'Nobody really knows what is ahead of us' – Richard Johnson

Four-time champion jockey braced for weeks of coronavirus uncertainty.

  • Wednesday 18 March
  • News
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Richard Johnson has spoken of the uncertainty facing the racing industry in the face of the coronavirus shutdown.

On Tuesday, just days after the Cheltenham Festival had reached a conclusion, it was announced there will be no more racing in Britain until at least the start of May.

Johnson was pleased that National Hunt’s showpiece meeting got the go-ahead, but fully understands the reasons for the subsequent suspension.

“It’s a frustrating time for us all – none of us is sure what to expect or knows what is around the corner,” he told talkSPORT.

“It was strange yesterday to race behind closed doors, but then the news broke that yesterday would be the last day completely.”

Racing came in for criticism in some quarters for staging the Cheltenham Festival, but Johnson believes the right decision was made.

“The situation was progressing on a daily basis,” he said.

“Last week we were finding out more about it, the Government and the BHA were taking different steps along the way – and now we’ve reached the point where we’ve stopped racing.

“It’s disappointing, obviously – because we all want to keep racing – but at the same time, the health of the country takes priority.

“Hopefully it won’t be too long – but that’s the trouble, nobody really knows what is ahead of us.

“Last week we enjoyed Cheltenham. Unfortunately I didn’t have much success there, but it was great to have the Festival – it went smoothly, but things have moved up a gear since then.

“It was reasonably normal. The public were trying to enjoy their day out, and it was a great event, as it is every year.

“Hand sanitisers were everywhere, and there was lots of advice – we were updated daily by the course doctors to take precautionary measures.

“It was great to get Cheltenham on. But things have changed over the last few days, and things have changed all the time.”

While there may be no action on the track, Johnson himself will be kept busy by his own horses, and stressed that many in training will still be on the go – in the hope racing can return as quickly as possible.

“All the horses still have to be ridden out – depending on owners if they want to give theirs a period of rest now – but they still have to be kept going,” he said.

“Jockeys have to keep going too. I have about 20 horses at home, so we’ve been busy this morning.

“I’ll have plenty to keep me busy. But nearly everyone in racing is self-employed, so we just have to hope like the rest of the country that things improve and we can get back to normality as quickly as possible.

“Racing behind closed doors was slightly eerie – but when you are actually in the race it didn’t feel very different. If we have to go back to that, it’s something we would be happy with, but we’ll all be led by the advice of the Government.

“I’ve a young family and an older mother and father, so I just want everyone to stay safe and get through this outbreak.”

While an initial return to racing in May is hoped for, that is a best-case scenario – meaning the Guineas meeting at Newmarket early that month and the Derby in early June could be placed in some doubt.

A statement from Epsom read: “Racing has been suspended until the end of April in light of the current public health situation. As such we continue to work towards staging The Investec Derby Festival in June, and that will depend on the latest Government guidance and the status of the sport at that time.”

Chris Richardson, managing director at Cheveley Park Stud, explained the breeding industry is trying to carry on as best it can in difficult times.

He said: “We’re taking all the procedures we can. Mares are still coming to be mated, and we just have to try and get through it the best we can.

“These are tough times for everyone. When you look at the service industry and they’re telling people not to go to pubs and restaurants, and you’ll have people with rent and mortgages to pay, it’s a very difficult situation.

“All we can do is be vigilant and look after everyone as best we can, from the horsebox drivers who arrive with the mares to our staff.

“We have 60 foals on the ground at the moment, and another 31 left to foal, so this is a busy time of year. People have to stay up during the night and work long hours, so we are reliant on our staff – and we’re fortunate to have a fantastic team.

“We just have to batten down the hatches and do what we can. At least everyone here is working outside in the fresh air.

“We actually had a full-brother to the multiple Group One winner Advertise last night, which was very exciting – they’re all Group One winners at this stage!”

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