HRI to issue guidelines on social distancing in racing yards
‘You can’t tell staff to work from home. Horses still need to be fed and cared for and vetted’
Jockeys and trainers endeavour to maintain social distancing in the parade ring at Naas last Monday. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Horse Racing Ireland aims to formalise guidelines on social distancing in racing yards that will help maintain animal welfare standards as the sport closes down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The focus for the estimated nearly 29,000 people employed within racing and breeding will not only be on potential job losses but also on continuing to care for thousands of horses in an industry grinding to a halt.
HRI’s chief executive Brian Kavanagh said stable staff will continue looking after the animals.
“I think they have to keep turning up. That’s the dilemma trainers have. You can’t tell staff to work from home. Horses still need to be fed and cared for and vetted. That business continues as before.
“We will formalise this over the coming days. Trainers and others looking after horses should continue to adopt the high standards of welfare.
“The question we will be asked more and more is do we keep horses in training? Will there be races for them? When will there be races for them? I can’t answer that at the moment.
“It came up this morning in terms of details of employment assistance available to trainers. They [the HRI board] want guidelines for trainers and employers in this area to guide them a little bit.
“I was encouraged how people took to it [social distancing] at the race meetings we had but we have to apply that in the workplace as well,” he said.
The HRI board will meet weekly over the coming period as the industry faces into an uncertain future.
“If there is a long-term cessation you’re into questions of financial viability for racecourses and for the Tote, as well as breeders who invested in Breeze-Ups, or in the point-to-point sector, or who’ve just invested in breeding horses.
“They’re all anxiously waiting on what the market will be like for them. But right now there are bigger things we’re concerned with,” Kavanagh said.
HRI personnel are liaising with government about who may qualify for the Covid-10 unemployment payment of €350 per week.
“Tote staff and racecourse catering staff should, I think, fall under the emergency provisions that have been brought in. But we have to clarify that,” Kavanagh said.
The HRI boss also said it is too early to speculate about any potential rescheduling of the Irish Grand National which had been due to take place on Easter Monday.
“It’s very hard to be definitive in terms of any alternative plans we might make in regard to the Grand National or Punchestown.
“Jason Morris [director of racing] is looking at various permutations in that area but it’s too early. You could make a decision today that looks very silly tomorrow,” he said.