Muswellbrook Race Club general manager Duane Dowell 'quietly confident' industry will overcome threat of COVID-19

MUSWELLBROOK Race Club general manager Duane Dowell is "quietly confident" the "sport of kings" can overcome the threat of coronavirus (COVID-19) - just as it did equine influenza (EI) more than a decade ago.

The local organisation hosted its first meeting, without fans, at the weekend with the running of the prestigious Country Championships Wild Card, which was won by Todd Howlett's Two Big Fari.

And, the team is now set to stage its feature event on the 2019-20 calendar, the $150,000 Viatek Muswellbrook Gold Cup Showcase, at Skellatar Park on Friday, March 27.

Again, due to state and federal government restrictions, only trainers, jockeys, strappers and essential race day staff will be allowed on course.

"It was a bit different on Sunday, but the feedback from the riders - and other personnel - was great," Dowell said.

"As a club, we took every measure [to protect everyone] very seriously.

"We're doing all we can to keep racing going.

"However, I think it'll stop within the next month.

"That decision will be taken out of our hands.

"So, I'm just thankful we've got to this point."

In 2007, EI - deemed the most serious emergency animal disease in Australia - cost the industry more than $500 million in lost TAB betting turnover, with racing cancelled for several months.

At its peak, 47,000 horses were infected in NSW on 5943 properties.

"That was before my time," Dowell admitted.

"But, I didn't envisage I'd have to face anything like this [COVID-19].

"This is a billion-dollar sport; we'll do all we can to ensure the safety of its participants first and foremost.

"I came out of the mining sector, which experienced many cycles over the years.

"So, I expected ups and downs, even in racing.

"It was important to build our financial situation to withstand any issues, such as this.

"I'm positive we'll come through on the other side.

"And, I'll do my best to ensure the staff aren't affected too much."

In the meantime, Dowell's focus is well and truly on the $150,000 Viatek Muswellbrook Gold Cup Showcase.

"We're looking forward to it, even without the racegoers," he said.

"More than 20 countries throughout the world will view coverage of the Cup [on Friday].

"So, it's still a major showcase for Muswellbrook - and the club.

"I'm telling people to watch the meeting, through either Foxtel or Racing NSW's live streaming service.

"There should be some great action."