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Wednesday 24 July 2019

Naas turns into Mecca of racing after UK flu blow

Jockeys Johnny Barry and Mark O’Hare disinfect their boots after riding at Naas yesterday. Photo: Healy Racing
Jockeys Johnny Barry and Mark O’Hare disinfect their boots after riding at Naas yesterday. Photo: Healy Racing

Alan O'Keeffe

An extra whiff of excitement was in the air at Naas Racecourse yesterday.

The shutdown of horse-racing in Britain from equine flu meant the Co Kildare venue was hosting the only race meeting in Britain and Ireland.

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Millions of horse-racing fans on both islands turned to the Irish venue as the only show in town, with ITV broadcasting five races live.

Racecourse manager Tom Ryan said: "There's a great atmosphere here today. A couple of our sponsors said they weren't able to sleep last night, thinking of the huge exposure they will be getting.

"We're not among the Big Five Irish racecourses that get live coverage from RTE. We only got our first Grade One National Hunt Race in 2015 after 95 years in existence.

"We're delighted to be in the spotlight today to show Irish racing in its best light."

Master of ceremonies Thom Malone said there was a "fantastic buzz" and huge amounts of betting money was being focused on Naas. The Place Pot Pool was normally around €5,000 but the concentration of bets for the two islands meant it was around €50,000 yesterday.

Kildare bookmaker Darragh Fitzpatrick said horses at Naas yesterday were attracting untold millions of euro of extra betting as punters all over Britain looked for horses to back.

All the big betting firms in the UK were paying close attention to every alteration being made by the on-course bookies in Naas, he added.

The first race to be broadcast live around Britain and Ireland was the 1.40pm Cavan Developments Maiden Hurdle, with €8,316 for the winner. Advantage Point, ridden by Robbie Colgan, won by a length, watched by millions of TV viewers.

Curragh trainer Edward Harty said: "It's nice to be the winning trainer in front of such a big captive audience."

Kathryn McKiernan, whose family owns Cavan Developments, said the family was delighted with the sudden big exposure.

The focus on Naas followed a six-day shutdown of race meetings in Britain.

In all, 174 stables are in quarantine as authorities try to contain the highly contagious disease.

It is too early to say if the Cheltenham Festival, due from March 12-15, will be affected. A clearer picture is expected in the coming days as results of tests are released. Dozens of vets have been dispatched to stables to take swabs for analysis.

British Horseracing Authority officials have announced no new positive cases of the flu - including those from Rebecca Menzies's yard in Sedgefield, Co Durham - have been detected among more than 700 so far processed.

The BHA said the Animal Health Trust found "no further positive samples" following the six previously detected at Donald McCain's stable in Cheshire.

It added: "The AHT has received approximately 2,100 nasal swabs and tested and reported on 720. There have been no further positive samples."

Whether a resumption on Wednesday is feasible is due to be decided tomorrow.

Sunday Independent

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