The coronavirus pandemic is, of course, completely unprecedented in modern society, and so it’s only natural that mistakes will be made in containing its spread.
The decision to suspend pretty much all sport worldwide was a sad but essential step towards that – which makes the decision of Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) to continue behind closed doors all the more bewildering.
In the UK, all horse racing has been suspended until the end of April at the earliest, with attempts to run meetings behind closed doors eventually superseded by government-level advice about the intelligence of doing so.
But the HRI are going to kick on with the racing as planned, albeit with a limit of just one meeting per day, with the decision made in order to ‘….maintain employment and incomes for people working in the industry.’
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has been consulting with the HRI, and racing being given the green light to continue is based upon meeting the strict guidelines outlined by the HSE.
Keep Your Distance
The original decision to move racing in Ireland behind closed doors was taken on March 13, and fell into line with the temporary ban put in place by the Irish government relating to mass gatherings of people.
As part of the move, only key personnel – jockeys, trainers, owners and stable staff – are allowed on site at the course, and all must follow the standard procedures as far as ‘social distancing’ and hand sanitising are concerned.
Under the HRI’s temporary measures, owners will now be banned from attending meetings, and all of the medical facilities and personnel on site will be handed over for government use where required.
Bizarrely, jockeys’ weights will increase by 2lb as the normal saunas won’t be allowed at the course, while the gap between races can be extended to up to 30 minutes to allow for social distancing to be maintained.
The situation is ongoing, and will be reviewed on a daily basis. But, for now at least, punters can still enjoy Irish racing with some of the action to be live streamed via the usual channels.
However, there will only be one meeting allowed per day – no evening meetings will be taking place for a good while, and no horses from outside of the UK will be allowed in the field.
The chairman of the HRI, Nicky Hartery, said:
“These are unprecedented and sombre times and we are seeking the best ways to support the racing community and industry throughout what lies ahead.
“Health and welfare of employees and industry participants is the prime consideration and within that context – we have introduced protocols which can allow racing to continue and thousands of families who rely on the sector to maintain a livelihood.”
As far as current scheduling changes are concerned, the opening of the 2020 flat season in Ireland – which was slated to take place at Naas on Sunday March 22, will now be held over for 24 hours so that the Randox Ulster National meeting on the same date can be maintained.
A number of evening meetings will also be rescheduled, with Dundalk’s card on Friday March 27 brought forward to the afternoon of Wednesday March 25, while the weekend meetings at Navan and Curragh will now be hosted 24 hours earlier on Friday March 27 and Saturday the 28th respectively.