Competitive sports resume in England after 75-day shutdown

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              Exercising on the gallops racehorse Fair Sheriff is ridden by jockey Nathan Moscrop at Howe Hill Stables, near Darlington, England, Thursday May 28, 2020.  There has been no action on British tracks since March, but the British Horseracing Authority is hoping to start the sport subject to procedures to limit the spread of the coronavirus and Government approval. (Owen Humphreys / PA via AP)
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A mid-morning greyhound race in a virtually empty venue in the central English city of Birmingham wouldn’t typically be an occasion warranting special attention.

For English sports fans, it was a moment to savor.

When six dogs flew out of the traps at Perry Barr at 10:21 a.m. on Monday, it marked the return of competitive sports in England after a 75-day shutdown because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The name of the winning dog — Im Sophie — will likely be the answer to a quirky quiz question in years to come.

Greyhound racing was the first of three sports to resume Monday, with horse racing and snooker also taking place without spectators and on the condition that competitors and officials follow government-approved coronavirus protocols.

A 10-race card was held at Gosforth Park’s all-weather track in the northeast city of Newcastle, where 369 entries from competition-starved horse owners were whittled down to 120 runners. Jockeys wore face masks and adhered to social-distancing regulations before and after races, and only limited personnel were allowed on the course. That meant no bookmakers or bettors, with even the owners themselves barred from attending.

In the third-to-last race of the meeting, a horse — December Second — suffered a fatal injury after clipping the heels of another runner and falling with two furlongs remaining.

Horse racing was the last live sport to shut down in Britain — on March 17.

“It’s time to return and I really feel we can come back in a safe way in a way the public can be proud of,” champion jockey Oisin Murphy said Monday, adding that he and his rivals would physically feel “very close to 100%.”

“But the mental sharpness will only come after a few weeks with some practice.”

The winning jockey of the first race at Newcastle, James Sullivan, said he was “blowing a bit coming in” as the finishing post approached aboard his horse, Zodiakos.

“It was hard work,” he said. “That will blow away the cobwebs.”

Snooker’s Championship League started in Milton Keynes, north of London, with top-ranked Judd Trump in action.

There were 64 players competing in the tournament that runs to June 11, and they all had to test negative for COVID-19 before entering the empty arena for matches.

Soccer in England is set to resume on June 17 with two Premier League games.