Jockeys Association admits it’s ‘inevitable’ a rider will test positive for coronavirus

Measures implemented to minimise contact between staff at behind closed doors meetings

The parade ring at Navan before the second race last Saturday. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

The parade ring at Navan before the second race last Saturday. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

The Irish Jockeys Association (IJA) has said it’s “inevitable” a rider will test positive for the coronavirus at some point and that could bring racing to a halt here.

The sport continues in Ireland behind closed doors after last week’s Government guidelines that restrict outdoor gatherings to less than 500 people.

Extensive measures have been taken to try and reduce the risk of Covid-19 spreading since the closed doors policy began last Friday.

They include restrictions on who can attend a race meeting and bookmakers, Tote staff and caterers are among those not allowed.

Provision for extra social distancing has also been made at the three fixtures run under the new policy to date.

However ahead of Tuesday’s St Patrick’s Day meetings the secretary of the IJA conceded that isolation rules in place to combat the spread of coronavirus could mean it is only a matter of time before racing stops.

“We’re fighting against a tide here. It has gone well over the course of the weekend. We’ve been able to minimise contact. If we can reduce contact time to an absolute minimum, in compliance with best practice, there’s a chance we may be able to stay going for a while more,” Andrew Coonan said.

Given projected rates of infection in the wider community he said it appeared inevitable a jockey would test positive for Covid-19 with potentially far-reaching implications for the sport going ahead.

“At this point in time, where possible, we minimise the contact between riders themselves, and riders and those other necessary people at race meetings, in the hope that we can reduce the spread of it, knowing we won’t completely avoid the situation occurring. I would have to say it looks as if it is inevitable,” Coonan said.

“We could well have a situation whereby a rider tests positive, and the advice we may get from our chief medical officer, or the department, will be that you have to stop racing as a result. That may be the situation,” he added.

A positive test result from anyone operating in the weighroom area could have implications for the sport continuing, given the personnel involved there are crucial to racing being able to continue.

Coonan stressed, however, that any such case needed to be examined on a case-by-case basis in relation to jockeys.

“Once someone contracts this within the weighroom ,where will that leave us in terms of isolation or will that effectively close things?

“The discussion on that depends on the individual. So if we have a situation of a rider who is occasionally riding then it’s a question of seeing what contacts he has had and whether there is a possibility of isolating him and continuing.

“Or is it such that the risk he poses, by virtue of the fact he’s in the weighroom, is that an unacceptable risk and we have to stop racing? It’s an unknown but they are the two scenarios we’re looking at.

“It’s a question for that person of what has been his work pattern. Has he arrived for just one ride and hasn’t been riding? Or is it a rider who’s had four or five rides a day for the last three weeks. That scenario has to be review on an individual basis,” he said.

“We’re going track by track to ensure maximum space be provided. Riders are being asked to change in their cars, stay out of the weighroom area, TVs are turned off, no food is provided, no sauna is provided. We’re keeping contact as minimal as possible.

“We’re trying to ensure social responsibility in the hope they [jockeys] can continue to make a living and that we can continue to keep racing, for all the benefits it has in every respect, going for as long as possible.”

Even if racing can continue the IJA Coonan pointed to a likely impact on the sport from coronavirus in terms of sponsorship.

“I think very quickly we’re going to get into a position where sponsors are not going to want to provide sponsorship and we’re going to be in a situation of prizemoney being affected.

“How quickly will that happen? We’ve got two major festivals coming up here [Fairyhouse and Punchestown] and they must be seriously in difficulty with sponsors. That’s even if we get that far,” he said.

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