Welcome to Part Three of this project. If you haven’t already seen the first two please view them before this one.
Part One: https://zoelouisesmithx.com/2020/06/30/how-has-the-coronavirus-pandemic-affected-the-horse-racing-industry-part-one
Part Two: https://zoelouisesmithx.com/2020/07/02/how-has-the-coronavirus-pandemic-affected-the-horse-racing-industry-part-two
Let’s get straight into it!
The cancellation of racing has, of course, massively impacted trainers, so I spoke with Johnson White, Philip Hobbs’ assistant trainer who gave me a little insight into how the whole situation has affected them.
“This whole period has been very difficult for everyone! As soon as we knew that there was not going to be any racing we roughed most of the horses off and furloughed the majority of staff.”
He went on to tell me that very very soon, their team will all be reunited!
“The staff and owners have been fantastic throughout this whole time period and we are all looking forward to most of the staff and horses coming back into work on the 6th of July to prepare them for the Autumn. We have a number of horses to run through July and August and we can’t wait to get going again and hopefully return to some kind of normality!”
I visited Philip’s yard earlier this year and every person I met were in love with their job so I can imagine it being very hard on them as a whole. Johnson and Philip have donated a stable visit with a morning on the gallops followed by tickets to a local meeting for 4 people for my raffle for the Stroke Association. All information will be at the end of this post with how you can enter!
I also spoke with Debbie from Go Racing Green who also had the normality of life put on hold once coronavirus caused horse racing to stop. For those who don’t know who Debbie is I highly suggest you pop over to her Twitter and have a look through her website. She has created a safe space and SO much more at so many courses for people who may need a time out when at the races. As someone who has suffered with my mental health I think it is brilliant what she has done and I highly suggest people go and check her website out for more information! You can find it here: https://goracinggreen.co.uk/ as well as Debbie’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/novicefilly
So, how did the lockdown and cancellation of horse racing affect Debbie in general? She told me the following:
“I have to admit that I didn’t realise what an essential part of my life racing is now. As someone who is still fairly new to the sport and someone who has struggled with social situations for many years, when lockdown came about, at first I thought I would cope well – after all, staying at home and not seeing people had been normality for me for so long. It felt like I would just be slotting easily back into what I knew to be a normal and comfortable way of life. However, it became apparent very quickly that I depended on racing and horses for so many things – even socially. Racing is usually on in the background at home every day, and whilst I don’t bet, just simple things like looking through the race cards every day and picking out a few horses who I already follow, or horses I liked for whatever reason, had become a part of my day. I had some fantastic #GoRacingGreen visits in the pipeline too throughout April, May and June – Tweenhills, Juddmonte, Sue Smith’s, the Go North tour, a big Newmarket day out which included Dalham Hall and a #GoRacingGreen Race Day at Nottingham, all which obviously had to be cancelled, which was so disappointing. I found lockdown increasingly difficult as the weeks went on, and very much struggled at times. The not knowing when and if things would ever return to what we know, even though I still struggle with lots of things, was very scary for me. Most, I have missed seeing all the friends I have made through racing and of course, not having contact with horses, which is a key factor in my metal well-being. My mental health suffered quite a severe wobble at the end of February, so I didn’t go into lockdown in the best frame of mine. I have had some pretty dark days if I am honest, too much time on your hands isn’t always a good thing for the mind, but the relaxation of some of the rules certainly came at the right time for me, and I have now seen some friends and starting tentatively reorganising some #GoRacingGreen events, and that hope going forward is what I needed.”
Debbie went on to tell me what she did to occupy her time whilst she couldn’t visit racecourses or stables.
“It was very important to me to keep in touch with the #GoRacingGreen community virtually. I knew that I was struggling, so I knew many others would be too. The lockdown left people cut off, not just from racing, but many other branches and networks of support. At first the #GoRacingGreen Grand National was just, what I thought, a silly whim of an idea, but I was so touched by the amount of people that got involved, from within the racing community and the industry, including jockeys, trainers and of course Richard Hoiles for commentating. It actually kept me sane for those first few weeks, taking the horses out for photoshoots, making the fences and organising everything, so it was brilliant that so many more people wanted to be involved, which led to the #GoRacingGreen Guineas, when Mark Johnson did the commentary. I was quite overwhelmed by the number of people who messaged me and said it was keeping them going too, and how much they were enjoying it. Also, every evening throughout the key period of lockdown before rules began to relax, I did a Twitter chat, sometimes about racing related things, sometimes not and so many took part in this. I have done twice weekly Zoom chats which are still happening, and behind the scenes every day I have been talking to people that need support. Some people have messaged me as a one off, some I have been and am still, talking to every day to try and support them as much as I can. Helping people actually helps me. I am not a counsellor but do have a fair bit of life experience which I am happy to share, and people say they talk to me because I am honest about what I have experienced and they feel they can relate to me. Wherever I could have tried to keep people’s spirits positive and I am very grateful that Unibet Racing have continue their support throughout lockdown to enable me to continue supporting people every day.”
