A year obviously like no other, 2020 still saw star performances aplenty, although only a handful of people were lucky enough to witness the exploits of the equine headliners.
With spectators a fleeting presence across a smattering of venues, many were just grateful to see the show go on – even from a distance – after more than two months on the sidelines because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Here, from Al Boum Photo’s second successive Cheltenham Gold Cup victory to Serpentine’s unlikely runaway victory in the Derby, the PA news agency tells the story of racing’s 2020 via pictures.
With no hint of the disruption to come, the 2020 half of the National Hunt season began with Envoi Allen maintaining his flawless form when taking the Grade One Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle in fine style for Gordon Elliott on January 5, his third victory at the highest level.
The crowd-pleasing Un De Sceaux ran for the last time on January 18 when finishing behind Defi De Seuil in the Grade One Clarence House Chase at Ascot. The popular front-runner had racked up 23 victories, 10 at Grade One level, and accumulated more than £1.5million in prize money.
Olly Murphy claimed his first Grade One success courtesy of Itchy Feet, winner of the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase under jockey Gavin Sheehan. Murphy, previously assistant to leading Irish trainer Gordon Elliott, first took out a licence in his own right in 2017 and was aged just 28 at the time of the victory.
After being beaten by Cyrname in the 1965 Chase the previous November, Altior bounced back with a decisive victory in Newbury’s Grade Two Game Spirit Chase – his 21st career success.
Dual Grand National-winning jockey Leighton Aspell retired for good in February, having previously hung up his boots in 2007. A return in 2009 brought about some of 43-year-old’s best days in the saddle, including back-to-back Grand National victories aboard Pineau De Re in 2014 and Many Clouds in 2015.
Despite increasing pressure to limit public gatherings in the wake of the growing Covid-19 outbreak in Britain, the Cheltenham Festival went ahead as planned, with more than 250,000 spectators over the four days – a figure only 5.5% lower than the previous year.
Barry Geraghty rallied to an unlikely victory in the RSA Chase aboard the Nicky Henderson-trained Champ. Approaching the home straight, the 4-1 shot was some eight lengths behind leaders Minella Indo and Allaho, but accelerated after the last to find a gap in the middle and prevail by a length.
A thrilling finish to the Albert Barlett Novices’ Hurdle saw Latest Exhibition, Fury Road and Monkfish battle it out – with the latter prevailing by a neck, and just a nose separating the second and third.
Al Boum Photo became the first horse since Best Mate to win successive Cheltenham Gold Cups, taking the race by a neck from Santini under Paul Townend, the jockey who also steered him to victory in 2019.
Just three days after the Festival, Covid-19 forced the cancellation of the Grand National for the first time since World War II, with British racing then going behind closed doors for 24 hours before ceasing altogether from March 18. Irish racing battled on without spectators for a week before it too was suspended on March 25.
In the absence of a real race, the Virtual Grand National filled the ITV slot usually reserved for the Aintree showpiece, with a peak audience of 4.8 million tuning in to see the Christian Williams-trained Potters Corner take first place. Bookmakers donated all profits from the race to NHS charities, with a total of £2.6million raised.
With the season cut short, Brian Hughes was officially named champion jump jockey for the first time in his career. When the sport was suspended in March, Hughes was leading four-time champion Richard Johnson by 19 – having racked up 141 victories.
French racing returned with a cracking card at ParisLongchamp on May 11, with German action having resumed four days earlier at Hannover. British racing was, meanwhile, working towards a June 1 resumption.
HRI confirms June 8 will see the resumption of Irish racing, after successful lobbying of the Irish Government saw the sport’s return advance from an initial slot at the end of June.
The British Horseracing Authority finally gets the Government rubber stamp to start racing on June 1, with Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport saying racing will be “first out of the gate” as elite sport resumes.
Zodiakos wrote his name into the history books as he won the first race at Newcastle, as racing resumed with a bumper 10-race card Flat card, conducted with only essential parties in attendance and everyone on site required to wear a mask and comply to strict health and safety protocols.
Ghaiyyath wins the first Group One of the season, the rearranged Coronation Cup at Newmarket, by two and a half lengths for Charlie Appleby.
Andrew Balding’s Kameko triumphed in the first Classic of the season, a late renewal of the 2000 Guineas. Unbeaten juvenile star Pinatubo, who started as 5-6 favourite, disappointed in third – with Oisin Murphy steering the winner to prevail by a neck from Wichita. Love won the 1000 Guineas 24 hours later, for Ryan Moore and Aidan O’Brien.
Royal Ascot kicked off in its usual slot, albeit very different circumstances with top hats and high fashion replaced by empty stands. Charlie Hills’ crack sprinter Battaash shelved his luckless Ascot past with an easy win in the King’s Stand Stakes, forming part of an opening-day treble for jockey Jim Crowley and owner-breeder Sheikh Hamdan, with Motakhayyel winning the Buckingham Palace Handicap and Nazeef taking the Duke of Cambridge Stakes.
Stradivarius joined an elite list as only the third horse to win three Ascot Gold Cups, taking the 2020 renewal by a remarkable 10 lengths, defying unsuitably testing ground following heavy rain.
