• Posted: Thursday, 26th March 2020
  • Author: Carl Evans

Catch up on the final point-to-point focus column of the season, which appeared in the Racing Post on Friday, March 20.

It was a report to tingle the sensations before reality bit: "Your horse schooled beautifully and can run the weekend after next – if it's on."

Within 48 hours it wasn't and Coronavirus's influence had seeped into the shires. Point-to-pointing was abandoned for the season and our unraced four-year-old joins a long list of horses who are redundant. It is a blow for us, worse for others, and a hammer for the sport which, if having long-term effects, will impact on Jump racing.

Peter Wright, chief executive of the Point-to-Point Authority, says: "I am very aware of the effects that the decision to stop racing will have on our sport and all those employed within it, and offer my commiserations to all concerned.

"The past six days have been really difficult trying to find a way forward so that racing could continue in a way which was viable for the fixtures and owners and trainers; many of whom had large investments involved. We had just about got there when the decision was to all intents and purposes taken from our hands by the Prime Minister's statement on Monday evening. We can only hope the outbreak will not be as serious as feared, but it does put things in perspective."

The timing of the shut-down could not have been worst for pointing. Flat racing on turf is being held up but has not lost hope of a meaningful season, while Jump racing had staged the bulk of fixtures and its most revenue-generating festival. Crumbs of comfort maybe.

In contrast the bulk of the point-to-point season had yet to unfurl following the wettest winter on record, one that has been hit by numerous postponements or abandonments. It is hard to believe that since the curtain-raiser on November 17 the busy region of South and West Wales has staged one fixture.

Fields in many parts of the country are under water or deep mud making it difficult to rough horses off, while the logic of doing so prematurely will hit trainers' incomes. Some owners and owner/trainers hoped to sell horses at Ascot yesterday and at Aintree and Cheltenham next month – if still solvent they face the dilemma of whether to buy unbroken three-year-old store horses this summer when they have yet to race and sell their four-year-olds?

Racing behind closed doors

Holding point-to-pointing behind closed doors with meetings stripped back to basics and funded by entry fees and some central support was among considerations, but the call for people to avoid non-essential contact thwarted plans.

Some wanted to battle on regardless, making the point that fresh air and a windy field in the British countryside is one of the safer options at present, but when set against the need to give health professionals a clear run at coping with Covid-19 their case became less compelling. Diverting medical cover to a sport was unacceptable, as was taking up a hospital bed with an injured rider or two.

Racing under Rules in Britain is suspended until the end of April, but a glance around Europe suggests virus-related restrictions will continue beyond that date.

Those of us involved in the sport in 2001 when it shut down due to foot and mouth cannot feel very optimistic. The early closure resulted in increased numbers of pointers being moved into licensed yards, and when the disease was contained and the shackles came off they were ready to run through the summer. No handler of pointers likes to see horses leave their care and some went in search of licences, but the difference this time is uncertainty over when Jump racing resumes.

Repercussions from foot and mouth rumbled on, contributing to changes in rural lifestyles and farming and influencing a gradual decline in the number of pointers. We now have a leaner sport, one that was working hard to stage racing for genuine amateurs and provide opportunities to race and trade young horses.

This early shutdown has been a shock, but now we need to retain disappointed owners and trainers, and sponsors, too. An October start next season would shorten the wait for action and is being considered.