Irish on-course bookmakers hoping to get back on track by Christmas

Limited number of bookies have been allowed back on British tracks since last week

The head of Ireland’s on-course bookmakers body has said he is pinning his hopes on being able to go back to work on the racecourse before Christmas.

A limited number of bookmakers have been allowed back on British racetracks since last week as part of a trial period where layers can take bets from owners who are allowed on-site.

It’s the first time on-course bookmakers in Britain have been allowed operate in over five months due to the coronavirus pandemic and included last week’s high-profile Ebor festival at York.

However hopes of similarly tentative steps towards increasing numbers at racecourses here were scotched when the Government ordered all sports behind closed doors last week.

That was a blow to hopes expressed by the Irish National Bookmakers Association (INBA) for a road-map from Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) which would allow them return to work in some form during the coming weeks.

Racing resumed behind closed doors in Ireland in June but bookmakers haven’t been allowed work since lockdown in March.

The INBA’s chairman said on Monday that bookmakers are frustrated but admitted that Government policy to date suggests any relaxation of restrictions doesn’t appear likely anytime soon.

"If I can get back racing sometime before Christmas, in a new normality of three, five or ten bookmakers, I'd be reasonably happy," said Ray Mulvaney.

“We’re almost in September. The Listowel festival and Irish Champions Weekend will come and go. Nothing is really going to happen in October and November. But I do hope to be back racing this year.

“We all want to get back to work. Livelihoods are at stake. How long can a fella not go to work before he starts wanting to do something else, even some of my own members,” he added.

Earlier this month the decision was taken to hold both Listowel and Irish Champions Weekend behind closed doors.

Shortly afterwards, hopes that outdoor attendances of up to 500 people would be permitted were scotched after numbers of positive tests for Covid-19 started to spiral. The Government has pushed all sport back behind closed doors until at least September 13th .

“When the might of the GAA is getting no change from NPHET and you see the way the whole thing is going, I’d say we’re back a couple of weeks, if not a couple of months.

“It was very disappointing to see the GAA almost closed down as well. That shows how strict the Government have been. We’re living in a new world. We’ll just have to bear with it,” said Mulvaney who added that he feels HRI’s hands are largely tied on the matter.

The chief executive of racing’s ruling body underlined again on Monday that HRI’s approach to the pandemic is being dictated by Government policy.

"We have aligned our position with government policy and government policy is shaped by NPHET advice. That's what you do when you're dealing with a medical pandemic. You need to be advised by people who are experts in that area," said Brian Kavanagh.

In other news, veteran classic winning jockey Séamus Heffernan had a four-day ban for careless riding imposed on him at Gowran a fortnight ago reduced to three by an appeals body on Monday.

Heffernan was penalised at Gowran after winning a handicap on the Tony Martin-trained Jungle Jungle. The 48-year-old’s manoeuvre in securing a run for the horse was deemed careless riding by the stewards.

Heffernan will miss out on riding this Wednesday and Thursday as well as at Friday’s Curragh card which features the €75,000 Paddy Power Irish Cambridgeshire.

The sponsors have installed the Jessica Harrington trained Njord as their 13-2 favourite for the big handicap ahead of Joseph O'Brien's Fame And Acclaim.

Heffernan is scheduled for four rides at Tuesday’s Cork fixture. They include Aidan O’Brien’s Baton Rouge in an opening two-year-old maiden.

With ground conditions already soft at the course near Mallow, the prospect of a forecast 20mm of rain falling prior to racing looks set to make for very testing going.

That should be little problem to Fugacious, who made light of heavy ground at Killarney on Friday to finish third and goes again in a seven-furlong handicap.

The first of three days of racing at Bellewstown also goes ahead on Tuesday.

The National Hunt programme includes a second Irish appearance by Bon Retour. She impressed at the Galway festival when accounting for Pilbara and Willie Mullins looks to have secured the mare a suitable follow-up opportunity.

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