Irish trainers looking at June 1st for racing resumption

Trainers note danger of horses being put down due to lack of clarity on return date

The Irish racehorse trainers association has said it is “inevitable” some owners won’t be able to afford to keep horses in training the longer racing is cancelled. File photograph: Inpho

The Irish racehorse trainers association has said it is “inevitable” some owners won’t be able to afford to keep horses in training the longer racing is cancelled. File photograph: Inpho

 

The body representing racehorse trainers is looking at June 1st as a potential date for racing to resume behind closed doors in Ireland.

The Irish racehorse trainers association said anticipating the sport’s return before that date would be “optimistic.”

It also said it is “inevitable” some owners won’t be able to afford to keep horses in training the longer racing is cancelled and acknowledged an increase in the number of animals being euthanised could result from that.

On Monday the IRTA’s chief executive pointed to evidence from the 2007 economic crash when there were widespread examples of trainers left with thoroughbreds after their owners walked away.

The economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is forecast to be significantly greater than that although owners leaving horses with trainers in lieu of debt is apparently not a widespread issue at present.

“That really hasn’t happened yet. I haven’t heard that. But it will follow on if it goes on much longer. It’s inevitable, the same as going back to 2007-2008 and what happened then.

“What happened is they (owners) walked away from their account and from their horses, literally,” said the IRTA’s Michael Grassick.

That left trainers with the cost of looking after the animals as well as having lost income from training fees.

Going back on the history of it, some of the horses had to be put down, particularly older horses

A subsequent Irish thoroughbred breeders association commissioned report about unwanted horses issued in 2012 outlined how “the associated debts and ongoing maintenance costs mean that there is literally no alternative to slaughter in many cases.”

Grassick said a similar scenario is the last thing anyone in the thoroughbred sector wants but added that the longer racing is cancelled the more likely problems will arise.

“If we could honestly say we’re going to start racing on June 1st, people will settle down and know what to do. If this is prolonged we’re going to be in trouble, there’s no doubt about it. History will tell you you’re going to be in trouble,” he said.

Referencing the economic crash of 2007, Grassick said: “Going back on the history of it, some of the horses had to be put down, particularly older horses. The vast majority of trainers tried to keep them going themselves but all it did was put them into more financial hardship.

“They won’t, I’d say, be bitten again by what happened the last time. More horses will have to be put down I would say, unfortunately.”

He added such a consideration adds to the pressure to resume racing again behind closed doors and that the industry’s capacity to do so without causing problems elsewhere had been shown prior to the March 24th shutdown.

“Personally I feel we have a chance from June 1st. To be racing before June 1st is optimistic, I think,” Grassick said.

A spokesman for the association of Irish racehorse owners also said on Monday that horses being left with trainers in lieu of debt doesn’t seem to be a problem at present.

Aiden Burns said the organisation’s council plan to meet by conference call on Tuesday ahead of the next Horse Racing Ireland board meeting later in the week.

“We have a representative (Caren Walsh) on the board of HRI and they’re monitoring the situation. We’re having a council meeting in advance of the next board meeting to discuss ideas or suggestions.

“These are issues we will be discussing tomorrow night but to date I’ve heard nothing on that score,” he said.

The first classics of the Irish flat season are due to be run on May 23rd to 24th at the Curragh. File photograph: Inpho
The first classics of the Irish flat season are due to be run on May 23rd to 24th at the Curragh. File photograph: Inpho

Horse Racing Ireland continues to be “racing ready” for any potential resumption of the sport after the government’s current May 5th deadline on coronavirus restrictions.

The government has suggested some restrictions could be eased early next month although the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, indicated at the weekend it is “highly unlikely” that mass gatherings - such as at sporting events - will occur in 2020. He said scenarios in which it isn’t possible to safely socially distance won’t be coming back quickly.

Ten race meetings took place behind closed doors prior to the March 24th shutdown and that is being pointed to as evidence that racing could be allowed resume again in some form ahead of most other major sports.

HRI has consistently not committed itself to any resumption date although it has plans for a month of flat racing to initially take place once the sport is given any green light.

“The 10 meetings which we had behind closed doors will stand to us. We had a lot of learnings and people could see it could be done in a safe manner.

“We have indicated that we would be prepared to race behind closed doors for as long as the government has a policy in place prohibiting mass gatherings,” HRI’s chief executive Brian Kavanagh said.

The first classics of the Irish flat season, the 2,000 and 1,000 Guineas, are due to be run on May 23rd to 24th at the Curragh. Those dates remain unchanged at present.

“If we’re to resume soon after May 4th I think you could still run the classics on their scheduled dates. That’s important because if you don’t have to change them it doesn’t have a knock-on effect on the other Irish group one races later in the year.

“If we didn’t come immediately after May 4th you then probably would have to look at moving back those classics to allow for a prep run,” Kavanagh added.

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