Ted Walsh believes the resumption of Irish racing behind closed doors on June 8 is the major shot in the arm which the €2billion industry needed after a compromise to return to action next month was agreed with Government yesterday.
Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) lobbied behind the scenes with Government officials to ensure that racing would return under Phase 2 of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's five-phase plan to ease lockdown restrictions and they got their wish, much to the delight of racing folk.
There has been no Irish racing since Clonmel staged a jumps meeting on March 24 and Walsh is adamant that saving three weeks of the season is crucial to the industry with a revised Flat programme set to be announced by HRI tomorrow.
"Any news is good news, it's probably what we all were hoping for and if we'd had to wait until the 29th (of June) then the whole of June would have been gone. It's good news and at least people know where they are going now with their horses," the trainer said.
"They can be making plans now because it's a hoor when you don't know. Unless the a**e falls out of it altogether, we'll be back racing in three weeks so people can plan."
“I was delighted to hear it, delighted for everyone but the only pity about it is that I’m 70 and I can’t go. Coverage is so good now, though, that you might as well be watching it at home and it gives a bit of juice into everybody’s heart seeing the whole thing back again.
“If there’s no racing, no one has an interest in buying. Things will be on the go again now next month and it will help everybody. June 29 felt like it was a world away and this was the first day that things got on the move and it’s good news, that’s for sure.”
Yesterday’s cabinet meeting rubber-stamped Irish racing’s return after HRI’s proposals were approved by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) on Thursday and Varadkar was happy to give it the green light to resume as long as protocols are met.
“Horse racing was never specifically mentioned in the plan we agreed back in April but now it is. Horse racing, behind closed doors, will be allowed to continue from June 8 and that’s just taking into account what’s happening in the UK and France,” Varadkar said.
“This is a big economic sector and because people won’t be able to travel to race meetings, the amount of movements will be limited.
“It’s people travelling to and from their workplace essentially and it’s a big economic sector with a lot of jobs and income. We need to be more or less aligned with what’s happening in the UK and France in that regard.”
HRI welcomed the decision with chief executive Brian Kavanagh detailing the strict protocols which will be in place including key personnel being the only ones permitted to attend while social distancing will be “strictly enforced by a dedicated Covid-19 protocol officer at each fixture”.
All attendees will be subject to health screening in advance and thermal temperature screening on arrival with anyone presenting elevated temperatures denied access to the meetings, while face coverings will be worn by jockeys and stalls handlers among others.
HRI will publish their full list of protocols today while tomorrow will see a revised fixture list drawn up until the end of June including the necessary confirmation on when the Classics, traditionally scheduled for this time of year, will be staged.
Meanwhile, the Irish Greyhound Board (IGB) is “at a loss to understand” why greyhound racing has not been included as part of the earlier return date as they move to seek “full clarity” on the decision.