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Jumps season called to halt but Irish Grand National may yet be saved

 

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The Punchestown and Fairyhouse Festivals have been cancelled. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

The Punchestown and Fairyhouse Festivals have been cancelled. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

The Punchestown and Fairyhouse Festivals have been cancelled. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

The Irish jumps season is officially over after Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) chiefs called a halt to any hope of completing the national hunt action this spring, although this year's Irish Grand National looks set to be rescheduled in the winter.

HRI were left with no choice but to draw stumps amid the coronavirus crisis which means this year's Punchestown Festival and the Irish Grand National meeting at Fairyhouse have been aborted.

Irish racing is on hold until April 19 at the earliest given the Government ban on all sporting events but the premature end to the jumps season looks set to be offset by an enhanced National Hunt programme between October and December this year.

The 150th running of the Irish National is provisionally scheduled for that period, while HRI chief executive Brian Kavanagh is keen to have a "racing-ready footing" when the green light is given to restart, with action "most likely" to be behind closed doors again.

Adherence

When racing resumes, it will do so with four weeks of flat-only meetings where strict adherence to the social distancing protocols, which saw 10 fixtures take place without spectators in attendance last month, will be met.

"While the conclusion of the National Hunt season is a major blow for that sector and jump racing enthusiasts, in making an early decision we want to give as much certainty as possible to owners and trainers," Kavanagh said. "This plan will allow winter National Hunt horses to take advantage of summer grass, reducing the costs for owners, with the knowledge of an enhanced programme to come for them from the autumn onwards, circumstances permitting."

Kavanagh revealed that revised race programmes "to cater for the entire horse population" will be announced when an "achievable target resumption date" can be set while the early end to the jumps season saw Willie Mullins land a 14th Irish champion trainers' title.

The titles were decided as of the Clonmel jumps meeting on March 24, with the Closutton maestro some €235,000 clear of his nearest rival Gordon Elliott to secure a remarkable 13th successive triumph.

Paul Townend - fresh from being crowned leading rider at last month's Cheltenham Festival - retained his jockeys' crown, his third in total, bagging 104 winners to finish 35 clear of Davy Russell.

Willie's son Patrick also retained his status as champion amateur jockey with a whopping 12th title - one clear of previous roll of honour leader Ted Walsh - in what has been a remarkable career in the saddle.

Meanwhile, Victoria Racing Club (VRC) are hopeful of staging this year's Melbourne Cup in its usual slot on the first Tuesday in November with the 'race that stops a nation' likely to avoid the ramifications of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Racing is taking place behind closed doors Down Under and VRC chief executive Neil Wilson outlined that they will continue in that vein if restrictions are still in place by then.

"If it's behind closed doors then it will be behind closed doors but we are working on the basis that we expect to have a spring carnival. Subject to the current Covid-19 situation making that not possible, we will have a carnival," Wilson said.

Irish Independent