Henderson spells out magnitude of coronavirus outbreak

‘This, for most people, is probably about as severe a situation as we’ve ever been in’.

  • Thursday 19 March
  • News
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Nicky Henderson is in no doubt the coronavirus pandemic is the most severe crisis of his lifetime, in racing and beyond.

The five-time champion National Hunt trainer believes that, in specific racing terms, the consequences of coronavirus will dwarf either of the two damaging and stressful foot-and-mouth outbreaks which ravaged his sport and rural life.

In the wider world, the 69-year-old sees no comparatively catastrophic global event since the end of World War II.

British racing followed almost the the entire country into a state of near lockdown when it was announced on Tuesday that no further meetings will take place until the end of April at the earliest.

It means an abrupt end to the jumps season and a significant delay to the start of the Flat summer – with stark implications for the livelihood of all involved and the management of their horses.

“It’s pretty severe times – it’s the first time in our generation that we’ve known a crisis of this magnitude,” Henderson told Sky Sports Racing.

“We were probably lucky enough in that we didn’t know what wartime was like – so this, for most people, is probably about as severe a situation as we’ve ever been in.”

Asked if the foot-and-mouth outbreaks of 1967 and 2001 pale into insignificance, he said: “Without doubt – absolutely.

“Yes, foot and mouth was a bad year. But we knew that was going to come and go – and that didn’t affect the world. It affected racing and farming, and certain communities.

“But this is countrywide, worldwide – and we’ve all got to face up to it.

“We’ve got responsibilities and we’ve got to live through it – because we can’t single-handedly beat it.”

The struggle is as evident at his famous Lambourn yard as anywhere else.

“We’re surviving, anyway – which I’m afraid is what everybody is having to do at the moment,” he said.

“As everyone knows, this affects everybody down the line – there isn’t a solitary person, whatever you’re doing or whoever you are, that isn’t being affected.

“Racing, like any other industry, is suffering. I suppose the hardest part of it is the uncertainty of what happens next, how long it will go on for and what damage will actually be done at the end of the day – and how we all come out of it.

“It’s going to be difficult, and it will affect everybody’s lives – primarily those who get the virus itself, and suffer from it in that sense.

“The big worry is the financial implication of this whole dreadful saga will never be known until it’s all over.”

Racing’s paymasters include owners and bookmakers, and none will be immune to global economies in near paralyisis.

“It affects every single person – everybody is going to feel the pinch of it, and it’s going to hurt,” added Henderson.

“It’s just a matter of how much damage is done when it’s all over. The economic implications are pretty scary, and I think racing is fairly scared itself.

“It relies on a lot of people who are going to have a tough time too, and we’ve got to hope they’re still there to support the game at the end of the day.”

The Cheltenham Festival was allowed to take place last week, completed just four days before the British Horseracing Authority confirmed the shutdown of the fixture list.

Henderson had a very fruitful meeting – with four winners, including Epatante in the Champion Hurdle – and he has not yet given up hope of deploying some of his stars at Punchestown at the end of next month.

Irish racing continues, albeit behind closed doors and currently with no horses permitted to travel from Britain to compete.

Henderson said: “We would have been going on to Punchestown – I don’t know what the situation is going to be there.

“It could even take place, as part of the Irish continuation, even if it is behind closed doors – and we have discussed the various horses we’d keep as a reasonably select squad that would go there if we were able.

“We are travelling horses over to Ireland at the moment, because a lot of them are going home (to owners such as JP McManus) as we speak.”

Back in Britain, the earliest possible resumption date is May 1 – although with official predictions that the pandemic will not reach its peak here until a month later, that possibility must be highly questionable.

Henderson said: “We’re keeping quite a few (horses) on the go in the hope that racing will resume on May 1 – and if it does, we must be prepared.

“There’s still some decent races to be run.

“We’ve just got to be ready. If you sat back and said, ‘Well, it won’t happen’, and then it does, you haven’t got any horses to run.

“We’re roughing off a large percentage of the horses a month earlier. They can’t go out in the field, because the weather is not suitable for that at the moment.

“Over the last couple of days, we’ve been sorting out the ones we would keep going in the summer.”

Henderson spells out magnitude of coronavirus outbreak
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