Hollie Doyle chalked up her first Royal Ascot success aboard aboard 33-1 shot Scarlet Dragon in the Duke of Edinburgh Stakes, becoming only the third female jockey to ride a winner at the meeting.
Racing mourned the loss of Grand National-winning jockey Liam Treadwell, who died at the age of 34.
The National Hunt season made a delayed start at Southwell on July 1, with Olly Murphy saddling four winners across the card and a small handful of owners also in attendance as part of a BHA trial to get connections back on track.
The Derby meeting was condensed into one card run four weeks later than usual, but that did not stop Aidan O’Brien registering a Classic double. Love’s wide-margin success in the Oaks was probably not hard to predict, but 25-1 shot Serpentine was certainly a Derby surprise as he made all under an inspired ride from Emmet McNamara- routing the field by five and a half lengths.
Ghaiyyath galloped his rivals into the ground as he dethroned turf queen Enable in the Coral Eclipse at Sandown, with the dual Arc winner well held on her seasonal bow.
Cieren Fallon Jr, son of acclaimed jockey Kieren Fallon, rode his first Group One winner on Oxted in the Darley July Cup at Newmarket – also trainer Roger Teal’s first top-level success.
Barry Geraghty announces his retirement after a career that encompassed 43 winners at the Cheltenham Festival, including two Gold Cups, a Grand National win and a plethora of big-race successes and champion jockey titles.
Enable raises the bar again as she becomes the first three-time winner of the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot, just days before stablemate Stradivarius makes his own history when securing his fourth successive victory in the Goodwood Cup – the only horse to ever do so.
Ghaiyyath won his third successive Group One when taking the Juddmonte International Stakes at York, seeing off the mare Magical in style.
Dual Classic heroine Love notches an impressive victory in the Yorkshire Oaks, cruising home under Ryan Moore as 4-9 favourite.
Hollie Doyle becomes the first female jockey to ride five winners on the same card, pulling off an 899-1 five-timer at Windsor on August 29.
Not to be left out, Doyle’s partner Tom Marquand secures his first Classic win on Galileo Chrome in the St Leger at Doncaster, with the jockey landing the ride at the last minute after regular partner Shane Crosse tested positive for Covid-19.
Aidan O’Brien’s Magical ended Ghaiyyath’s winning streak in a thrilling Irish Champion Stakes, in what was to be the final start for Charlie Appleby’s brave front-runner.
Racing pays tribute as nine-time Irish champion jockey Pat Smullen dies aged 43, after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer two years earlier. His death came a year after the Pat Smullen Champions Race For Cancer Trials race, which helped Smullen raise over 2.5million euros for charity.
Enable is retired after finishing sixth when chasing a record third victory in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. The superstar mare won 15 of her 19 career starts for trainer John Gosden and owner Khalid Abdullah, including 11 Group Ones.
While Enable came up short in the Arc itself, there was plenty of success for the raiding party in the supporting races at ParisLongchamp, including a fairytale success for the Tony Mullins-trained Princess Zoe in the Prix du Cadran under apprentice Joey Sheridan. Dermot Weld’s Tarnawa won the Prix de l’Opera, and One Master recorded a memorable hat-trick for William Haggas in the Prix de la Foret. Aidan O’Brien did not have any runners on Arc weekend because of an issue related to contaminated feed, however.
It was confirmed at the start of October that champion jockey Oisin Murphy had tested positive for metabolites of cocaine, at a meeting in France earlier in the year. Murphy, who went on to be be crowned champion for a second time and rode his 1,000th domestic winner, was banned for three months following a hearing in November after France Galop found that the positive test derived from “environmental contamination”.
Hollie Doyle stole the headlines at Ascot as she enjoyed a double on Qipco Champions Day, including her first Group One success aboard Glen Shiel in the British Champions Sprint. Tom Marquand also rode two winners, most notably steering Addeybb to victory in the Champion Stakes itself.
Joseph O’Brien once again scuppered his father Aidan’s bid for a first Melbourne Cup win as Twilight Payment held the late charge of Tiger Moth at Flemington. Melbourne standing dish Prince Of Arran took third for Charlie Fellowes – his third placing in the Group One event in as many years.
British and Irish raiders struck gold at the Breeders’ Cup meeting at Keeneland, with Glass Slippers landing the Turf Sprint, Audarya lifting the Filly & Mare, Order Of Australia springing a Mile shock and Tarnawa impressing with her Turf success.
Cloth Cap hacked up for Jonjo O’Neill and Tom Scudamore in the ultra-competitive Ladbrokes Trophy Chase at Newbury, making all before galloping 10 lengths clear at the line.
A limited number of racegoers returned to tracks under Tier 1 and 2 Covid-19 restrictions in England – but as infection rates spiked again, the sport ended up back behind closed doors come the end of the month.
Bryony Frost becomes the first woman to ride the winner of the King George VI Chase as she executes a perfect front-running ride aboard her old ally Frodon at Kempton on Boxing Day.
The Savills Chase at Leopardstown draws one of the best fields of its kind outside of the Festivals, and it does not disappoint with a humdinger of a finish as A Plus Tard edges out Kemboy in the shadow of the post to bag the Grade One honours.