Irish racing hopes ‘game-changer’ vaccines will accelerate return of spectators

A relaxation of current Level 5 restrictions to Level 3 would have little impact on racing

The prospect of vaccines against coronavirus is “a real game-changer” in relation to hopes for spectators being able to return to racetracks next year according to Irish racing’s top official.

The government’s Living with Covid-19 plan released in September outlined plans for how to cope with the virus for up to nine months, a schedule potentially stretching to next summer.

Racing here has taken place behind closed doors since June, leaving many of Ireland’s 26 racecourses under financial pressure.

Although some spectators will be allowed return to sporting events in England next month, this week the chief executive of the Association of Irish Racecourses, Paddy Walsh, said it is hard to see large crowds returning to tracks here in the first half of 2021.


Horse Racing Ireland's chief executive Brian Kavanagh said on Tuesday that progress in England is being examined closely but underlined how each jurisdiction takes its own approach to tackling coronavirus. However he appeared to take a more optimistic approach to the chances of some sort of normality returning next year.

“We will see what the government will do in terms of ending the current phase of the lockdown. I see there may be some likelihood given of how the country would get back to business over the course of the coming months rather than just weeks.

“The last thing that was published was the 5 level plan which they said was for six to nine months and would mean up to either March or June.

“What’s happened since is the acceleration of the possibilities of vaccines. That gives us some optimism,” Kavanagh said.

“Racing, and sports in general, around the world are in the same boat trying to grapple with this . The vaccine could be a real game-changer. I would hope the news that vaccines are becoming more widely available might accelerate the plan somewhat ,” he added.

Although there is wider speculation of a relaxation of current Level 5 restrictions to Level 3 next week, such a move would have little impact on racing as it faces into the normally busy Christmas schedule.

Even an easing to Level 1 means attendances of only up to 500 people are permitted at a venue.

Dundalk continues its busy November schedule on Wednesday where Styledome, a winner over a mile earlier this month, can defy both a drop in trip and a 12lb hike to land a Nursery for trainer Sheila Lavery.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column