For one reason or the other, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a greater impact on the 2021 racing season than it had on the 2020 racing season.
There have been seven racing days for the season to date, and assuming an October resumption, there is likely at most to be another six racing days bring the total racing days to 13, maybe 14 if another racing day is eked out somewhere.
There were 22 racing days in 2020. With no racing for the past five months, the Classic diary being completed torn up, the fitness of horses completely unknown, and prize money still uncertain, it is hard to be optimistic about the sport’s future.
Given the recent pronouncements by the government, and in the hope that nothing changes over the next few weeks, it is likely that racing will be allowed to resume on October 9 under the strict conditions as a vaccination safe zone. The Arima Race Club (ARC) has been readying itself for such a possibility and so that condition is unlikely to be an issue.
With the resumption of an abridged season, the big question was the future of the Classic races. The Club has addressed that question by indicating apparently that there is a strong intention it would be cancelling the second leg of the ‘Triple Crown’ – the Midsummer Classic.
In many ways, conceptually, the Club had already made a misstep when they decided that the second leg would be run off on the turf track, a significant movement away from the tradition of the ‘Triple Crown’. That decision is now voided by the decision to cancel the race altogether if it stands the test of stakeholders’ challenges.
Given the fact that the three ‘Triple Crown’ races would now be required to be run off over three months, cancellation of one is not entirely surprising. What is somewhat surprising is the decision to replace the Classic with the Derby itself. This means that the Guineas over 1,800 metres will be run off on October 30 according to the draft schedule proposed if not finalised. We have been informed that the Derby will be now runoff on November 27 over 2,000m. Based on correspondence seen by this writer, the decision to run the Derby on November 27 was taken to make room for the local three-year-olds to compete in the Gold Cup on Boxing Day (December 26).
When coming up with a racing programme, the primary consideration has to be the welfare of the horses. There will be only one racing day before the 1,800m Guineas is run off and there would be about four months since the horses have last raced. To ask young horses to compete over that distance at this point in their careers is far from ideal but to compound the situation by asking them to come back less than one month later and compete in the Derby over 2,000m borders on the insane.
The rationale being put forward of leaving room for the horses to compete in the Gold Cup against more hardened campaigners is also extremely inconsiderate of these animals. While the first situation may be unavoidable if the objective is to stage as many legs of the ‘Triple Crown’ as possible, the second is certainly not.
Most of the current race fans would be well aware that for a very long time, the Trinidad Derby was actually runoff on the same day as the Gold Cup (in its various names) for a long time in the history of the sport.
While the objective of having three-year-olds compete in both the Derby and the Gold Cup is laudable, the well-being of the horses, as opposed to their owners, should really be the main objective of any decision taken with respect to race framing. This decision does not appear to do that.
In 2020, even though the Derby was staged on November 28, 2020, none of the leading three-year-olds elected to run in the Gold Cup on December 26, 2020, with connections of all of the three-year-olds deciding to compete in the Breeders Classic (over 1,800m instead).
While that event was removed from the 2021 Classic diary, the 2020 experience makes it clear that connections of the locally bred three-year-olds would elect to not compete in the Gold Cup if there was an alternative because of the significant disadvantage in terms of physical and mental readiness for their charges. And that was after 22 days of racing and two months of racing lost between April and May 2020, as opposed to five months of racing lost between May and September 2021.
It is difficult to believe that all of those involved in the sport, owners, trainers, and administrators, could believe that the decision with respect to the remaining ‘Triple Crown’ races is in the best interest of the horses. Hopefully, it is not too late for the ARC to review this decision and revise it accordingly.
One alternative would be to push back the staging of the Guineas to November (possibly the first racing day in the month) and stage the Derby on Boxing Day. This would give the locally bred three-year-olds an extra racing day to get ready for the first Classic and more days in between that first Classic and the Derby.