Despite Edouard Philippe’s shock announcement that all major sporting events in France will be cancelled until September, it is looking increasingly likely that the return of horse racing in the country will go ahead as planned.
The French Prime Minister’s decision means that a number of key competitions, including the conclusion of the Ligue 1 season, have been ended with immediate effect. It is yet to be decided if PSG will be crowned as champions, and how relegation matters will be resolved.
“The big sporting affairs cannot occur before September,” Philippe said. “The 2019-20 professional football season cannot return.”
Outlining the government’s future plans, the Prime Minister confirmed that all sports where more than 5,000 people are likely to be in attendance will be cancelled in France.
But that doesn’t apply to horse racing, which is governed by the Agriculture and Finance ministries, and Philippe has already opened the door to sports that don’t occur in ‘covered places’ or feature physical contact to return.
And it has been reported that officials from France Galop – the sport’s governing body- have enjoyed ‘positive’ discussions with ministers from the agriculture department It is expected that they will give the green light for racing to return behind closed doors on May 11th as planned if concerns over health and safety are satisfied.
French Racing’s Revised Fixture List 2020
Not wanting to waste any time if the racing is given the thumbs up, France Galop has already put together a revised fixture list for the 2020 campaign.
For May at least, racing will be restricted to horses that have been stabled in France since the pandemic began, and the new season will get underway with a special opening day at Longchamp on May 11th.
Fans of the sport can rejoice as the meeting will feature four high-quality Group races and some key trials too. The standout race of the day will be the Prix d’Harcourt, a Group 2 encounter which is considered something of a key Arc trial outing – it was won by serial Arc contender Cloth Of Stars two years ago.
A bumper curtain-raiser for the new season will also feature the two main trial races for the Guineas series in the Prix de Fontainebleau and the Prix de la Grotte, and the action will be completed by the Group 3 spring outing the Prix de Saint-Georges.
Both of the Guineas races will be run, bizarrely, on a Monday, with June 1st the designated host date for both the 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas.
The Group 1 excitement will continue on June 14th with the Prix Ganay and the Coolmore Prix Saint-Alary, and a fortnight later it will be the turn of the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud.
While some of the French Classic series are still to be confirmed, it is likely that the Prix de Jockey Club and the Prix de Diane – known as the French Derby and the French Oaks respectively – will take place at Chantilly on July 5th.
The Prix d’Ispahan takes over the July 19th slot, however there’s bad news for fans of the Prix Niel, which has been postponed and no revised date announced.
At the time of writing, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe meeting will go ahead as planned over the weekend of October 3rd-4th, although the declaration deadline for entries of late May will be extended into June.
The president of the French Trainers’ Association, Nicolas Clement, is feeling positive that everything is moving in the right direction.
“We’re all hoping that racing can go on. We’re waiting to hear from the authorities, but we know they have been involved in positive discussions with the government.
BHA to Use French Racing’s Return as Guinea Pig
Plenty of racing fans and punters will be watching the resumption of French racing with great interest.
The British Horseracing Authority too will be keeping an eye on how things are developing in France and also in Germany, where racing is also set to return at Dortmund in May.
Success there, without any issues regarding social distancing and the like, will give their campaign to get UK racing back up and running even greater ammunition as they lobby the government for a designated return date.
It has been reported that BHA officials have already spoken to their counterparts in mainland Europe about how they are handling the safety aspects of racing’s great return, and you can rest assured that they will be taking notes on what works well and what doesn’t.
A statement from the BHA read:
“The racing industry, like everyone at this time, puts the health of the public and our participants first.
“Our staff are focusing their efforts right now on planning for the resumption of racing as soon as possible. They are working in full collaboration with trainers, racecourses and others.
“Good progress has been made and racing will have detailed proposals incorporating expert medical opinion to present to Government as it prepares to review the current restrictions.”