Aidan O’Brien confident revamped schedule can work

BHA’s chief regulatory officer, Brant Dunshea, is confident of a resumption in UK soon

Irish Trainer Aidan O’Brien will split his horses between the Classics in the UK and Ireland. Photo: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Irish Trainer Aidan O’Brien will split his horses between the Classics in the UK and Ireland. Photo: Bryan Keane/Inpho

 

Aidan O’Brien has urged everyone to be “respectful and mature” in complying with the extensive protocols put in place to allow an upcoming resumption of racing behind closed doors.

Horse Racing Ireland has published its 77-page document outlining measures to minimise the threat of coronavirus when the sport begins again here on June 8th.

With the British Horseracing Authority “incredibly confident” about getting a green light to resume behind closed doors next Monday, they have released their own set of stringent guidelines for how the first major sport in these islands to stage competitive action again will take place.

Social distancing and hygiene will be central to the strategy on both sides of the Irish Sea.

In Ireland that will include screening questionnaires being filled out by every attendee 24 hours prior to a meeting as well as temperature checks on arrival and extensive use of face-masks.

Rejected

It will make for a major logistical exercise by all involved but charges of overkill in relation to some of the measures drawn up have been rejected by both HRI and the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board.

On Sunday, O’Brien said: “It will be different (but) everybody’s space and health has to be respected. Whatever we have to do, we have to do. Everyone has to be very respectful and mature about it.”

Ireland’s record-breaking champion trainer will have his own organisational quandaries facing into what could be a crammed big-race calendar in June.

The BHA has scheduled the Newmarket 2,000 and 1,000 Guineas for the first weekend of next month should the British government allow racing resume under the next phase of easing Covid-19 restrictions.

The BHA’s chief regulatory officer, Brant Dunshea, said on Sunday that he is “incredibly confident” that green light will be given later this week. He added that the UK government recognises how racing is unlike other sports.

“We cannot control the government’s decision-making but we’ve been working continuously to make sure we’re in a strong position. We’re very excited and positive we’ll be ready to go from June,” he said.

A radically revamped cross-channel programme will see Royal Ascot take place behind closed doors, starting on June 16th, while the Epsom Derby and Oaks have been pencilled in for July 4th.

That is a week later than the Irish Derby which HRI has kept on its original June 27th date in an attempt to restore the Group One pattern programme to as close to normal as possible from July onwards.

In the shot-term though it means O’Brien is facing into a frantic few weeks with the prospect of dividing his squad of Ballydoyle classic hopefuls into different teams for the English and Irish classics.

Arizona and Wichita are on course to tackle Godolphin’s hot favourite Pinatubo in the English 2,000 Guineas. The Group One winning filly Love may target the 1,000 Guineas.

“Arizona and Wichita are the main ones we’re thinking of for the English Guineas. A couple of others could go but I’m not sure what.

“By going to England we give them a chance to come back to Ascot for the St James's Palace.

“Hopefully we will have runners in the Irish Guineas as well but it’s just getting a bit close to Ascot for them to come back,” he said.

Pattern programme

Having both sets of Guineas, and the Irish Derby, taking place in a three week timeframe is far from ideal in terms of the pattern programme but O’Brien is ready to make the best of it.

“It is what it is now. I’m sure they did their best to get it together in all the places they could. It’s an unprecedented year. Life isn’t always perfect,” he said.

“I presume they (HRI) are trying to get the big races into their slots. I can see what they’re doing. It might be able to keep some bit of normality here in Ireland after the first couple of weeks, where in England it’s going to be all over the place, isn’t it.

“They have the perfect slots for the Irish Derby and Champions Weekend (in September.) I presume they’re to get back as normally as they could, as quickly as they could, so those slots wouldn’t have to be shifted.

“Everyone is trying to get into their pattern. We’re going to be a little more normal than England I would imagine, or France,” O’Brien said.

Separately on Sunday the ex-Michael Halford trained Exultant put himself into contention for Hong Kong’s coveted Horse of the Year title with another Group One success at Sha Tin.

Known as Irishcorrespondent when racing in this country, Exultant landed the top-flight Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup over a mile and a half under jockey Zac Purton.

It was Exultant’s second win in the race and his fifth Group One success at Sha Tin.

“There’s no doubt he’s the best stayer I’ve ridden in Hong Kong,” said Purton. The Australian is fighting a titanic battle with Brazilian rider, Joao Moreira, for the jockeys title in Hong Kong and both rode four-timers on Sunday.

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