Horses jump a fence during a hurdle race at the Cheltenham Festival in Gloucestershire, western England. Picture: REUTERS
Horses jump a fence during a hurdle race at the Cheltenham Festival in Gloucestershire, western England. Picture: REUTERS

SA horse racing fans can only look on with envy as several European countries, including France, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Britain, get ready to push the sport’s restart button.

It has taken a while for racing to learn its fate from the government, but we now know there is no chance of a resumption until lockdown reaches level 3 — even then it could be 50-50.

This is what’s happening in Europe:

France: Racing is due to resume at Longchamp in Paris on May 11. There has been an avalanche of entries as trainers understandably attempt to earn owners some prize money.

France Galop president Edouard de Rothschild revealed that French police have given permission to resume racing at Longchamp. He tweeted: “We obtained and received from the Prefecture of Police in Paris authorisation to resume racing on May 11. This is great news and a real victory.”

He added: “In a map revealed by health minister Olivier Veran French regions have been defined as green, orange or red zones — green locations are likely to see their lockdown restrictions lifted earlier than red areas.”

Hungary: The resumption date is set for May 24. A spokesperson said: “With the ever-present aid and very strong support from the government, Hungary is back in the game.

“We are convinced all participants — breeders, owners, trainers, riders and our faithful grooms — will be prepared for the challenges of this year.”

Czech Republic: Their return to racing has been set for seven days later than France, on May 18.

Britain: May 15 has been mentioned as a possible restart date, though Richard Wayman, COO of the British Horseracing Authority, has stressed this date is not a given.

“We have put forward detailed plans to the government, but it has to be a two-way process where we’re sensitive to what the government and the scientific officials advising them are saying back to us,” said Wayman.

“We need to go through every possible step to make sure  the return is a safe one,” he added.

Mark Johnston, one of the UK’s leading trainers, voiced his opinion, saying: “Racing is the shopfront of our business and it would seem to me that — better than just about any other sport — we can put on racing within government guidelines.”

The resumption of British racing would be good news for bet-starved SA punters. While the racing channel Tellytrack is screening racing from Australia, Sweden and Hong Kong, it is UK racing that has developed a big following in the past few years.

Racing fans know the star performers such as jockeys Frankie Dettori and Sylvester De Souza as well as leading trainers John Gosden and Sir Michael Stoute.

Despite the SA government’s decision that racing was deemed not to be an essential service, National Horseracing Authority (NHA) CEO Vee Moodley is not a man to throw in the towel. He has stressed they will send “follow-up submissions for racing’s inclusion at lockdown level 3 announcement”.

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