Each day seems to bring news of yet another sporting event cancelled or delayed. Over a month ago this started with the postponement of football matches in Europe. As the Covid-19 pandemic worsened Formula One Grand Prix races started to tumble. Next were annual events like the Masters at Augusta, French Open and recently the 149th Open at Royal St Georges and Wimbledon.
The interesting thing about the Open and Wimbledon, both to be staged in London and Kent, is that they were scheduled for July. Despite this, the depth of the ongoing Covid-19 crisis has resulted in cancellation. It may be all the more surprising to read yesterday that Royal Ascot, which is scheduled to run from the 16th-20th of June, could still go ahead.
Chief Executive of Ascot, Guy Henderson, issued a statement yesterday which read: “For public health and safety reasons we have reached the difficult but unavoidable conclusion that Royal Ascot 2020 will not be able to take place as an event open to the public. This will of course be a great disappointment for everyone planning to attend...It may prove possible to run the Royal Ascot races behind closed doors, dependent on Government and public health policy and the approval of the BHA for us to re-start racing....This would be for the benefit of the industry, our valued partners and suppliers and our television audiences at home and internationally. Planning for this is now our complete focus and we will update on progress as and when we can...The pandemic will have a significant financial impact on our business in 2020, along with so many others. Nevertheless, Ascot racecourse will come through this crisis and we look forward to being able to welcome racegoers back when it is safe to do so."
The crucial part of this statement is "This would be for the benefit of the industry". I believe this is the bloodstock industry that concerns the breeding and sales of yearlings and foals. Racing is almost secondary. Where racing is important is in determining the value of horses at stud and their offspring. A year without Royal Ascot could have a detrimental effect on this.
The career length of thoroughbred horses can be extremely short. Some might only run for a single season. A win at Royal Ascot can add zeros to the stud value.
It remains to be seen whether the event will proceed or not. If it does, in the midst of cancellations everywhere else, it will yet again demonstrate the power of the horse racing lobby not long after Cheltenham brought the curtain down on mass sports gatherings in the UK.