John Hammond – Opinion from Europe

As I am sure you all know we are in lockdown here in France and the same in the UK and Ireland. Officially racing here is off until the 16th of April but I suspect that date will be extended. Ireland is much the same and in the UK racing has been officially suspended until the end of April.

Fortunately, all the training grounds are open so the horses can be trained normally which is a big plus. I have been in contact with the trainers in the UK and for the moment it is ‘business as usual’ as far as the day to day routine goes. We keep a close eye on costs and those horses who can be ‘spelled’ during this time will be.

On retaining racing, Peter Savill, an owner and past president of the BHA made a pertinent view in the Racing Post the other day saying that racecourses are built to take tens of thousands of people and it was perfectly practical to put on racing ‘behind close doors’ respecting the current health restrictions. Unfortunately that is now not the case.

This leads me on to another point which is the collateral economic damage from lockdowns. It will be big. I understand the reasons for what is going on and at present the government has little choice but I think that in the autumn when we look back on all of this it will be viewed with a different perspective.

Obviously every death is a tragedy but we also have to acknowledge that there are many areas of modern life where we unconsciously accept that people will die, unnecessarily, so that we can live as we want to.

For example, if we reduced the speed limit to 20mph we would save the lives of thousands of people every year but we all view that as not being practical, which means that we all accept that thousands will die every year so that we can go from A to B relatively quickly. Likewise, many of us like a glass of wine but if prohibition was invoked for alcohol, it would save the lives of thousands who die of alcohol related illness and indeed it would transform the lives of many who live with someone with a booze problem.

If as many suspect the virus dies down during the European summer (it doesn’t like the heat they say), it probably won’t disappear totally and is likely to make a bit of a come back in the autumn. What then, another lockdown? I don’t think so because there will be so much economic damage from the current one, increased unemployment, businesses going under, increased poverty and suicides.

People will understand the negative effect lockdowns have on the nation’s health. People will have to learn to live with the virus, more testing, more ventilators, more and better equipped hospitals but no more lockdowns. As this is such a sensitive subject, you may ask if I would be writing the same words if I had lost a close relative to the virus last week? Good question. But the honest answer is, I hope so.

In recent days two positive views are worth noting. Firstly, the words of Michael Levitt a biophysicist at Stanford University and a Nobel prize winner for Chemistry. He said ‘the world is going to be fine’ but ‘what we need to control is panic’. He said that data on the outbreak of the virus does not support predictions of millions of deaths worldwide.

He correctly predicted that China would control the virus far more quickly than original estimates predicted and furthermore even countries that had not imposed such strict lockdowns as China were already showing signs of recovery. ‘Numbers are noisy but there are clear signs of slowed growth of the virus’. Numbers are noisy is an interesting phrase. Perspective is needed.

Secondly, all crisis provoke opportunity and our world of horse racing is no exception. The dynamics of the market will change. So difficult these coming months might be, they will also provide opportunities to get great bang for the buck for those who are willing to be bold in a buyer’s market.

These are not easy times but they will pass. Clear heads needed. As the wise Nobel laureate says… If we control panic we will be fine.

John Hammond, Chantilly, France

The above views are John’s and are not necessarily the views of OTI.