How Well Racing Coped In 2020 despite Forced Covid Adjustments

World racing in 2020, like everything else in 2020 has had to make huge adjustments to its programme and organisation due to the Corona Virus pandemic. However, as we reflect on the flat season of 2020, it has coped really very well. Just as the season in the UK was about to start with the opening Doncaster meeting, governments around the world were shutting everything down as fast as they could to try to stop the pandemic increasing, and as a result, the first three months of the flat season was lost with no racing at all.

There were many who blamed the rise in cases in March on the racing authorities for allowing the famous Cheltenham meeting to go ahead, together with a champions league football match when Liverpool paid a visit to an Italian club in Milan. The supporters were blamed for bringing the virus back to the UK. In refection, neither were to blame and the pandemic would have spread anyway.

So the flat season started three months late and all racing this year has been held behind closed doors. The good news was that of all sport, racing was the first by about a month to re-start and was heavily televised which must have brought many more pundits to join in. The delay had the effect of concertinaing all the early group races into a very short space of time. The Guineas Trials, usually held in April never happened and so when it came to the first classics of the season a month late, they were run only five days after the start of the season.

Kameko – Andrew Baldings first 2000 Guineas winner

In the Guineas, Pinatubo, the wonder two year old of 2019 was the fancied horse, but as time went on, not only did he not perform in the Guineas, but it could be argued that the horse never really trained on. The race was won by the little known Kameko ridden by Oisin Murphy and trained by Andrew Balding, giving the pair their first Newmarket classic win. Kameko also broke the record in time for the race. In the one thousand Guineas, we saw the first evidence that the three year old filly Love was going to be a force to be reckoned with. She won the race doing hand stands! It was only a month later when the Derby and Oaks were run. This timing between the classics was not that different but the authorities had obviously decided that the meeting at Royal Ascot was sacrosanct and so the calendar was re-jigged around the mid-June Ascot meeting. It was odd therefore, that the Derby was held after the Royal Meeting, the first time ever.

Imperious and extraordinary – Frankie Dettori and Stradivarius wins his third Gold Cup

At the Royal Meeting, there were races added to the card to try to make up a little time on races which were lost during the lock down, but the main races on the card were all run. The race of the year, in many expert’s opinion was the Ascot Gold Cup in which the John Gosden Stradivarius was sent off favourite and he didn’t disappoint. He romped home, making him only the third horse to win the race three times. Although The Queen was not able to be there, the first time in her long reign, she did have the winner of the Windsor Castle Stakes with Tactical, trained by Andrew Balding, who was sending out winner after winner in the early part of the season.  It must have been a great relief to Charlie Hills, when Battaash  won the

Battaash – wins on third time of asking

King Stands Stakes at the third time of asking. The quirky colt, who never found Ascot racecourse to his liking actually behaved throughout the proceedings and won the race with ease. On the fourth day, Frankie Dettori was the headline maker in that he won his seventieth Royal Ascot race on Fanny Logan in the Hardwick Stakes. The feature race of day four was the Commonwealth Cup, in which the Clive Cox trained Golden Horde swooped in the final few yards to take the honours. The final day saw the Diamond Jubilee Stakes in which rooky jockey Kevin Stot took Hello Youmzain over the line in first place, giving the jockey his first Group 1 race and his first winner at any Royal Meeting. What a way to start!

Two weeks later in the concertinaed calendar was the Derby and Oaks, which were both taken with the maestro trainer of Ireland – Aiden O’Brien, first with Serpentine ridden by Emmet McNamara, who won his first race ever outside Ireland and second with the now greatly respected Love – this time ridden by Ryan Moore. Speculation grew quickly after the race that the filly could well go for and win the British Triple Crown, a feat not done since 1985 when Oh So Sharp won it, but it was not to be as Love did not line up for the St Ledger.

Racing continued at this frantic pace while all other equine sports were just beginning to come out of their sleepy malaise.

Enable -record hold of the KG VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes

At the July Ascot meeting, a further notable record was broken in that the John Gosden trained wonder filly, now mare, Enable won the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes for the third time, a feat never achieved by any horse before. Although she only had two others against her, she won the race with a supremacy to make her one on the greatest fillies ever to grace the turf. At the end of the month, in its usual slot was the Glorious Goodwood meeting, where yet another record fell to the trainer/jockey duo, Gosden and Dettori, when Stradivarius took the Goodwood Cup for the fourth time in succession. No other horse has won the race four times in its nearly 200 years of running.

Galileo Chrome takes the St Ledger Stakes

In August, the racing charabanc quietened down a bit, but once September came, yet more firsts were achieved. In the Doncaster St Ledger, Joseph O’Brien trained the winner, Galileo Chrome, ridden by the new kid on the block jockey, Tom Marquand – winning his first classic.  24 hours before the race, Tom had no ride and it was only that Galileo Chrome’s original jockey was tested positive for Covid, that he got the ride. What a spare ride to get at the last minute!! The other first was for Jonny Murtagh, now training after such a successful career as a jockey. He sent out the winner of the Irish Champion StakesChampers Elysees, the trainer’s first Group 1 race.

In the rain sodden, heavy ground of Longchamp in Paris, Enable was going for her record breaking third Arc de Triomphe. Like 2019, everyone was on tenterhooks to see whether the great filly could break this record. It was not to be as Frankie Dettori quite rightly didn’t push her too hard when he realised that she was not going to win and loathed the ground in every way. The Arc was taken by Scottass who had an easy run through while the horse behind battled for some room in what was a rough race, particularly for Enable.

Tom Marquand – winning jockey of Champion Stakes

The final big race meeting in the UK was Champions Day at Ascot. Again with dreadful racing ground, there was some excellent racing, but the new kids on the block, ready to take racing by storm, Tom Marquand and his girl friend Hollie Doyle showed the old pros how it should be done. Both took two races each on the day with Tom winning the Champions Stakes on Addeybb for William Haggas and Hollie taking the Champions Sprint with Gen Sheil, her first ever Group 1 race.

In the Jockey’s Championship, Tom Marquand had a fantastic year riding 114 wins from 822 starts – a remarkable achievement for such a young and up-coming jockey. William Buick was reserve champion with 134 wins from 632 rides and the Champion once again was Oisin Murphy for the second year running. He won 142 times from 807 rides including hs first classic win on Kameko.

John Gosden retains trainers Championship

In the Trainers Championship, the Champion was again John Gosden, also retaining his 2019 title. He sent out 135 winners from 571 runners earning just over £3million in prize money. The reserve champion was Aiden O’Brien, who had 13 wins from 102 runs in the UK, winning just under £2.5 million. Mark Johnston was third, but could well claim the championship as he sent out more winners than anyone else. He sent out 157 winners from 1179 runners, earning just under £2 million in prize money. The trainer of the year in our humble opinion was Andrew Balding, who actually came fourth best trainer, but his phenomenal successes, particularly at the start of the season was remarkable.

The Champion owner was Hamden Al Maktoum, who chalked up 107 wins from 530 horses running in his name with Godolphin in reserve.

All in all, it has been a very strange season with the whole season having to be staged behind closed doors but that did not detract from the quality of racing we have had the privilege to witness. In such extraordinary times, I suppose that we should count our lucky stars that racing has been able to continue, although in a rather odd way, as the rest of the equine sport worldwide has been virtually decimated by the pandemic.

If asked, I suppose the best race of the year had to be the win of Stradivarius in the Ascot Gold Cup. It was a remarkable win for the horse on ground that he really didn’t relish one bit. Here’s hoping for a more normal 2021!!!

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