Welcome to my new project/series! Today is part one, there will be more parts to follow over the next few days so keep your eyes peeled!
This project is something different to the usual interviews I post and it is something I have been working on for a few weeks now, so I hope you guys enjoy!
Each post in this project will still include little snippets of interviews I have done with people within the sport, but in general this post will be all about just how Coronavirus has affected the horse racing industry from all angles. From jockeys and trainers, to bookmakers and racecourses, to the media and presenters, to sponsors and race managers, to businesses and bloggers. I feel as though I have tried to do a good job in looking at all aspects of the sport and getting opinions from them all.
As a whole, the sport has been massively affected by the virus and the lockdown and I thought it would be interesting to really look into different areas of the sport. By speaking to people throughout the industry I have managed to find out a lot about just how severely the sport has been impacted.
Of course, horse racing and sport in general is not the be all and end all of life, and whilst we have missed seeing sport on our TV’s we know that the lockdown and cancelling sport was the right thing to do. But I wanted to look away from the virus as a whole and focusing on horse racing for this post and I think you will all find it an interesting read as I have whilst doing my research. I know personally that not having any racing has severely impacted me as a ‘blogger’ because there are no stable visits, no meetings, no face to face interviews, basically not much I could do. I was very lucky in the respect that I could reach out online to people within the industry and arrange interviews to be held digitally so I could still create content, just not as involved as I could have been if racing was still going ahead. So I thought I would reach out to a whole range of people and see just how lockdown and the cancellation of racing has affected them!
I want to quickly thank all of the people who took part in this project who you will see throughout. With all of that out of the way, let’s jump right in. I hope you all enjoy!
Some of the main people affected by the cancellation of all racing is of course the jockey’s, who essentially lost their day jobs for an extended period of time. So how difficult have jockey’s found their time off? I spoke with Oisin Murphy who told me the following:
“I suppose the Coronavirus pandemic halted my riding from around the 17th of March and I had never not ridden for more than about 4 weeks before – I had broken a collar bone and the maximum amount of time I was off was I think 26 days, so obviously I found it very difficult to deal with that. I’m not a person that goes on holiday or anything so to be stuck with no focus was incredibly difficult.”
He then went on to tell me how he changed his mindset and how he dealt with those feelings of being a little bit lost.
“After a period of time I realised that everyone was in it together and what about the large families in towns and cities? They’re the people really suffering. So that changed my mindset a fair bit.”
So what does a jockey do when they can’t race? Oisin explained how he’s been using his time off.
“I went walking and running every day… I also did a little bit of cooking and just had a focus point each day. But thank goodness we got the green light from the 1st of June.”
So how different is horse racing now it’s back up and running? Oisin Murphy filled me in with just some of the rules the jockey’s have to adhere to.
“There are so many things we must adhere to. We have a daily email that we must fill out with a questionnaire of 12 questions. Temperature checks on arrival then you get given a wristband. Everybody is social distancing in the weighing room, then in the paddock we obviously have to wear face masks. You get to the start and in the stalls we’re allowed to pull the face masks down. Obviously in higher temperatures it’s hard to breath which is far from ideal – but that’s what we’ve been asked to do. Then we pull them up before we get back in the shoot on your horse. Weighing in has changed – nothing is the same. There are no showers and after 9 or 10 rides, most cards are 10 races, I’ve got to travel all the way home stinking – which isn’t ideal either. So that’s an idea of what we’re doing at the moment.”
Oisin is obviously a class act and his social media presence is very needed in our sport with videos and content to really involve people. Oisin has always been there to help me out with everything, if I have ever needed help or advice I have sent him a text and he’s always got back to me. To me I think it’s brilliant that he is so willing to help young people come through racing and create content. We 100% need more people like Oisin in the racing world. Oisin has also donated a signed pair of breaches for my raffle for the Stroke Association, I will have links at the bottom of this post if you’re interesting in entering to win!
