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Irish racing has a massive responsibility and must lead by example on its return

Michael Verney


Irish racing is set to resume on June 8. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Irish racing is set to resume on June 8. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile


Irish racing is set to resume on June 8. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

COPY AND PASTE is a common tactic employed as a welcome time saver when preparing assignments – and it is likely to be utilised by several sporting bodies over the coming weeks and months.

The majority of sports face unknown resumption dates, as they remain in the dark about when competition can recommence, so racing is the envy of many, and a guinea pig for those hoping to get up and running again soon.

It may be three weeks later than originally planned – and with questionable media silence along the way – but Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) negotiated the return of racing with Naas’ flat card on June 8 kicking things into gear.

Ted Walsh was one of many who "felt like June 29 was a world away" and reaching a compromise to move a return into Phase Two of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s five-phase plan to ease lockdown restrictions was a victory for HRI.

Walsh, 70, is one of many elder statespeople that cannot attend because of his age, but that’s a small price to pay to get the show back on the road – and HRI have left no stone unturned when it comes to strict racecourse protocols.

Racing has a massive responsibility to lead by example, by showing the roadmap to return for other sports. And it has already hit the ground running, with a thorough 77-page document to maintain health and safety at tracks amid Covid-19.

Despite having had 10 meetings behind closed doors before racing was cancelled, HRI have jumped through all sorts of hoops to satisfy the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) and chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan.

What HRI has pledged to implement in order to resume action is quite staggering and they have provided a great service to every other sporting body by showing them the perfect template to proceed, while keeping the highest possible standards.

There’s no doubt that other bodies will eventually follow suit with similar plans, having perused HRI’s document with chief executive Brian Kavanagh pleased to note the "strengthening of our protocols ahead of a return to racing”"

Greater reassurances were needed to resume racing and they have been delivered on paper. It is now the duty of all in the racing industry to put their best foot forward and make their actions count as racing attempts to alter a negative image, cultivated by the running of the Cheltenham Festival amid serious coronavirus concerns.

Jockey Robbie Power spoke in March about returning to his car between races at Down Royal and phoning nearby rider Danny Mullins rather than taking any chances with social distancing, but the ante has been upped significantly since then.

Power noted that he spent a lot more time in his car than in the weighing room but the stakes have been raised – and the increased measures show the lengths needed to get sport back on track.

Everyone who attends the behind-closed-doors meetings will be screened via questionnaire the day previous, before being granted entry to the racecourse, with a further survey to be filled out the next day.

A thermal-camera system will check attendees’ temperatures with those showing an elevated reading denied entry, while there will be no one-on-one media interviews and owners will stay at home.

The weighing room will be deserted with no showers, televisions, saunas or food allowed. Jockeys must wear face masks and stall handlers will be asked to perform minor miracles to keep social distancing while loading runners for flat meetings as well as disinfecting the stalls between races.

Personnel will be reduced to the bare bones of what is required and HRI are right to err on the extreme side of caution, something which will have been noted by sporting bodies like the GAA, FAI and IRFU.

Mistakes will be made and lessons learned from Irish racing as it is at the forefront of the return of live sport, but getting those other sports back up and running will be a lengthy process with plenty of significant bumps along the way.

HRI’s decision to restrict racing to just nine tracks until the end of June will affect those left in the wilderness, but needs must, and there is a collective responsibility for everything to go smoothly.

The fact that Irish action is housed behind Racing TV’s subscription is a major negative in attracting a new audience but, perhaps, Paddy Power, or some other bookmaker/exchange that profits enormously off racing, could give something back to people in their greatest time of need? Wouldn’t that be something.

All eyes will be on Irish racing to fill the sporting void next month – and the fate of other sports this year could lie in its hands, so the onus is on HRI to show the way forward in commanding fashion.

Online Editors