Horse Racing Ireland make their four tracks available to government
Leopardstown, Navan, Tipperary and Fairyhouse offered to help in coronavirus fight
Leopardstown is one of four tracks being made available to the government by Horse Racing Ireland. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
Horse Racing Ireland’s four racetracks are available to the government if needed in fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
Cork racecourse in Mallow has been used as a testing centre for Covid-19 since last week and racing’s semi-state ruling body has stressed how its facilities and staff are available to stage agencies.
HRI owns Leopardstown, Navan, Tipperary and Fairyhouse although its chief executive said on Sunday there has been no request from the government to use them so far.
“There has been some contact and some discussions but nothing other than Cork at the minute,” Brian Kavanagh said. “Building work is going on at Leopardstown which is a limiting factor there.”
The country’s 26 racecourses are facing a grim financial outlook with racing cancelled until at least April 19th. There is a widespread expectation that restrictions on sports will be extended beyond that date.
“These are difficult times for racecourses because their businesses are gone literally to zero. It’s not just drifted away or tailed off.
“The objective is to support the whole industry to come through unscathed, or as unscathed as possible. But racecourses are one of the more vulnerable categories because their income has just disappeared completely.
“Generally their finances were in reasonable shape up to this. We’ve been trying to work with racecourses over the years to not over-stretch themselves and they haven’t. But this is a catastrophic shock that you can’t prepare for,” Kavanagh said.
The HRI boss also commented that there will be serious commercial consequences for tracks even if racing should eventually resume in some form behind closed doors again.
Ten meetings were run behind closed doors here prior to last week’s shutdown of the sport.
“When you come back, in what form do you come back? Behind closed doors is not a commercial proposition. It’s a service for the industry really.
“Running a Fairyhouse Grand National meeting or a Punchestown festival behind closed doors is not a commercial prospect for a racecourse,” he said.
Details of revenue generated from the ten fixtures run in Ireland behind closed door before last week’s shutdown have yet to be fully established according to Kavanagh.
Revenue from media rights is vitally important to racecourses but he said: “It’s too early to say what the picture is like from the ten meetings. For some of them there were no betting shops in the UK. There was an increase in streaming levels and online stuff.
“I would describe it as not racing as we know it.”