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HRI give green light for Irish horse racing to continue behind closed doors

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The HRI have announced that Irish horse racing will continue behind closed doors. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

The HRI have announced that Irish horse racing will continue behind closed doors. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

The HRI have announced that Irish horse racing will continue behind closed doors. Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile

Irish racing will carry on behind closed doors with Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) continuing to follow a strict adherence to Government guidelines regarding the Coronavirus.

Today's HRI meeting – held via video conference – gave the green light for racing to continue without members of the general public, while there will be greater restrictions in place, including no runners from overseas.

The situation will be reviewed on a daily basis with no evening or double fixtures to take place while medical personnel and facilities will be made available for Government use.

Contingency planning is already under way with regards to changes in race programming, with those involved in the racing industry breathing a sigh of relief at the decision for the status quo to remain for the time being.

The first five fixtures to be held behind closed doors have been commended by those on site, with leading trainer Gordon Elliott and jockeys like Davy Russell and Robbie Power pleading with officials for things to continue that way.

HRI CEO Brian Kavanagh acknowledged the "rapidly changing situation" and their regular communication with the Government in their decision to continue racing.

“Racecourses by their nature offer opportunities for social distancing that few other workplaces can. Nothing in Irish life is as it was a week ago, and in the same way, these are not race fixtures as we previously knew them," Kavanagh said.

"They are big open-air sites with very few people present and nobody on site if they are not involved: once a jockey or trainer has finished their business for the afternoon, they are required to leave.

"Furthermore, we have carried out risk assessments according to each individual racecourse facility, and some fixtures may be subject to greater restrictions and limitations to ensure social distancing is easily achievable and maintained."

Multiple Grade One-winning trainer Paul Nolan was among those to back Horse Racing Ireland's decision to let the sport continue behind closed doors despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The British Horseracing Authority announced the suspension of all racing in the UK until the end of April on Tuesday, but the ruling body of Irish racing has decided to keep the show on the road, albeit with strict protocols in place.

Nolan, who was narrowly denied a winner at last week's Cheltenham Festival with stable star Latest Exhibition beaten just a neck in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle on Friday, feels HRI have made the correct call.

He said: "It's obviously good news if we can keep racing, as long as everybody is mindful of the situation and is conscientious in washing their hands and doing everything they can to keep people safe.

"You see what's going on worldwide and obviously the main thing we need to do is keep everybody safe and well.

"I was racing in Wexford on Tuesday and it is a little bit strange. There was obviously no public there and jockeys had to come out of the weighing room one by one and a certain distance apart.

"It is going to be a little bit different, but it's not that hard to do all these extra things and if it stops of the spread of the virus and keeps us all racing, then it's definitely worth it.

"If you don't feel great, you should stop and go home and if you feel OK, then you should work away for now and see how it goes."

Ado McGuinness is a regular visitor to Ireland's sole all-weather track, Dundalk, and is also looking forward to start of the Flat turf season at Naas on Monday.

"I'm delighted. They've done a very good job regarding safety so far and with people not interacting," said the Dublin-based trainer.

"There might be no atmosphere, but we are racing and keeping people in work. It's an industry and if we don't race for six or seven weeks, jobs will go.

"I'm happy we're still going, but we're being very cautious. There are big spaces on racecourses, which help, and if nobody in the industry comes down with it, I see no reason why we can't race.

"A big difference between the UK (and Ireland) is that we use private ambulances and the Government wanted us to keep going, which was a big plus. I'm sure people will disagree, but it's great for our industry."

McGuinness acknowledges the situation could change in a matter of days, adding: "If we can't race for two months, with a recession likely to come, it's great that we can stay racing, but it could change in two days' time.

"We haven't got many runners at Dundalk on Friday as we were giving a few a break, thinking of the new turf season, but as long as we're racing, we're happy.

"I was at Dundalk last week, having to take our own food and drink, but the fact it's switching to the day time will make it easier for everyone I think.

"There's no owners allowed, so they need a lot of thanks, because if they weren't there we'd have no sport.

"Hopefully we can stay going - it was a big relief when I could tell my yard racing was going ahead."

Additional reporting by Press Association.

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