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The English page - What is going on at Iffezheim


David Conolly-Smith


Ausgabe 652 vom Freitag, 22.01.2021

Racing continues at a very low level in Germany: only on Sunday and only on the sand track at Dortmund. Last Sunday´s meeting featured six races, five of them handicaps at the lowest possible level and one handicap at the second-lowest level. The German racing newspaper Sport-Welt described it as a day which “offered everything the heart desires.” Speaking personally, this writer´s heart desires to see horses running that are also capable of winning decent races. However this Sunday´s card is more or less the same, as is the case the Sunday following, while in February only two days are scheduled, both at Dortmund and with most races worth 2,000 euros or less to the winner. Obviously this is a very quiet time of year, but even so this is rather depressing and the current Covis-19 lockdown only makes it feel even worse.

Earlier this week there was a major meeting of the board of Deutscher Galopp to discuss the situation, which apparently lasted (by video conference) for seven hours. There is now a definite fixture list up to mid-June (although clearly a new spike in the virus figures could result in more cancellations or changes). In this period there will only one meeting per day, usually on Sunday or a bank holiday. This might cause problems on dates that were traditionally popular, such as Easter Monday, but that can hardly be avoided. Much will depend on what measures are taken by the government to contain the pandemic. In particular the absence of paying racegoers is certain to cause further problems for racecourses, most of which are running at a loss anyway under the current circumstances.

The current lockdown in Germany lasts until mid-February but will most probably be extended. In any case it seems extremely unlikely that spectators will be allowed to attend major sporting events, such as football but also horse racing, and cultural events such as concerts, before May at the earliest.  All activities which rely on gate money will suffer in consequence. This certainly applies to horse racing and in particular to the big meetings such as the Hamburg Derby week and Baden-Baden.

Thus it came as no great surprise that the Baden-Spring Meeting, due to take place in the first week of June, has been cancelled; the persistent rumours, which we reported last week, turned out to be justified. The four group races and two listed races due to be run at the meeting will be allocated to other German racecourses at around the same time. Details are not yet available, but it is important that the black type races should be saved. There must also be questions about the Hamburg Derby meeting in late June/early July; six days are scheduled, with six group races, including of course the Deutsches Derby itself, not only the first German Group One of the season but also the richest race of the year in Germany, with prize-money of 650,000 euros. Unless racegoers are allowed on to the track, one can certainly imagine that one or more of the six days could be cancelled.

Baden-Baden´s “Grosse Woche”, the most important German meeting of all, is due to be staged in the first week of September with the Group One Grosser Preis von Baden on September 5th. Traditionally this is a six-day meeting, stretching over two weekends, but at the moment only four days (Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, with the important yearling sale on the Friday) have been scheduled, and this seems the likeliest scenario.

The situation at Baden-Baden remains confused, to say the least. The Internationaler Club, which ran the racing from 1872, declared insolvency in 2009, and Baden Racing (with Dr. Andreas Jacobs and Paul von Schubert as the main shareholders) took over in 2010 – when the Spring Meeting was also cancelled – until the end of last year. In that time they have reportedly accumulated losses of nearly 7 million euros. Naturally last year, when every race day was held behind closed doors, was disastrous, and this year will depend to a large extent on when paying customers are allowed back in.

A new race club needs to be formed, and it seems clear that they will need additional income to keep going, and this can probably only come from additional use of the racecourse land throughout the year. Dr. Michael Vesper, head of Deutscher Galopp, made it clear last week that this is the kind of solution he is hoping for. At the moment it seems that there are two main groups interested and both have submitted detailed proposals to the village of Iffezheim, which owns the property, as to how they intend to operate profitably throughout the year and at the same time, keep the race meetings in their traditional dates and also the training centre going as before. The village, which of course would also like to see the racecourse making a positive contribution to their finances, has the final word, but it is expected to be some weeks before a final decision can be reached which is acceptable to all parties.

To end on a positive note: this Sunday sees the annual “Züchtertreff” (breeders´ meeting) at Gestüt Röttgen, the most popular event of its kind in Germany. Obviously it will all be held “virtually” this time, but it is still exciting. Only four people will actually be present in person:  master of ceremonies Thorsten Castle, Dr. Günter Paul, head of the Mehl-Mülhens-Stiftung which owns the luxurious stud on the outskirts of Cologne, stud manager Frank Dorff and Dr. Michael Vesper. There will be two guest lecturers, discussing (in German) the use of x-rays at thoroughbred sales, and it is hoped for a lively interactive question-and-answer session. 21 stallions based in Germany will be shown in short video clips, including current champion Adlerflug (In The Wings) and his predecessor Soldier Hollow (also In The Wings) and also Röttgen´s resident stallions Protectionist (Monsun), Reliable Man (Dalakhani) and Millowitsch (Sehrezad). Proceedings commence at 17.00 local time and can be seen on three free livestreams: Wettstar, Deutscher Galopp and Clipmyhorse. We strongly urge all those interested in German thoroughbred breeding and racing to tune in and watch this extremely interesting event.

David Conolly-Smith

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