Another sector massively affected by the pandemic is of course the TV side of things, with no racing to show, of course TV presenters struggled to work. I spoke with Rishi Persad, who some of you may recognise as a TV presenter who of course had nothing to present during the lockdown. He told me how he coped with the situation:
“It was all surreal to begin with, not just because of lockdown but I also broke my leg in early March and had already had to come to terms with missing lots of events that I would normally have attended – Cheltenham, Dubai World Cup, Grand National etc. However, once I accepted the loss of work for an extended period because of the injury and the Coronavirus lockdown and accepted that we were all having to adjust and adapt.”
Rishi also went on to tell me how he spent his time in lockdown:
“I started thinking about using the opportunity to do something I had always wanted to do, so I began a series of Podcasts with a friend of mine who is an expert in the human condition and well-being. I loved being able to indulge in something that I felt would benefit me in the short and long-term. It also helped me to deal with the uncertainty of not knowing when I would be able to work again and general worry about the future. Well-being is an area that I would like to explore more in years to come. I, therefore, felt as though something positive had come from the time spent in lockdown so far. But it’s not over yet and I hope that as many of us realise that in order to be cautious enough to continue the fight against the virus.”
You can listen to the Podcasts that Rishi created with Richard Moat – which are very very interesting – right here: https://audioboom.com/channels/5023526. Rishi has also donated a prize for my raffle for the Stroke Association, you will get to spend a day with Rishi at a race course behind the scenes whilst he works for either Racing TV or ITV Racing – to be discussed with the winner to arrange a date that suits all involved – I will have links at the bottom of this post if you’re interesting in entering to win!
I also spoke with Jay / TracksideJay on Twitter or as some of you may know him, the man behind the brilliant robotic commentary videos that kept us all going whilst we were in lockdown: https://twitter.com/TracksideJay/status/1273700697457020928?s=20 & https://twitter.com/TracksideJay/status/1273687701120847873?s=20 just to name a few! Jay is a content creator and tipster within the sport so the cancellation of racing affected him massively with his day job. I spoke to Jay about how the virus and cancellation has affected him and his business:
“Coronavirus has been hard on everybody, not only the racing industry and it’s still being affected now, even as guidelines start to lift. For me personally, the ban on racing has had a huge affect on my business as I’ve simply not had access to areas where I can actually carry out work.”
Jay went on to tell me what he had to do to survive the lockdown and gain an income.
“I’ve had to go back to working in a supermarket for the time being, to not only keep myself occupied, but also to help with cash flow, as being a fairly new business, I didn’t qualify for any government support.”
Jay also told me that he could do bits of his normal day job whilst at home.
“Luckily for me I have had the opportunity to carry out work for some of my clients from home, which has been a key part of me staying in business up until this point and I can’t thank them enough for it. A few weeks into the crisis it was quite daunting looking ahead as nobody knew when this would end. So for my clients to still rely on me and want me to do work for them was a huge morale boost to keep me going through the rough times, so I count myself lucky, it could have been way worse. The racing industry is notoriously hard to get involved in from a working perspective and I had spent every penny I had to try and do what I love, so for the Coronavirus to come along and almost take that away was quite a concerning time for me, but like I said, I’m not the only one in this boat and things could have been so much worse than what they are now.”
Of course, Coronavirus came and hit everybody all at once and pretty quickly. Jay was very honest about how he went about the whole virus towards the beginning and I for one, can relate massively with what he said:
“I think one of the mistakes I made was not taking the virus seriously enough at the start. I remember being in a pub in Malton after a few days of filming thinking ‘ah this will all blow over in a few days’ and that’s a massive learning curve for me going forward because I found myself playing catchup as I didn’t have a plan in place and found myself quickly in a role of a ‘keyworker’ wondering what had happened. Looking back on the choices I made to get through the pandemic, I feel very proud of myself that I did what I did, sometimes I tend to roll over and feel hard done by but this time I feel like I rose to the occasion and dealt with it in the right way, mainly because I still have a business there when at one point I really did think it was game over, which was a dark time for me.”
