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Racing flag comes down as survival becomes key


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A view of the field before yesterday’s Virtual Racing On The BoyleSports App Flat Race at Clonmel yesterday, the final race of the card and on Irish soil for some time. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

A view of the field before yesterday’s Virtual Racing On The BoyleSports App Flat Race at Clonmel yesterday, the final race of the card and on Irish soil for some time. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

A view of the field before yesterday’s Virtual Racing On The BoyleSports App Flat Race at Clonmel yesterday, the final race of the card and on Irish soil for some time. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Those involved in the industry knew it was always going to be a matter of time before authorities called a halt to Irish racing despite continuously putting forward a united front in the face of the greatest adversity which modern society has ever experienced.

Staff adhered to strict protocols and social distancing in an effort to keep the show on the road behind closed doors over the past two weeks but this was a battle which they were always going to lose.

However, any sense of defeat is a victory for the greater good with the €1.75 billion industry playing their part in tackling the coronavirus and helping to get Ireland back on track with some challenging times ahead.

Many have questioned why racing continued in splendid isolation with some comparing their stance to a two-fingered salute to others who were 'taking their medicine' but that was never the case and Government support was always forthcoming to proceed where possible.

Gigginstown House Stud racing manager Eddie O'Leary, who looks after the day-to-day running of his brother Michael's powerful team of horses, slammed the decision that compelled British authorities to cease racing last week and the knock-on effects which that had on the industry.

This is a different 'kettle of fish' in his view, however, and he acknowledges that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was left with no alternative but to pull the plug on racing yesterday after Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) did their absolute best to fire fight.

"There has never been a situation like this," Eddie O'Leary said. "There's bigger problems than racing, it's off now and we hope that the country and everyone else can get everything back first and then racing will follow.

"It's very fast evolving and it's wrong to try and nail racing as the bad boys, it was completely with Government approval that racing went ahead behind closed doors. It is an attempt to keep an awful lot of rural jobs and livelihoods going.

"The Government were very supportive in keeping it going when it looked like the right thing to do, and now they have said it's not and there's no issue. HRI wasn't running roughshod over the Government "

The racing industry will be hit with a powerful punch that will take some time to recover from but they are in good company with everyone set to feel the pinch as Covid-19 grips the nation. It will take time - far beyond April 19 in O'Leary's view - but they will eventually bounce back.

"It's not just racing," O'Leary said. "Every industry is going to take a massive hit. Hopefully we can see a way through it.

"I hope that we can see glimmers of light at the end of the tunnel when we get to the first of May and then we can all see our way back to normality in every industry."

The Irish Grand National, scheduled for April 13 at Fairyhouse, will be cancelled unless a later date is sought whenever action resumes, while another jewel in the Irish crown, the Punchestown Festival, is also in doubt with a scheduled start date of April 28.

Leading jumps jockey Robbie Power was one of many to commend the decision to halt proceedings at this juncture with his hope that "we can all get back to work sooner rather than later" but Flat trainers may see their season over before it started.

The Flat action officially commenced on Monday at Naas but it faces an unknown resumption, although that cannot stop the day-to-day activity at all yards where thoroughbreds need to be put through their paces.

Once such stable is that of Tipperary trainer David Marnane, who admits that it is a "devastating blow" but insists that those involved will show the resilience needed to safely make it out the other side despite the likely staff cuts which they will experience.

"It's a devastating blow to us, but it is to everybody in the country," the Bansha handler said. "We're not the only ones. We'll have to knuckle down and get through this. We will get through this and come out the other side, however long it takes.

"We won't lie down. For the greater good, I understand where we're coming from. All you have to do is see the pictures coming from Italy and racing is only a part of life.

"We just have to do the best we can and see where we are in a month. We have to keep going with the horses. We have to exercise them. It's not like a shop where can just turn a key and walk away from it. We have to do what we can and we will. We're in it for the long haul and we'll come out the other side."

Fighting talk from Marnane and while the short-term outlook is not good for Irish racing, or the industry in general, such action is the only way to rid ourselves of this pandemic and live to fight another day.

Irish Independent