Racing to close down until at least April 19th under new measures

Fairyhouse’s Easter meeting will be first major Irish festival to be postponed

Action from Tuesday’s Clonmel meeting. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Action from Tuesday’s Clonmel meeting. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

 

Irish racing will stop until at least Sunday, April 19th, as part of Government restrictions put in place due to the coronavirus pandemic.

On Tuesday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced that all sporting events, including those behind closed doors, are cancelled in the fight against Covid-19.

Racing here had been operating behind closed doors since Friday week last and was the only major racing jurisdiction in Europe to still operate after the sport was cancelled in Britain last week.

The new Government restrictions were announced as Tuesday’s programme at Clonmel was still taking place. But from midnight all sporting events are cancelled.

It means the Dundalk fixture scheduled for Wednesday will not go ahead. Cork had been due to race on Thursday with Navan on Friday. The first meeting of 2020 at the Curragh had been scheduled for Saturday.

The initial impact of the Covid-19 emergency on one of Ireland’s major festivals will be on Fairyhouse’s Easter event – featuring the Irish Grand National – which had been due to take place between April 11th-13th.

Next month’s other big festival is at Punchestown, which has five days scheduled between April 28th and May 2nd.

However, with the Taoiseach advising the country to be prepared for the coronavirus emergency to go on “for weeks, even months” that too could be under threat.  

The restrictions on sports were accompanied by the Taoiseach’s announcement that all theatres, clubs, bingo halls and non-essential retail outlets should also close. He said all cafes and restaurants should limit supply to takeaway only.

“People should stay at home if at all possible - this is the best way to slow the virus,” Varadkar said.

The Government move came five days ahead of a previous March 29th deadline in relation to school closures and restrictions on outdoor gatherings of 500 or more people.

The board of Horse Racing Ireland is having a meeting on Wednesday morning after which a statement will be issued.  

Racing was called off in both Britain and France last week, although the HRI board controversially opted to keep the sport going with further social distancing measures put in place to allow the sport here continue.

That meant the 2020 Flat season began on turf at Naas on Monday, before Tuesday’s changes were announced.

“If it is three or four week and we get back then it won’t be too bad,” reported top trainer Gordon Elliott. “Everybody has to do their job and a month won’t be the end of the world. Everyone will have to tighten up and hopefully we’ll get through it okay.

Earlier on Monday the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB) confirmed point-to-points were cancelled until further notice due to the “ever evolving situation” involving Covid-19.

Last weekend’s point-to-point fixtures were cancelled due to the difficulty of enforcing a ‘behind closed doors’ policy on action that basically takes place in a field.

“Point-to-points will recommence when it is deemed appropriate to do so,” said an IHRB statement.

The point-to-point season is due end in early June.

The focus for many will now turn to how long any ban on racing will last and the potential impact on thousands of people whose livelihoods are involved in the industry.

Tuesday’s cabinet meeting confirmed the Government’s Covid-19 emergency weekly support payment for people who have lost their job as a result of the pandemic will be increased from €203 to €350.

It was also decided the Government will pay 70 per cent of a worker’s salary – up to €410 per week – where a company agrees to continue paying the remainder.

Ireland isn’t the only racing jurisdiction preparing to close.

South African racing, which has also been crucial to a betting industry struggling for markets to present to punters, will shut down on Friday. Racing will stop there for at least three weeks after the country was put into lockdown over coronavirus.

Racing has been taking place behind closed doors in South Africa and there will be a single meeting on both Wednesday and Thursday.

The last winner in Ireland before the sport closes down proved to be the Willie Mullins-trained Captain Kangaroo who won the bumper at Clonmel under jockey Jody Townend at odds of 10-1.

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