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China coronavirus: Zac Purton braces for ‘very strange’ race day ahead of Sha Tin lockout

The Australian praises the Jockey Club for showing ‘great leadership’ by drastically reducing attendance at Monday’s Lunar New Year meeting

Jockey Zac Purton says the Jockey Club has shown “great leadership” in tackling the coronavirus outbreak as he prepares for a “very strange” day at the races at Sha Tin on Monday.

The Jockey Club announced on Friday that the Lunar New Year race meeting will be restricted to patrons with existing bookings, owners with horses running and staff as it attempts to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.

“I think it’s a good step, they’ve shown great leadership,” Purton said. “Obviously everyone’s health and well-being is paramount and with how easily and quickly this virus can spread, everything they can do to try and reduce that is good.”

The Lunar New Year meeting is one of the biggest of the season and 105,716 people attended across the two tracks in 2019, although the only fans on course this year will be the roughly 8,000 with existing bookings.

“It’s going to be very strange,” Purton said. “We quite often go to Happy Valley on a Saturday for barrier trials and I assume it’s going to be a similar feeling to that. It’s going to be really weird walking around the parade ring without anyone there.

“Once you’re out on the track and in the heat of the battle in the race, you’re not going to notice that there’s no crowd there except it’s going to be minus a bit of noise, but where we will notice it is walking around the parade ring.”

The arrangements will remain in place for Wednesday night’s Happy Valley meeting and carry on indefinitely, although the racing itself will continue as normal.

“So far as the meeting itself is concerned, it won’t have any impact on the card. The race meeting will proceed as normal,” said Jockey Club executive director of racing Andrew Harding.

“It’s just a question of the number of patrons that attend and we’re restricting that to owners, officials or those patrons that have restaurant bookings. That will dramatically reduce the number of people there.

“There will also be some public health measures in place for patrons that do attend the meeting.”

Off-course betting branches will also be closed on Monday but the Jockey Club is hopeful punters will still be tuning in.

“Some 800,000 fans, that is the overwhelming majority of fans, hold a betting account with the club and are able to participate in racing outside the racecourses via online and phone platforms,” the Jockey Club said in a statement.

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