Decision on whether crowd-free meetings can continue expected to be made today
The Australian racing industry could be halted immediately and upcoming thoroughbred sales are in extreme doubt after federal and state governments introduced stringent new measures yesterday to try and slow the rapid spread of coronavirus, a disaster that makes the global financial crisis (GFC) look like “a stroll in the park”. The Premiers of NSW and Victoria, prior to last night’s National Cabinet meeting, moved to a “more comprehensive shutdown” of nonessential services in response to the worsening COVID-19 pandemic, which is likely to force national sporting bodies and the state’s racing industries into hibernation.
However, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who had earlier announced a ban on non-essential travel within Australia, left the door ajar for sports such as racing to potentially continue when he listed only “indoor sporting venues” among the facilities and businesses that will be forced to close while the fight against coronavirus is ongoing. Pubs, clubs, cinemas, casinos, places of worship, nightclubs, entertainment venues, gyms and cafes and restaurants (excluding takeaway) will also be obliged to close, the PM said, with the measures to be reviewed monthly. However, he warned that he expected them to be in place for at least six months.
Racing Victoria chief executive Giles Thompson last night said the organisation would be briefed this morning to better understand state and federal government directives following the National Cabinet meeting. He did not indicate whether he believed racing and horse training in the state could continue, which has been conducted without crowds for the past week. “Once we are armed with all of the appropriate information and have had time to discuss it with the relevant authorities, we will then be in a position to consider it with all of our stakeholder representative groups,” Thompson said in a statement. “It is our intention to provide a comprehensive update when we have greater clarity on the immediate requirements and necessary actions of our industry.
Given the unprecedented and evolving nature of this situation, we are not in a position at present to confirm an exact time as to when that update will be provided.” There is no race meeting scheduled in Victoria today but Goulburn and Murwillumbah are programmed in NSW.
It was unclear last night whether they would go ahead.
While racing participants face an anxious wait, the fate of the Easter sale also hangs in the balance. Last year’s sale had a turnover of more than $123 million and played a critical role in the cash flow of the country’s major stud farms and breeders. Inglis management is expected to meet today to confirm how its Australian Easter Yearling Sale would be held, if it is at all, and what protocols are put in place if it proceeds as planned. It is believed that the company had been considering bringing forward the auction from its scheduled April 7 and 8 dates prior to yesterday’s g o v e r n m e n t intervention, which causes further headaches for the auction house and stakeholders.
South Australia and Western Australia yesterday joined the Northern Territory in effectively closing the Inglis had already announced that the make-up of its buying bench in attendance at the Sydney sale would be by invitation only, so that the company could comply with the 500-person limit for outdoor gatherings that was brought in earlier this month. Last week’s introduction of a 100-person limit for indoor events, with four square metres of space for every person in attendance, would also put more pressure on Inglis’s ability to run a viable sale as Australian officials attempt to “flatten the curve” of the deadly virus. Using the company’s online bidding technology had also been flagged as one instrument that could assist in as many buyers as possible participating in the Easter sale, even if they were not on site.
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The Australian Football League reacted to the news by postponing its 2020 season until at least May after completing round one yesterday but the National Rugby League, whose chairman is Racing NSW chief executive Peter V’landys, had committed to pressing on with its competition ir borders, with anyone entering those states or territories forced into 14 days of self-isolation. The ramped up travel restrictions could impact interstate Easter sale vendors such as South Australia’s Mill Park as well as New Zealand sellers Henley Park, Highden Park, Jamieson Park and Little Avondale Stud. Fellow New Zealand vendors Lyndhurst Farm, Trelawney Stud and Waikato Stud also have drafts set to sell at Easter.
In reaction to the coronavirus outbreak NSW Trainers Association secretary Glenn Burge was blunt in his assessment of the severity of COVID-19, but he believes Racing NSW has the financial capacity to support participants through a potential shutdown of the industry. “I will stress my personal opinion – and I am not speaking on behalf of my board – is that racing should continue as long as possible. Realistically, there’s a lot of things you’ve got to look at before shutting it down because the economic impact of what is occurring is so much worse than what I think people realise,” former Australian Financial Review editor Burge told ANZ Bloodstock News yesterday. “I was pretty close to the GFC (when at the AFR) and this is nothing to the GFC. The GFC was a stroll in the park compared to this. The GFC did not have mass shutting down of economic activity, you could still go to a pub, a club or a beach.
“I saw what the government did back then and I’ve seen what Morrison is doing now and he is doing his best, but we’ve never had a shutting of economic activity like you’re getting in Australia since World War II, but a better analogy is probably the Depression.”
Burge, who said he had received numerous calls from anxious trainers and stable staff, added that Racing NSW’s experience with the devastating equine influenza outbreak in 2007 that left the industry on its knees had the organisation well-placed to react to the latest setback. “The wins that Peter V’landys had with the race fields legislation, the point of consumption tax … they are actually in a good position and have built up great (cash) reserves,” he said. “Racing is in a much better financial position than what it was in 2008. I think a mixture of what they have got in the bank and, secondly, any government assistance racing can get – and it won’t be high up the queue, unfortunately – is going to allow us to do things (to help the state’s racing participants).