Limited number of spectators expected to return for Irish Derby at the Curragh

Owners also set to return to racecourses after Government announce easing of lockdown

Racegoers enjoying Derby day at the Curragh in 2019. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Racegoers enjoying Derby day at the Curragh in 2019. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

The Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at the Curragh looks set to host a limited return of spectators to a racecourse in Ireland for the first time in 15 months.

Since racing came to a halt due to the Covid-19 pandemic in March of 2020, and resumed behind closed doors in June of last year, it has been closed to the general public.

It is understood the Curragh, and Ireland’s most prestigious Classic race on June 26th, is one of the pilot events the Government has chosen to test the logistics of increased reopening of sporting fixtures to the public.

The Curragh’s three day ‘Derby Festival’ runs from June 25th-27th.

Horse Racing Ireland was awaiting further detail on Friday evening after Taoiseach Micheál Martin’s address to the nation where he outlined further national easing of Covid-19 restrictions.

However, some racing officials believe that attendance levels at these pilot sporting events may be small and could see no more than 1,000 people attend the Derby meeting.

Last week spectators returned to racing in England with tracks able to host attendances of 4,000 or 50 per cent of capacity.

On Friday it was also confirmed by Government that up to 200 people can attend outdoor events from June 7th, which clears the way for owners to go racing again.

It is the first time owners will be allowed watch their runners since a brief easing of the behind closed doors policy last September before restrictions were reapplied.

The Government has also approved provision for an increase in attendances from August 5th, with up to 5,000 people allowed.

“Obviously it is good news and a welcome development. With those numbers we will be able to welcome owners back on track from June 7th and we are delighted to be involved in the pilot for getting the public back. It’s a good day,” said HRI’s chief executive, Brian Kavanagh, on Friday evening.

HRI is not expected to make a formal announcement until it has found out the detail involved in hosting one of the pilot events.

Kavanagh added that public health and safety is always the priority and said: “The key thing is to build up step by step. [But] if we’re looking at 5,000 people from the start of August, that’s a positive result.”

The initial steps towards allowing the public back is a relief for the country’s 26 racecourses, some of which have been badly affected by the lack of paying customers through the gates.

In other news, Johnny Murtagh has indicated his Gallinule Stakes winner Earlswood is likely to skip next Saturday’s Epsom Derby and wait instead for the Irish Derby three weeks later.

Earlswood earned general 33-1 quotes for Epsom after last weekend’s Group Three success in the Gallinule when beating Arturo Toscanini by under two lengths.

That came on the back of finishing third to El Drama in the Dee Stakes at Chester. Both races were at a mile and a quarter.

However Murtagh – a triple Epsom Derby winner as a jockey – is more inclined to stay on home ground for the Pivotal colt’s next start.

“I think we will wait for the Curragh. I have to confirm that with the owner but the race he won is a ‘win and you’re in’ race for the Irish Derby so we might wait,” he said on Friday.

“He’s a nice little horse, a tough, hardy, mature three-year-old. He has to improve but going up in distance might bring about more improvement,” Murtagh added.

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