Horse Racing Ireland hoping for increased capacity pilot events

Galway Festival and Irish Oaks among fixtures which could see more fans in attendance

The importance of holding pilot sporting events with larger crowds at different venues has been underlined to Government by Horse Racing Ireland.

Racing's ruling body is waiting for a verdict on a submission to Government to hold more pilot events at a series of fixtures including Saturday week's Irish Oaks at the Curragh and the seven-day Galway festival at the end of the month.

That is on the back of the success of the recent Irish Derby where 1,000 spectators were able to attend, the first time members of the public could go racing in 15 months due to the pandemic.

Since then an easing of restrictions on outdoor events means 500 people can attend race-meetings including at Wednesday’s Fairyhouse fixture.


However HRI hopes that crowds of up to 5,000 will be allowed at a number of specified pilot events this month.

The body's chief-executive Brian Kavanagh said on Tuesday he is "hopeful enough" of a positive response from Government.

“You get encouragement when you see the GAA and European soccer matches this week where there are attendances. There was a concert in the Royal Hospital too.

“But obviously there’s a decision making process to go through. And there’s is a planning lead in for these things as well. It can’t be just turned on at a couple of days notice.

“We were happy with the way the Derby meeting went and I think in order to understand fully for a broader return of people to the races we need to test more than one venue and one meeting.

“It’s not my call but I feel we’ve put a strong submission in and hopefully we get a positive outcome,” he added.

The situation in Ireland is in notable contrast to Britain where a lifting on the limit attending sporting events is expected to go ahead on Monday July 19th, although a final decision by the British government won’t be made until Monday.

Plans though have been outlined by prime minister Boris Johnson that include scrapping the one metre social distancing rule and the compulsory wearing of face-masks.

HRI’s immediate focus however will be on Thursday morning’s Oireachtas Agriculture Committee hearing where Kavanagh will appear along with representatives of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board.

It will be the first of three sessions by the cross-party Committee examining claims of doping in Irish racing made by leading trainer Jim Bolger which has seen the IHRB receive heavy criticism.

Kavanagh underlined on Tuesday the supportive nature of the relationship between HRI and the IHRB.

“We welcome the opportunity to go into a public forum to answer any questions that arise and address any issues. That’s a key thing. It’s a chance to outline the processes that are there and the work that is done and maybe to put some facts on the record,” he said.

“We support them (IHRB.) That’s our role. The legislation is very clear. There’s a regulatory body and we provide funding and overarching support from a governance point of view.

“With racing in Ireland there are two authorities with specific roles. We work together on a variety of things, including this,” Kavanagh added.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column