May 2020 newsletter

April 2020 was different. April is supposed to be a month of changeable weather, when the Czech horseracing season springs into action after a long break due to wintry weather. The entire winter of 2019/2020 produced little snow and ice in the lowlands, until a few frosty nights at the end of March and the beginning of April. April 2020 was an unnaturally dry month, with a succession of lovely cool sunny days, more like May days – but we were required to watch them mainly through our windows, due to the shutdown, and to enjoy our brief periods out of doors with a mask over our face. 


I don’t want to write much about Covid – 19. I have a very limited amount of reliable information about the virus, and certainly no clever hunches to report to you about how to cure it, or what may happen in the weeks and months to come. I will leave hunches and predictions, cranky ideas, rumours and scare stories to other people. And I will leave expert opinions to experts. 


Let me say just one thing. It has been good to have so many professors giving explanations on television. On British television, it has been necessary to explain very basic concepts, like the difference between linear growth and exponential growth, and why nobody knows, and scientists cannot predict, exactly what and when viruses and humans are going to do in the future. Media people still don’t get it, but at least some of them now apologize before they demand a very detailed prediction from experts, who will not give a prediction, and from politicians who will, if they think it will win votes for them. I am afraid that the media will continue to assume that it is their job to demand simple answers to complex questions. I am also afraid that poorly educated people will continue to vote for the politicians who most confidently predict and promise what they want to hear.   


Thank you for allowing me that diversion, and for continuing to read on. What are the hard facts about what happened here in April 2020? The lockdown seems to have been successfully carried out in the Czech Republic, so far. It began early, and there seem to have been only a limited number of deaths from the virus until now. We are told that the health services have not yet been very near to collapse. Essential workers and volunteers have been heroic.   


It seems that a sufficient number of people here have washed our hands, stayed at home, kept our distance from each other, and have behaved cooperatively. Not everyone, of course. Anti-social and criminal behavior never goes away, certainly not at times when most people are trying to act cohesively in the common good. 


From the beginning of May, there have been some cautious efforts to ‘return to normal’. The state of emergency is to come to an end in the middle of May, and tentative plans have been drawn up for relaxing the emergency measures. There is no way that everyone can agree on the priorities. For me, for example, the burning issue is: What about healthy people over the age of 70? I know that for other people the big question is: Should hairdressers, tattoo parlours and Thai massage parlours be opened up simultaneously, or should people who have needed a tattoo for up to seven weeks be told they must continue to wait? And, of course, What about horseracing? 


What about Czech horseracing, indeed. There was no racing here in April, though there were plenty of warm, sunny, dry days when it would have been pleasant to go to the racecourse. Everyone with any connection with racing is impatient to start our season, and to try to set up a plan for the 2020 the season. There are horses that are ready to run, and our riders have been getting themselves into shape. At the same time, we should have in mind that there are valid arguments for delaying the time when people are encouraged to travel with others and congregate at sports events, in restaurants, bars, etc.  


The state of emergency in the Czech Republic is to finish on May 17th, and the Jockey Club of the Czech Republic lost no time in announcing that our season will begin at Most racecourse, on Monday, May 18th. Race conditions have been announced for seven race meetings that will be held behind closed doors. It seems to be all about flat racing, but Josef Váňa, in his role as deputy president of the Jockey Club, is trying to do something about racing over fences and hurdles.


There should be no more than 100 people present at the course on a race day. Riders, trainers and stable staff, and officials would normally amount to at least that number, but it can be arranged, for example, with trainers and riders doubling up as grooms, and horsebox drivers remaining outside the racecourse area. Owners will not be present and there will be no spectators.


It seems to me that 100 people, or preferably 200 people, could gather safely at Most racecourse, even on a cold and windy day, and put on a day of racing. Of course, I hope the race day will go ahead. At the beginning of May, however, there was a planned race meeting in Germany, but it was finally not allowed to take place. There was also a planned trotting meeting in Denmark at the beginning of May that was cancelled at the last moment. We must just hope that the virus will give up its mad attempt to take over the world, and that our racecourses will be able to hold meetings, with a crowd present, within a matter of weeks.


I will not deal here with the very sad news that Tomáš Hurt died in an accident a few days ago, on his 38th birthday. Tomáš was a good enough rider to win our jumps jockeys’ championship, a good enough trainer to have trained over 100 winners, and with Jarka Trachtova and her late husband, Petr, he put a lot of effort and dedication into keeping the happily-remembered race meetings at Benešov going for several years. I will not write any more in this newsletter about Tomáš Hurt for two reasons. Firstly, because I think he actually died in May, and not in April, which is the period covered by the May newsletter – and mainly because I have a fine tribute to Tomáš Hurt, written by Martin Cáp, which I will translate as soon as I am able. It is quite long, and it certainly deserves to be translated in full. I will make time as soon as I can.


Plenty of professionals in Czech racing are curently going through tough and worrying times, and we need to get our racing going soon, for their sake.  Good luck to everyone.