Ireland’s racing authorities prepared to be ‘creative’

Any return to action is likely to focus on the flat with Punchestown Festival in jeopardy

Kemboy and Ruby Walsh jump the last on their way to victory in last year’s Punchestown Gold Cup. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Kemboy and Ruby Walsh jump the last on their way to victory in last year’s Punchestown Gold Cup. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

 

Ireland’s racing authorities have said they are prepared to be “creative” in relation to resuming the sport here when it is appropriate.

Over the weekend the British Horseracing Authority released plans for a possible resumption of the sport in Britain on May 1st should there be any easing in the situation of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A BHA letter outlined how it anticipates any return to action will be “phased” and almost certainly behind closed doors. It will also be concentrated on flat racing for safety reasons and “to minimise demands on emergency services.”

Separately the head of Britain’s trainer’s association, Ralph Beckett, also revealed: “They (BHA) are performing statistical analysis into the racecourses which are furthest away from the epicentre and would therefore be the safest to race at and are less likely to put a strain on the NHS.”

The possibility of stabling horses at some of Britain’s all-weather tracks to allow some limited programme start again had already been mooted shortly after British racing stopped less than two weeks ago.

Racing came to a halt in Ireland last week and although government restrictions on all social gatherings - including sports events behind closed doors - are in place until April 19th few believe that deadline won’t be extended as a surge in coronavirus cases continues.

With the Irish Grand National festival at Fairyhouse already cancelled any extension on the ban on sports events will make it doubtful the country’s biggest National Hunt festival at Punchestown can go ahead. That is due to start on April 28th.

Horse Racing Ireland’s chief executive said on Sunday he wouldn’t speculate on any possible resumption of the sport here, or on whether contingency plans similar to the BHA proposals are in place with the industry’s ruling body here.

“Until we have a handle on when this storm might pass, and what we’re dealing with on the other side of it, it’s probably wrong to speculate,” Brian Kavanagh said.

However he added: “If there’s a need to be creative we will be creative at the right time.”

Leading National Hunt figures have proposed an amalgamation of the top races from Fairyhouse and Punchestown be scheduled for a week at some stage in May should both fixtures end up cancelled due to coronavirus.

With the summer approaching however time could prove to be against the top jumpers having a final fling.

In contrast the 2020 flat season on turf began at Naas last Monday, the day before the government ban on sporting events, and the BHA proposals suggest the start of any phased moves to resuming racing there will be concentrated on the flat.

Privately it is understood the possibility of staging any phased return of flat racing behind closed doors at a number of tracks such as the Curragh, Leopardstown and Dundalk’s all-weather is being examined here.

The success in staging ten fixtures behind closed doors prior to last week’s shut-down is regarded as a major plus by racing authorities.

There is also continuing evidence from other major racing jurisdictions around the world where racing continues behind closed doors.

Racing in Hong Kong proceeded on Sunday despite new government restrictions there limiting public gatherings to a maximum of four people.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club are reportedly confident of the sport continuing there due to different restrictions applying in workplaces. Not allowing owners attend means racing falls into that category.

Owners were also barred from going to racetracks in tighter social distancing regulations that were applied by HRI to a handful of fixtures prior to racing stopping here.

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