Just how seriously horse racing is taking its health and safety responsibilities as it prepares for a return to action behind closed doors at Naas on June 8 was illustrated when Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) published its protocol document. To call it comprehensive is like saying Michael Jordan was a dedicated basketballer.
In all, it comprises 77 pages of dos and don'ts in a bid to minimise the risk of contracting or spreading Covid-19, and if that were insufficient, a number of webinars have been organised to provide further clarity to the industry groups that will go racing.
The protocols were compiled by HRI in conjunction with the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board, with the Department of Health and National Public Health Emergency Team providing ultimate approval.
Officials from Racing Victoria, France Galop and Deutscher Galopp (Germany) - having held racing successfully in their respective jurisdictions - were also consulted.
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Initial reaction has been positive and the depth of the document has not gone unnoticed among other national sporting bodies, some of which have already been in contact with HRI.
An example of proactivity and the removal of all but necessary activity, is the development of a vaccination app by the IHRB veterinary unit, which means that trainers do not have to bring a horse's passport to the track on race day. Thus, one more direct interaction has been removed.
Social distancing and hygiene remain the basics that are familiar to the general population now, while the Irish Equine Centre provided key advice on deep clean disinfection.
The process for attending a race meeting will begin with a baseline health screening questionnaire upon registration for attendance, followed by a set of further questions 24 hours before every meeting attended.
On entrance, each attendee will have their temperature taken via a thermal camera system. Anyone with an elevated temperature will be refused admission.
Nobody aged 70 or over can go racing, meaning trainers Jessica Harrington, Jim Bolger, Dermot Weld, Kevin Prendergast and Ted Walsh will not by saddling their representatives.
Most discourse on the safety of racing during a pandemic has centred around the start, where the stalls handlers operate, and the duration of a race itself.
Stalls handlers and jockeys will wear face masks but jockeys will be allowed to pull them down once a race has begun.IHRB senior medical officer, Jennifer Pugh has been operating on the front-line, screening patients in a GP-led clinic at the Mater Hospital since racing closed in Ireland on March 24. According to Pugh, the risk of contamination in this sector of the track is extremely low.
"The key to it is to stress that we are outside," she says. "It is very different if you have a brief or prolonged interaction with someone in an indoor or outdoor setting. Most of the work that the stalls handlers do is a brief interaction. You take the horse, you lead it in, if the horse goes in easily there is no issue there.
"If the horse requires a little bit of encouragement, you are talking a very brief interaction between two people. Again, while their hands are touching, they are not directly breathing on each other and are outside. They are not up close. They are on each side of a horse.
"It does become more complicated if it takes three or four people to push a horse in. For that reason, handlers will not be spending a long period of time getting a difficult horse to load. For that shortest period, they will be in close contact.
"That was the reason we went with them wearing the mask as well. At the moment, the government advice is to wear a mask indoors in supermarkets and on public transport. Not for general people outdoors. But the stall handlers will have masks in the event that they will be up close loading a horse.
"There will be strict disinfection protocols. They will be spraying all the handles and touch points of the stalls as well as having them sprayed with disinfectant after.
"My concern for jockeys is definitely not during a race. They are no closer than one metre because you physically can't be on the back of a horse.
"Second of all, the time they spend together isn't sufficient. Even if we were in a four-mile chase, you are talking seven, eight, nine minutes at most. In a flat race you are talking a minute or two minutes for the sprint races. Close contact is deemed 15 minutes or more within one metre of a person with symptoms.
"Now you add in that they are travelling at 40, 50, 60 miles per hour, outside with all that natural ventilation. Yes, they may be beside one another but they are not directly in each other's faces and the races are over very quickly.
"The likelihood of there being somebody symptomatic with a high enough viral load that another jockey will be inhaling or coming in contact with is really very minimal.
"It would be very difficult to breath during a race with a mask on and that is why, given it is considered safe to do so for the reasons mentioned, they will be allowed pull them down during the race. But coming back into the parade ring they can pull them back up again. And they will wear them through any of the weigh room processes."
Pugh, who herself is a former champion lady rider on the point-to-point circuit, is optimistic about the effectiveness of the protocols and expresses confidence that they - along with the natural advantages racing has over other sports - will contribute to a safe environment.
"We have the fewest number of people in the shortest period of time in the biggest area available to us. The outdoor component cannot be overemphasised. We have massive space available to us. That is the key difference for us compared, for example, to bringing people into a stadium which is a closed environment essentially.
"We are at a huge advantage with an individual sport that is non-contact. The training has been done outside in the yard. We don't need to bring everybody together to train and we have loads of space."
Having witnessed some of the horror of coronavirus first-hand, Pugh understands the caution that existed in government and health circles about the resumption of racing. And not having seen her own parents since February, she is familiar with the sacrifices made by the public.
But racing's role in an overall industry had to be acknowledged and it was. Now, she admits, it is up to everybody involved to make it work.
"I think there was sympathy to our uniqueness to other sports and our contribution to the industry here," she says. "But to anybody who is wondering why we must go through all this rigmarole, make no mistake, we are very lucky to be back. We are back because we have made it so stringent.
"Please God phase one goes well and we get into phase two and it goes well, and then we can hopefully start to relax things a little bit. But until that signal comes we have got to do this. I am not concerned about buy-in, people understand. And they are so thankful their jobs are secure.
"I read somewhere, someone questioning how does racing support 30,000 jobs when there are only 200 professional jockeys and whatever number of trainers. But the wider impact on the farming community, the farriers, the breeders and so on . . . the wider impact from this is huge.
"We have to honour the commitment we have given. Yes, our country has done well. I am in the Mater and I still see the consequences of it, as does anybody in healthcare. Even those coming in without Covid, they are coming in with massive stress about difficulties worrying about jobs, worry over family, the isolation.
"A lot of the people in the country are thankfully unscathed by this. But for us to come back racing we nearly owe it to the people who have suffered to do this right, and to get this right."
Sunday Indo Sport