Top jockey Hollie Doyle is concerned for the future of racing if coronavirus restrictions persist well into the new year and said: “I don’t know how much more it can take.”
Doyle, 24, was celebrating a third-place finish in the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year poll on Sunday night. It was reward for a stellar 2020 in which she broke her own record for the number of wins by a female jockey in a calendar year and secured her first Group One success on Glen Shiel as part of a Champions Day double at Ascot.
Doyle herself originally hails from Herefordshire, one of the few parts of England in Tier 1 under the Government’s regionalised system to combat the spread of Covid-19 and where up to 4,000 people are able to attend outdoor sporting events.
However, the decision to move large parts of southern and eastern England into Tier 4 amid concerns over a new, potentially more transmissible strain of the virus raises the prospect of many more months of racecourses in the highest-risk areas operating behind closed doors.
Doyle is impressed by the resilience her sport has shown to date during the pandemic, but admits extended lockdown restrictions are a real worry.
“There’s a huge ‘food chain’ (around racing) and it’s very stretched,” she said.
“I don’t know how much more it can take, but obviously everyone’s doing all they can to keep the sport up and running.
“It’s going to be hard isn’t it? We can continue to race, we’ve proven we can adapt and keep the show on the road like we did early on while everyone was in lockdown, and keep racing. But obviously the longer we have no crowds and the owners aren’t able to go racing, it is going to become increasingly difficult to sustain.”
Twenty-time champion jockey Sir Anthony McCoy hailed Doyle’s “phenomenal” success in 2020 and backed her to become champion jockey herself in the years to come.
Asked about the praise he had offered her, Doyle said: “It means everything, it means the world. I grew up watching AP ride, watched his journey and all his success. So for him to say such kind words about me is unbelievable.”
Speaking about her targets for 2021, Doyle added: “I always try to better the year before – although it’s going to be hard to do better than I have this year.
“I think I’ve broken any expectation I had of myself and broken a few barriers as well. I hope I’ve encouraged people who don’t expect to be capable of winning things.”