Coronavirus: Trainer defends decision to continue horse racing

‘We will stop the minute we’re asked to stop,’ says Ger Lyons prior to Naas event

Ger Lyons: ‘What we’re doing is 20 jockeys going racing to keep a livelihood. It’s horses running.’ Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Ger Lyons: ‘What we’re doing is 20 jockeys going racing to keep a livelihood. It’s horses running.’ Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

 

Top trainer Ger Lyons believes racing here is just one positive coronavirus test away from coming to a halt, but has backed the sport continuing behind closed doors for as long as possible.

The 2020 flat season on turf is scheduled to begin at Naas on Monday in the fraught, unprecedented context of the Covid-19 pandemic.

It has caused every other major sport in Europe to shut down, leaving Irish racing as almost the only live sport taking place anywhere on the continent.

No other major European jurisdiction is racing and this Saturday’s Dubai World Cup programme at Meydan has been cancelled.

Racing had been taking place at Meydan behind closed doors but on Sunday a statement said: “To safeguard the health of all participants the higher organising committee of the Dubai World Cup 2020 has decided to postpone the 25th edition of the global tournament to next year.”

Travel concerns had already scotched Aidan O’Brien’s plans to send a powerful team of horses to the £32 million Meydan programme.

However, Ireland’s champion trainer is due to send half a dozen runners from his Ballydoyle base to Monday’s action at Naas.

One of his biggest domestic rivals is Lyons, who has made four declarations for the first turf programme of the year.

Cheltenham was an own-goal. But don’t forget Cheltenham was an English game, not ours. Our lads partook

Horse Racing Ireland’s decision to continue has been criticised in some quarters and comes on the back of widespread condemnation of the sport after the the Cheltenham Festival went ahead.

However Lyons believes that while one was an own-goal for racing generally, the other isn’t.

“Cheltenham was an own-goal. But don’t forget Cheltenham was an English game, not ours. Our lads partook. The own goal on our part was what they did when they came home. You shouldn’t have to be told to self-isolate and some of them didn’t.

“If people think it’s an own-goal going ahead at Thurles yesterday, Downpatrick today, or Naas tomorrow, they don’t understand the business.

“What we’re doing is 20 jockeys going racing to keep a livelihood. It’s horses running. There will be betting on that. You’re not saving the world but you’re keeping going.

“We are under the guidance of the Government that we will stop the minute we’re asked to stop and our facilities are needed.

“But we are told, at this moment in time, you keep going and I think 100 per cent it is the right call,” he said on Sunday.

Criticise

Acknowledged as not being afraid to criticise racing’s authorities when he feels it is appropriate, Lyons nevertheless believes Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) has judged the matter much better than its counterparts at the British Horseracing Authority (BHA). The BHA has closed racing in Britain until May.

“The easy thing would have been for Brian Kavanagh [HRI chief executive] to follow suit. No one would have blamed him.

I don’t understand the virus no more than anyone. I’m living day by day, hour to hour

“I’m happy he didn’t as they [the BHA] went from one extreme to another. They went from partying and celebrating in their thousands at Cheltenham and the minute the main race was over it was ‘oh, let’s think of the public’ and all that. That was predictable and sad and fair play to our people.

“I guarantee they thought [when] they shut down, we’d follow suit. And the fact we didn’t, they’re thinking they’ve misread the situation,” Lyons said.

“I don’t understand the virus no more than anyone. I’m living day by day, hour to hour. [But] there’s huge credit to our organisation for racing going ahead.

“I believe we’re just a positive away from a stop. But that’s negative thinking and every day that does go ahead, fair play to them in my opinion,” he added.

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