Irish racecourses chief critical of crowd limitations at tracks

Coronavirus restrictions still remain in Ireland where attendances are capped at 500

Chief executive of the Association of Irish Racecourses (AIR) Paddy Walsh has spoken of his members’ frustration as tracks continue to operate with a limited crowd due to Covid-19 restrictions.

While British racecourses are returning to some kind of normality in terms of racegoers, restrictions still remain in Ireland that cap attendances at 500, with exemptions made to allow 1,000 spectators at the Irish Derby meeting plus the seven days of the Galway Festival.

However, Leopardstown was turned down in a similar appeal and senior officials from AIR met online with representatives from Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) and the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board on Thursday to discuss the situation.

Requests for “exceptional circumstances” have been put forward by HRI to the Government in relation to next month’s Harvest Festival at Listowel and Irish Champions Weekend at the Curragh and Leopardstown, while a request to ease restrictions at racecourses in general and permit increased attendances has also been submitted.


‘Positive news’

A further application concerning a review of indoor dining guidelines at racecourses has been lodged and AIR described itself as “hopeful of some positive news in this regard”.

But the pace of progress is proving a challenge for Walsh and his members.

“Although we appreciate that navigating the reopening of society and easing of restrictions is an onerous task, our members are frustrated. They have done everything that has been asked of them, facilities have been turned inside out to ensure that protocols and guidelines have been meticulously adhered to at tracks nationwide,” said Walsh.

“While the association fully respects public health, restrictions have eased considerably in other sectors and sports and we would like to see more progress in this regard for our members and the wider horse racing industry.”

A press release from AIR further added: “Close consultation will continue over the coming weeks with all parties committed to playing their role in supporting the industry’s best efforts to encourage the easing of restrictions all the while protecting the continuity of racing and overall public health.”