Irish racing would need no more than 10 days to start up again
Horse Racing Ireland is determined the sport maintains a ‘racing ready’ position
The last racing fixture to be held in Ireland came at Naas on March 23rd. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Racing needs no more than ten days to start again should it get a green-light from government to do so.
The sport has already been shut down for almost a fortnight due to the coronavirus pandemic and the likelihood is that the current April 19th deadline ban on all sporting events will be extended.
Last week Horse Racing Ireland cancelled the end of the National Hunt season and said that when action can begin again, most likely behind closed doors, it will be with a month of flat racing.
The success of having run ten fixtures behind closed doors before the ban on sport was introduced - plus international examples of other major jurisdictions continuing to race despite Covid-19 - means racing could be the first major sport to resume if circumstances allow.
HRI has said it is determined the sport should maintain a “racing ready” position so it can begin as soon as possible when the government says so.
It’s chief executive said on Monday that given any green light racing will be ready to stage action again within a week to ten days.
Explaining what “race ready” status currently means, Brian Kavanagh said: “We’ve told racecourses around the country that they should shut down, that they should either let their staff go, or furlough them, or they should work from home.
“They should (however) keep a skeleton staff allowed to continue to visit the racecourse to maintain the place, keep the grass cut and the place maintained.
“So from a track point of view we will be ready to go at relatively short notice.
“Likewise with our own staff (at HRI) we have agreed they will be retained for the month of April and we will take a view at the end of April what happens thereafter.
“If there is a decision that racing can resume we can advertise a programme, publish a programme, take entries for a programme, all of which we can do at very short notice.
“Jason Morris (Director of Racing) and his team have working on a variety of different programmes and we’ll be ready to go when that happens. Likewise we can take entries at short notice.
“So the racecourses, the HRI staff, and indeed the staff at IHRB (Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board) are ready to race when it is right to resume.”
Although British racing remains committed to resuming on the flat on May 1st, and has cancelled any jumps racing until July 1st to try and introduce clarity, the authorities here have avoided setting such dates.
“There is no point giving clarity around a date you can’t stand over.
“What we’re saying to trainers and owners is if you have a flat horse, keep them in training. If you’ve got winter jumps horses, probably let them go. If you’ve summer jumps horses, keep them in training.
“This is why we deliberately haven’t set a date. As soon as it is appropriate and permitted to race we will be ready to race as soon as possible after that,” Kavanagh said.
Inevitably the timing of a resumption will have major consequences for any revamped programme.
Plans are being made for an “enhanced” National Hunt programme in the final quarter of the year.
There have also been calls for the flat season to be extended into December rather than attempt to squeeze races into a limited time frame.
Former champion jockey Ruby Walsh has suggested the early flat campaign has been lost and argued for the Irish Guineas meeting at the Curragh (May 23th-24th) as a suitable big-race occasion to resume.
“It depends on when you start. If you’re starting before that (Guineas Festival) there’s an opportunity to run some Guineas trials. If you start then (at the Guineas) you have the option of pushing things back.
“You see John Oxx and other people advocating you put the season back rather than try to squeeze everything in in a hurry.
“We will look at all options. They will be dictated by when we resume. We’ll take soundings from trainers whether they want to go straight into a Guineas, or whether they want to go straight into a trial for a race like that, or not,” Kavanagh said.
Irish racing’s top official also indicated a middle ground option between squeezing or extending could be found for the 2020 flat campaign and how it eventually unfolds.
“I think you do a bit of both. It’s great Dundalk are doing their work so that option is there at the end of the season. You talk to trainers and they seem to find the ground is now staying better for longer so you have opportunities if you don’t come back until June or July. Then, clearly, the idea of extending is attractive.
“But if you come back before that, don’t forget we have a lot of National Hunt races to make up for in the autumn as well.
“It’s too early to speculate but I would just say we will make sure all horses are catered for as best we can,” he added.