Horse Racing Ireland to meet on Wednesday over future fixtures
Britain closes down all racing until the end of April following Aintree cancellation
Wexford was one of two behind closed doors meetings on St Patrick’s Day. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Ireland’s racing authorities are holding fire on any decision to replicate their British and French counterparts and halt the sport here due to the coronavirus pandemic.
On Tuesday the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) dramatically closed the sport in Britain until the end of April with no racing from Wednesday onwards.
That came a day after French racing’s governing body decided on a similar course of action in France until at least April 15th, having previously raced behind closed doors.
Racing in Ireland has also been taking place behind closed doors since Friday and two St Patrick’s Day fixtures took place at Down Royal and Wexford. The next fixture here is at Dundalk on Friday evening.
A decision on what immediate course the sport takes here during the growing Covid-19 pandemic won’t be made until after a Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) board meeting on Wednesday afternoon.
“We have a board meeting by phone scheduled for tomorrow at 1.0pm,” said HRI chief executive Brian Kavanagh. “We will stick with that plan, get through today and take stock of the situation from the last five days, taking everything into account at that board meeting.”
The BHA said their decision was made to protect essential emergency services and the health and welfare of staff working in racing. It said racecourses have obligations to provide medical cover which can’t be fulfilled in the current circumstances.
“By stopping racing we can free up medical resources, doctors and ambulances, be they private sector or NHS, to assist in the national effort to fight this virus,” said the BHA’s chief executive Nick Rust.
An ambulance service is required at all race fixtures and in Ireland Order of Malta ambulances are funded by the racing industry. However, it’s understood they will be freed up for wider public use if required.
Continuing to race behind closed doors would make Ireland the exception of major European racing jurisdictions.
But it is believed that in a climate of extensive job losses the Government is keen to keep as many employment sectors moving as normally as possible for as long as is feasible.
The start of the 2020 Flat season on turf is scheduled for Naas on Sunday while Fairyhouse’s Easter festival is due to run from April 11th-13th. Later that month the Punchestown festival is scheduled for April 28th to May 2nd.
The acknowledged likelihood of positive test results for Covid-19 among industry professionals such as jockeys could force the closure of the sport before that.
However, there appears to be a desire to keep racing going behind closed doors for as long as possible, even if that might require an abridged skeleton fixture list.
Kavanagh wouldn’t comment on such a move and said: “It would be wrong to speculate until we know all the facts. We will take soundings and review how things have gone for the first five days.”
The British move sees a number of high-profile fixtures cancelled, including Newmarket’s Craven programme (April 14th-16th), the Scottish Grand National at Ayr (April 18th) and Sandown’s climax to the cross-channel jumps season (April 25th).
The end of April deadline theoretically allows the sport to resume in time for the first of the Classics at Newmarket, with the 2,000 Guineas on May 2nd.
British racing’s winning-most trainer Mark Johnston said: “I think, well hoped, racing could be the one sport that could continue behind closed doors.
“The implications of potentially cancelling the entire Flat season don’t bear thinking about. We’d have a whole generation of two-year-olds who haven’t been able to run – as I say it’s unthinkable. It’s a situation none of us has ever encountered before and my opinion on it changes every day.”
Trainer Andrew Balding has a prime 2,000 Guineas hope in Kameko and had horses pencilled in for Classic trials next month. He echoed a general consensus backing the BHA’s decision to close racing down.
“Obviously there’s disappointment to some extent but in light of what is happening in other countries, and what could potentially happen here, it was the only decision that could be made and I’m sure it’s the right one.
“Having a defining date of when it might resume would be a help but I think that is impossible in these circumstances,” Balding said.
The BHA move came after their decision on Monday night to cancel the Aintree Grand National festival.
Tiger Roll had been aiming at a historic hat-trick in the National and is a 10-1 shot in some lists to do just that in 2021.
“He hasn’t got that many miles on the clock and we will be training him back for the Grand National again,” confirmed Tiger Roll’s trainer Gordon Elliott.