Of course, we are all aware that racing has now returned, but it isn’t what we would normally see. There are a bunch of new rules introduced, which Oisin went through earlier in this post. So does Debbie think the new rules will affect racing at all?
“I try and keep away from racing ‘politics’ and any politics for that matter, as to be honest, I am still so new to this and have so much to learn. The world has faced a completely unique situation that we have never seen before in our lifetime, and sincerely hope we will never see again. Obviously everyone’s health and safety needs to be at the forefront of anything that is being implemented now and going forward. Whilst it is fantastic that there is light at the end of the tunnel, I would love us to be back racing in time for the National Hunt season ‘proper’ in October. So the industry needs to play its part in the huge puzzle keeping everyone safe to avoid a second wave that could potentially affect that. The industry was faced with a situation no one could have prepared for and as someone on the outside, I believe they have done their best to get racing back behind closed doors, and hopefully this is just the start of better days coming.”
Following on from that, I asked Debbie, does she think having racing behind closed doors has affected the sport, here is what she said on that matter:
“Racing fans are obviously all disappointed that we are being kept away, but there is a much bigger picture as to why this is necessary. I personally feel it is a bit bizarre that people can go to Ikea for example but small crowds – particularly for the benefit owners – are unable to go racing. That’s just my opinion and is in no way criticising the racing industry and how they are handling the resumption of racing. Obviously there has been a significant financial impact to the industry too, so it was important that racing resumed as quickly as possible. Spending a lot of time on social media and being a member of various racing related Facebook groups, it certainly hasn’t dampened anyone’s enthusiasm for the sport as far as I have seen, in fact I think it has done quite the opposite. I look forward to the day when we can all be reunited at the races and enjoy it again.”
I think what Debbie has done is incredible, as I said before, if you haven’t, do check out her social media and website.
As a blogger I know I struggled to make decent content with no racing, so I spoke with Neil Watson who also writes his own blog as well as others.
“When racing was cancelled due to Coronavirus I was disappointed at first but like many, this was a purely selfish emotion as like all racing fans it felt like having the one thing you enjoy being taken away from you. But taking a few steps back, you realise it was the correct thing to do in the circumstances at the time. To begin with, a few days after Irish racing was cancelled too, I was actually quite pleased because it did mean I could have a full break from racing as it can be an all consuming sport so I looked upon it as a chance to recharge the batteries and I guess part of me was expecting it to be short but with the death rate going up, I realised that we were in it for the long haul.”
He went on to tell me how he’s been spending his time:
“Like a fair few, I spent my Saturdays and Sundays going for morning walks with my brother – Normally on Saturdays we do our own thing most of the year – So this gave us a chance to spend more time together and it helped as we worked out it was better to do this and be there for each other as we were both in the same boat, he couldn’t see his best mate and I couldn’t go to see any live sport.”
He told me how he feels about the new rules in place and potentially what he can see happening next.
“Of course it’s good to have racing back. It will take time before we are allowed back. Next step will probably be owners then annual members then the general public on a limited number before hopefully a full resumption of racing with crowds. The protocols seem to be working, certainly better than in football from what I can see so far. Royal Ascot at home worked very well and the fact it was 100% pure racing made it even better than the other elements normally shown.”
And finally, he spoke to me about how he thinks racing behind closed doors has affected the sport:
“Going behind closed doors, whilst not our preferred option as we all want to be allowed to go racing, it is still better than nothing and as the old saying goes… “The longest journey starts with a single step.” It can sound odd watching the racing especially as some of the commentators know how to work the crowd and get the energy levels up, but this has to be accepted if we are to resume to normal life.”
Being a blogger is never easy when having to compete with others and come up with original content, but the whole period was particularly hard as there was nothing happening so nothing really to write about, so I for one can relate to Neil in the fact that other things have had to take over as a priority in life, to, I suppose, fill the void of racing.
Another area that, of course, would be impacted by the pandemic is the horse racing trading. I spoke with Matt Gibson who runs Hunting for Profit.
