'Awful day': Tragedy rocks racing's return from virus break

Jockeys wore face masks and maintained their social-distancing at the Newcastle Races. (Image: Getty)

Zodiakos wrote his name into the record books with victory in the Welcome Back British Racing Handicap at Newcastle - the first race in the United Kingdom since meetings were last held on March 17.

After government approval was granted on Saturday, racing was the first major professional sport to resume in Britain since the coronavirus shutdown with a 10-race meeting.

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The British Horseracing Authority has set out a comprehensive set of protocols to allow the sport to resume behind closed doors - with jockeys required to wear face coverings to compete as strict hygiene and social distancing measures are in place.

The Roger Fell-trained gelding Zodiakos held off the challenge of his more-fancied stablemate Al Ozzdi to win by a neck in the opener.

James Sullivan riding Zodiakos (right) to victory. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)

“It's very nice to get the first winner,” jockey James Sullivan said.

“I'm blowing a bit as obviously it's the first time I've ridden in a race for a while and it was hard work.

“In this heat today, riding in the mask, it is very warm and after pulling up I pulled it down a little just to get a few breaths in.

“It wasn't too bad, though, it's manageable and it's the sort of thing that in a week you won't even notice it.”

December Second dies after nasty fall

However it wasn’t all happy news after tragedy also struck the event.

On a sombre note on racing's return, December Second fell in the closing stages of the day's feature race and brought down outsider Financial Conduct.

Both jockeys were reported to have escaped serious harm but December Second's visibly upset trainer Phil Kirby confirmed the six-year-old gelding suffered a fatal injury.

“He's gone, I'm afraid,” Kirby said.

Fans were left fuming that a horse had died just one event after the sport’s suspension was lifted.

Starting procedures are one of the areas being monitored during the sport's return, with only two handlers allowed to push per horse to help social distancing and the starter likely to be less patient with horses that prove troublesome.

That was in evidence in the third race on the card as unraced favourite Freedom Flyer was reluctant to enter the stalls, in turn leading to Ejtilaab becoming fractious.

In the end the race went off without that pair and ultimately produced a most impressive winner, as Edraak rocketed clear.

Other winners on Monday were Little Jo, Art Power, Brian The Snail, Oakenshield, Alignak, Frankly Darling and Valyrian Steel to conclude a momentous day.

With Yahoo Sports Staff