Silence from the stands greeted runners on the track at Newmarket on Thursday – but there was still a sense of delight from the few in attendance at the sport’s first meeting back at Flat racing’s Headquarters.
In any normal year a card packed with six two-year-old races from the biggest yards across the country would attract plenty looking for a future star in the making, but this year the famous grandstands are empty, and are likely to be for some time yet.
All the expected signs are in place to make sure strict hygiene and safety protocols are adhered to, but there was a most unexpected moment of alarm before racing – with a large pane of glass falling from a third-floor window in the main grandstand and shattering on the seating below.
Amy Starkey, who runs Newmarket as regional director for the Jockey Club east region, said: “A window fell out of the Champions Gallery on the third floor on to the level two seating for no explained reason. We are now investigating why and how it’s occurred.
“Clearly it is very concerning and thankfully we are staging racing behind closed doors so no members of the public or our team have access to the area.”
Reflecting on the build-up to the resumption of racing in Britain this week, Starkey said: “Over the last 11 weeks great credit goes to those that have worked tirelessly to make sure racing has been able to resume in a controlled environment to prevent the spread of Covid-19, and we are now sat here just two days away from the Classic of the season.
“It will feel strange, not least the fact that the 32,000 people that usually enjoy the Guineas Festival will not be here to enjoy the sport, but to get racing resumed in the safest possible way was the industry priority.
“The importance of racing to the UK economy (cannot be underestimated), particularly here in Newmarket with some 3,000 horses in training in the town.”
Though Newmarket has opened its doors for the first time this season, Starkey believes there will still be a significant financial impact felt by the track with many of its revenues of income unlikely to be streaming in for the foreseeable future.
She added: “Covid-19 has had a devastating effect on the world, this country and on the horse racing industry so to resume in this form is hugely welcomed.
“The impact is still significant as our normal income lines – admissions, hospitality, restaurant bookings and annual badge holders – are not currently part of our financial return and at this stage it is unclear when will be able to welcome the public in any form back to our racecourses.”
One man who was pleased to see the sight of horses thundering down the Rowley Mile again was Charlie Appleby, trainer of this year’s Qipco 2000 Guineas favourite Pinatubo.
Appleby said after debutant Creative Force became his first winner of the season: “I think everyone has done very well to get us back and Newmarket is staging a lovely four-day card and thankfully we have some nice horses to support it with. I’m delighted to have my first winner of the season.
“You are always itching for racing to get going back at Newmarket again. It is one of may favourite tracks, but most importantly it is just great to be back racing.
“It is my first trip racing today and everyone has been very professional and very supportive. As long as this continues we will continue racing through to the end of the season.”
Reading the emotions of Appleby is hard at the best of times given his laid-back demeanour, but with his face mask on, as is now the new normal on racecourses, any potential nerves ahead of Pinatubo’s eagerly-anticipated return on Saturday were even harder to detect.
He added: “I’m delighted with what Pinatubo has done through the winter. He does what he needs to at home, but most importantly he looks great and physically he has done well and I can’t be any happier with him coming into the weekend.
“I think the way he hit the line in soft ground as a two-year-old in the Dewhurst showed he has a willing heart and for me I don’t foresee the mile being a problem.
“We are all trying our best and it is exciting for racing and we are all trying to be part of it and to have hopefully a superstar like he was last year going into his three-year-old career.
“The sport needs him at this time and what a time for a potential superstar to turn up.”
Hughie Morrison has enjoyed some notable victories at Newmarket, including Sweet Selection’s victory in the 2016 Cesarewitch, and he was another pleased to be back racing at one of the country’s flagship venues.
He said: “It is nice to be back at a serious track. It is very strange with no atmosphere, but we are here and that is the important thing.
“Sport is all about atmosphere and buzz and we have probably seen some nice two-year-olds today and hopefully they will bounce back in time at Ascot.
“It is important that we are at back at our headquarters of racing and it is important to show the rest of the sporting world we can do it well.”