to do what they love in the time of coronavirus. Particularly some of those people who now need looking after the most if racing is to continue — the jockeys.

They are already being kept apart from other industry participants on course, but more and stricter measures are set to follow.

Racing officials have banned riders from shuttling between states on commercial flights for fear they will catch the virus.