Weld warns of ‘grave danger of losing owners to British racing’ if restrictions are not lifted

Leading trainer believes digital Covid passport could be used to allow more racegoers attend

Dermot Weld has warned there is a grave danger in failing to allow more spectators go racing in Ireland.

Growing frustration within the sport at the current 500 attendance limits at racetracks was underlined at the weekend by a crowd of 40,000 people being allowed to the All-Ireland hurling final.

That has proved contentious within the broader entertainment industry and one of Irish racing’s most famous figures said on Tuesday it is now time for bigger crowd sizes at tracks.

Full crowds have been permitted in Britain since last month and Weld pointed to last week’s Ebor festival at York as evidence of what the sector here is up against when operating with such restricted numbers.


“I have to echo what everybody else in the industry has been saying. I think we’ve got to sooner or later open up and let people in.

“The danger is when you see how successful York was last week. There’s a grave danger of losing owners to British racing.

“While I appreciate how serious the situation is with the spread of the Covid – and I accept that totally – racing has been excellent in the way it had handled itself, both in the way the protocols have been carried out, and also the way the protocols have been enforced.

“You look at the fines that have been imposed. I don’t see any other sport handing out fines to the extent, and to the magnitude that have been handed out in racing to a small minority.

“That is what disappoints me. We have shown for a long time now our capabilities to run racing safely for everybody,” he said on Tuesday.

Nphet meets on Wednesday ahead of an announcement next week by the Government about potential easing of Covid-19 restrictions.

Horse Racing Ireland has made submissions to Government about bigger crowd sizes, with particular emphasis on permitting up to 5,000 spectators each day of the upcoming Irish Champions Weekend (September 11th-12th).

That is Irish Flat racing’s showpiece event of the year but there is widespread uncertainty about what restrictions Government may choose to ease next month.

The chief executive of HRI-owned Leopardstown has said he is hoping a 3,000 attendance might be agreed for the first leg of Champions Weekend but has pointed to 1,000 as more realistic.

Weld is preparing two of the major stars for Champions Weekend with Tarnawa in the €1 million Irish Champion Stakes and Search For A Song bidding for a hat-trick in the €500,000 Comer Group Irish Leger at the Curragh.

“Champions Weekend is an international weekend of world-class racing, it is the centrepiece of the flat season,” pointed out Weld.

“With the majority of the country doubly vaccinated, if people were just asked to produce their digital Covid passport, would that be an idea the Government could consider?

“It’s just a suggestion. The digital passport for people that have been doubly vaccinated, surely that could be looked at to let more people go racing.

“Owners have been excellent, they way they have steadfastly stayed loyal, and I think It’s about time it was opened up,” Weld added.

It is understood the Department of Agriculture Food & Marine, which is responsible for racing, isn’t particularly against the idea of 5,000 spectators attending each day of Champions Weekend.

Sources also suggest the 500 limit may well be increased to 1,000 for everyday fixtures.

However, they also insist any final decision is for the Department of the Taoiseach and no final decision has been made.

The Irish Champion Stakes is a notable domestic gap on the Curragh trainer’s stellar Group One CV.

Tarnawa has a major chance of finally filling that gap, although Weld stressed that October’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is her principal target. The Aga Khan-owned filly is 6-1 for the Longchamp highlight.

Tarnawa made a successful first start since breaking Weld’s Breeders’ Cup duck last November when easily landing the Ballyroan Stakes at Leopardstown earlier this month.

“She put up an excellent performance and her next target is the Irish Champion, hopefully leading on to a crack at the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

“The Arc de Triomphe is her target. The Irish Champion Stakes would be a lovely and important race for her to win and I’m well aware of how difficult it would be and will be. [But] the Arc is her main autumn target,” Weld said.

Action at Bellewstown continues on Wednesday with a National Hunt card.

Officials at the Co Meath course have announced they will hold a special race at its September 30th fixture to honour the late Barney Curley.

Some of the top jockeys in England and Ireland will line up for a Flat race on day two of the September meeting.

Each saddle-cloth in the race will be available for sponsorship for a minimum of €5,000 with all money raised donated to the Direct Aid for Africa charity Curley set up in 1996 to support underprivileged people in Zambia.

"Barney Curley will forever be associated with Bellewstown after pulling off one of racing's greatest betting coups here in June 1975 when Yellow Sam won at 20-1," said the track's committee member, Alan Delany.

“My committee members and I at Bellewstown felt it was a fitting tribute to Barney to host a fundraising event for Dafa in his honour. We have some household name jockeys lined-up to take part in the race, which we will be announcing in the coming weeks,” he added.