Jay went on to tell me just how the Coronavirus has affected him and his family personally.
“My Grandad passed away during the pandemic and it went down as a COVID statistic, which wasn’t the reason for his death, but that was also tough on me as I really did think I was losing it all. But the racing industry and the people I work for (including Sainsbury’s) have supported me so much throughout this crisis and I honestly couldn’t thank them enough.”
And some final thoughts from Jay on the whole scenario:
“Things are not 100% back to normal just yet but I am confident that things will get back to how they were, not only for myself but for everyone else too. I have spoken to many people online and there’s so many out there going through a tough time, it’s important to talk about it and we will all get through it one way or the other and I’m always available for a chat if it’ll help you.”
In my personal opinion Jay is one of the best in the business and the content he creates is brilliant. I, for one, am so happy he has been able to bounce back and keep his business going, it would be a huge loss to the sport to lose his work.
I think it is so important to talk about how on course bookmakers have been affected by the virus. Whether you gamble or not, they are an integral part of the racing industry and even though racing has now resumed, it is of course behind closed doors, meaning there still isn’t a job there for on course bookmakers whilst no punters are there to bet.
I spoke with Kenny from Ostlers Racing who told me just how devastating the whole situation has been.
“The business has been decimated so we are now trying to get people to sign up to bet online via my website: https://www.ostlersracing.com/. Whilst racing has been cancelled I have had to focus on the website and also had to get myself a part time job.”
He went on to tell me how he feels about the way in which on course bookmakers have been treated.
“The race courses do not care at all for on course bookmakers and so I believe that we will be the last to return to the courses with heavy restrictions in place on the number of bookmakers who can attend. However racing behind closed doors can initially only be a good thing as we had to start somewhere.”
He also told me how he thinks some on course bookmakers may not make it through this pandemic.
“I believe that some bookmakers will fold and many others will lose money on their pitch investments that they have. The top bookmakers will prosper and the lower end bookmakers will struggle to recover.”
Again, as I previously mentioned, I think more bookmakers than what we potentially expect may not be able to return when they’re allowed to and that’s a real shame. They haven’t been looked after in any way, shape or form and that blame lies with the BHA. From what I have been told, they haven’t really been updated or informed of anything by the BHA and most of them are losing money daily with pitch fees that can’t be cancelled and obviously no work. Some of which cannot rely on the government for support for various different reasons and to me it’s a real shame that they haven’t been more supported by the BHA. It’s as if they have totally been forgotten in all of this. However if you wish to sign up and help Kenny and his business by betting online with them, you can do so here: https://www.ostlersracing.com/. To me, if the BHA can’t support them, then we need to. We need to stop betting with the big players that we know will survive this and start helping those lower down the chain who need the help the most.
So, that is part one complete. I want to thank Oisin, Rishi, Jay and Kenny for taking time out to speak with me. I hope you enjoyed the first part of this project.
Part two will be going up on Thursday at 6pm which includes Grace Mcentee, Charlie Poste & more. You can now also subscribe to my blog so you receive an email whenever I post. If you’d like to do that, scroll down on the side bar and you will see a Follow My Blog section. If you enter your email, every time I post you will receive an email so you don’t miss a thing!
Thank you for reading, I will see you all on Thursday with Part two of this project.
Sidenote: My raffle to raise money for the Stroke Association is now LIVE. So you can pop over to my Twitter and view this tweet for all information: https://twitter.com/zoelouisesmithx/status/1277629857460113410?s=20 There are some fantastic prizes and it is for a fantastic cause in honour of the 10 year anniversary of my mom’s stroke. The Stroke Association help not only those directly affected by a stroke, but also their families. They helped my mom massively and I wanted to raise money for them so they can continue to help other people in need. I hope you can all join me in raising money for this incredible cause!