“Being a full time horse racing trader, I often come across situations I can’t influence and this pandemic has been no different. Just like when Equine Flu hit the racing industry last year. I had to remain calm and wait for things to resume when it was safe to do so, therefore this pandemic has been no different really. If you can’t control the situation there is no point wasting energy over the issue. I think this is the right mindset to have not only in trading, but in life as well. Social Media turned into a forum of pandemic experts over night. I get it, people were scared, worried of the unknown, both for their health and others, but also their wealth. I lost my main income streams overnight. Bluntly, no racing meant no income for me.”
Matt went on to tell me how he tried to occupy his time during the lockdown.
“The BHA stopped UK racing and then the Irish racing stopped about a week or so after, once that happened, I decided to enjoy the weather. I enjoyed the first few weeks doing a bit of gardening and drinking cider in the sun. I treated it like a holiday at home. It was a welcome break to be honest because I work very hard when racing is on. I spend a very large part of my day studying races and race cards, writing watch lists for a Betfair horse trading group I run called Hunting for Profits. Also, I trade in-play horse racing and mentor our groups members so I am busy most days. So the break was welcome after a good jumps season that was coming to an end, although we had sadly lost the Aintree and Punchestown meetings.”
Matt explained how he tried to keep his members involved during this time.
After two or three weeks, I started to get very bored so I spent my time putting together some content for the trading group for when racing returned. Write up, of course, from an in-play traders perspective and some other content I am yet to finish, which is in essence, guidance around race research. Like many people, I applied for the NHS Volunteers Scheme, but nothing came of that, so I was still very bored waiting for some sort of light at the end of the tunnel. I was aware there was still racing in other parts of the world but the liquidity in the in-play trading markets on Betfair is extremely poor outside of UK and Irish racing, so they were not a viable option for me.”
Matt went on to explain how the slow return of racing has affected his business.
“Lots of questions will have been asked from all areas of racing. When will it resume? Will things be the same? Will the trading markets be the same? My approach when racing resumed was one of caution. Often it is a quiet period for betting and trading when the racing season transitions from jumps to flat and visa-versa anyway, then factor in the disruption of a pandemic and many potential niggling problems can arise. As it stands, the month has been okay from a trading perspective. What I have noticed is I am still enjoying watching racing as a spectacle the same as I did before lockdown. The lack of a crowd at the races does not really affect watching it on TV. I have watched some football recently and it is odd watching it without spectators, but with racing I don’t really notice it as much on TV.”
Matt told me how he feels about the return of racing in general and the handling of the return from the BHA.
“The BHA seemed to get some unfair criticism before racing resumed. I think they deserve some praise for the way they have dealt with things. They got racing back on the first possible date that the government allowed. Clearly they were proactive in the background. I think racing is lucky compared to other sports with the possibility that social distancing will still be necessary. The cancellation of racing has obviously impacted the flat season as it will the summer jumps season. When losing so many races in the calendar, some horses won’t get to run as many times as they would have done in ideal conditions. My initial concerns were if the virus went on for too long and these were compounded if we then get a second wave of this virus at some point and subsequently racing is cancelled again. Smaller yards in particular could struggle, some owners won’t want to be paying out for training fees when horses are not running.”
Matt rounded up our discussion with his opinions on how the Coronavirus has affected racing in general and his hopes for a safe return to normality.
“Hopefully with the measures the BHA and HRI have put in place, racing can continue safely. Of course, long term racing needs spectators. They put money back into racing, particularly with the levy derived from betting, which will give owners better prize money to aim for. I don’t think there will be many that won’t have been affected by it, from the on-course book makers, to race courses, owners, trainers, jockeys – particularly those at the lower end of the income scale. I just hope that racing will continue in a safe environment and slowly gets back to what it was before lockdown, which was a great spectacle for all to enjoy, work in and watch.”
Matt was very open with me in regards to how he’s been affected and I think, even if you don’t gamble in any way, shape or form, within the sport, it’s important to realise how it’s impacted those who’ve took the gamble to be a full time gambler/trader etc. With no racing, it doesn’t just affect those directly involved in the sport like the trainers, jockeys and courses, it affects a much wider community and I am so grateful Matt came forward to speak to me so I could get a new perspective. Matt’s website is: https://huntingforprofit.co.uk/ if you want to see what he does or you’re interesting in joining his growing team.
And that is the end of part three! I want to thank Johnson, Debbie, Neil and Matt for their time. I hope you enjoyed part three of this project.
Part 4 will be coming Monday evening at 6pm. Part 4 includes Paddy Aspell & 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!
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!