Irish racing hoping to host pilot events in July

Limited numbers of spectators could attend the Galway Festival if Government allow

Could the Galway Festival host a summer pilot event? Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Could the Galway Festival host a summer pilot event? Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

 

Irish racing is waiting for Government approval to stage pilot events in July that could see the return of limited numbers of race-goers.

Horse Racing Ireland officials have met with the Minister for Agriculture, Food & Marine, Charlie McConalogue, to put the case for inclusion in a series of test events that allow for the return of some spectators at mass events.

The Government has indicated trials will take place in July at concerts and sports fixtures with reports that crowds of up to five per cent of stadium capacity could be permitted.

However HRI’s chief executive, Brian Kavanagh, suggested on Sunday that any return of spectators is likely to be taken in “baby-steps.” He also played down hopes of significant crowd sizes at the Galway festival which starts on July 26th.

Although stressing that HRI is waiting on news from Government on whether or not racing will be included in any series of pilot events, Kavanagh pointed to guidelines on crowds contained in last year’s ‘Living with Covid-19’ plan.

“There were previous thresholds on crowds of 200 and 500 so I would imagine when it starts again it will be the same, that it will start low and then build up as things are successful. That’s what I imagine would be the case.

“The approach in all dealings we’ve had with Government has been to take baby steps and then once things are OK to move forward,” Kavanagh said.

Provisional work on organising any pilot events is ongoing by some racecourses and the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board but can’t be applied until getting a Government green light.

It is understood such events would probably be held at some of the bigger facilities among Ireland’s 26 tracks.

The single brief easing of the behind closed doors policy since racing resumed last June came in September when up to 200 people were allowed on-site at meetings, including the Listowel festival, before restrictions were reapplied.

In contrast, owners started to go racing again in Britain in March while a further easing of restrictions there last month extended to a reintroduction of outdoor hospitality.

The seven day Galway festival is famous for being one of the social events of the summer and had to be held behind closed doors last year.

However should the Ballybrit track be chosen as a pilot event location in July, Brian Kavanagh predicted on Sunday: “I would imagine there will be strict numbers initially. It would be great to have some crowd at Galway but I don’t think it will be a significant number.”

Separately, another case has been added to the IHRB’s growing investigation list on the back of the successful gamble on the Rachael Blackmore ridden Call Me Freddie at Cork on Saturday.

The Sam Curling trained horse narrowly justified 11-4 favouritism in a handicap hurdle having been available at 40-1 that morning.

Call Me Freddie had been due to be ridden by Ian McCarthy. However less than two and a half hours before the race it was announced he was being replaced by Blackmore as McCarthy had incorrectly filled in Covid registration forms.

After the race the stewards held an enquiry into Call Me Freddie’s apparent improvement in form where the senior National Hunt handicapper said the improvement was “more in the region of stones, not pounds.”

He also said “it was hard to envisage how the horse could start at such a short price.”

After the race Curling told reporters he had “no idea” where the money for his horse came from.

At the enquiry he said he first became aware of the need for a rider change at around 11.30 or noon by text. When asked to confirm this to the stewards he “accepted that it was much earlier at 10.45.”

The stewards referred the matter to the Referrals Committee for further consideration.

Monday’s Grade 3 Chase at Killarney sees the enigmatic dual-Cheltenham festival winner Samcro line up against seven opponents including Peregrine Run who is trying to win the race for a third year in a row.

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