Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed has said horse-racing authorities are 'on alert' over high temperatures amid calls for meetings to be postponed during the ongoing heatwave.
The Minister said the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board, formerly the Turf Club, have been working with racecourse managers, animal welfare charity Blue Cross and trainers "to ensure that the effects of the current warm weather on horses are managed".
More than 60 races are scheduled to go ahead over the coming days in Fairyhouse, Naas, Wexford, Bellewstown, Tipperary, Limerick and Roscommon as forecasters predict no let up in the”absolute drought” conditions.
Soaring temperatures saw a race abandoned in Cheltenham in April on welfare grounds after a horse collapsed and died, and a number of others reportedly suffered heatstroke as the mercury reached the mid-20s.
Met Éireann says the outlook for the weekend is temperatures of mid- to late-20s.
Former champion jockey AP McCoy said horses were like people – some will cope with the heat better than others.
"It depends how fast they run, I suppose," he told The Irish Times.
“Some of them, I would say, don’t run fast enough to get distressed. But they are all different, aren’t they?
“You could ask the same question: do people get distressed in the heat? It is very similar with horses – they are different. Some will be able to cope with it better than others.”
Mr McCoy said “most trainers know their horses” and that there was enough veterinary expertise on racecourses to make sure no animal was at risk.
Ruby Walsh, Cheltenham's most successful jockey, attributed the reported heatstroke at the course in April to the time of year.
“When there was particularly high temperatures then, the horse had a completely different coat to what they would have now,” he said.
“The horse hadn’t time to acclimatise – we had snow probably a fortnight before that and then we were in baking sunshine.”
Mr Walsh said acclimatisation was a “huge factor”.
“A lot of the meetings this time of the year are in the evening as well, so they are run when it is a bit cooler,” he said.
Mr Walsh, who has ridden 58 winners at Cheltenham, said he had never experienced a horse suffering heat stroke.
“And I’ve ridden horses in much warmer climates than this [heatwave] – I’ve raced in Dubai, in Paris in May and June, in the middle of the city, where it would be a good bit hotter,” he said.
Mr Walsh said people in horse racing had “the best interests of horses at heart” as much as any animal welfare campaigners.
Cheltenham bosses took the unprecedented decision to abandon one of its races on April 19th because the 3¼ mile fixture was deemed too extreme in temperatures nearly double the normal for the time of year.
Earlier, five-year-old mare and favourite Dame Rose collapsed and died after finishing fourth in an open mares’ novice hurdle.
Horse Racing Ireland, the State body governing the industry, said it had no plans to postpone any meetings, but that it was taking specific measures to deal with the heat and “the situation will be constantly monitored”.
“Over the last week of particularly high temperatures during racing at the Derby meeting at the Curragh, thanks to the preventative measures put in place, there were no cases of heat stress,” said spokesman Jonathan Mullin.
“Racehorses tolerate extremes of heat and humidity because they are fit – they acclimatise to warmer weather within three-five days and will be fully acclimatised in around two weeks if trained during this period.
“The warmer weather we have had in Ireland over the last two-three weeks will have therefore prepared our racehorses for this current heatwave.”
Mr Mullin said pre-racing briefings, special instructions to the jockeys on dismounting early after longer races and extra racecourse veterinary surgeon cover have all been instigated as a result of the heatwave.
There has never been a horse race postponed in Ireland because of heat, he added.