Horse Racing Ireland chief executive Brian Kavanagh has expressed the sport’s gratitude after being given permission to restart action behind closed doors on June 8.
The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine said last week that racing, as a spectator-free sport, would fall into the third phase of the Irish Government’s plan to ease lockdown restrictions, meaning a June 29 restart looked likely.
However, following consultation between HRI and the Irish Government, it has been agreed racing can resume three weeks’ earlier than initially scheduled, with strict protocols in place. The last meeting to be held in Ireland before the coronavirus shutdown was at Clonmel on March 24.
Kavanagh said: “We are grateful to be one of the sectors permitted to go back to work and acknowledge the responsibility on everybody in racing to ensure the events are run in a safe way.
“We know from our own experience in March when we safely ran 10 meetings behind closed doors – and from what is happening in other countries like France, Germany, Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and America – that racing can be staged safely within the requirements of social distancing.
“With significant input from the IHRB’s chief medical officer Dr Jennifer Pugh, we have strengthened the HRI Covid-19 protocols and so, while race fixtures will return in Ireland on June 8, they will be very different from what people will have experienced before.”
Only key personnel will be allowed to attend meetings and all will be subject to advance health screening as well as temperature checks on arrival.
Face coverings will be mandatory for many attendees including jockeys, stalls handlers, medical professionals and security staff, while social distancing will be strictly enforced by a dedicated Covid-19 protocol officer at each fixture.
Kavanagh said: “We will publish our full protocols tomorrow (Saturday) and will require any key personnel necessary to run a race fixture to read the document in full.
“There must be full compliance with these protocols and to assist the industry in becoming familiar with the changed workplace, a series of webinars on the Covid-19 Protocols will be announced next week.
“On Sunday we will release a revised fixture list up to the end of June, including confirmation on when the Classics, traditionally scheduled for this time of year, will be run.”
Racing restarted in Germany last week and France staged its first meeting on Monday, while in Australia, Japan, Hong Kong and certain American states, the industry has continued to operate behind closed doors. The British Horseracing Authority plans to resume racing on June 1, subject to Government approval.
Kavanagh expects professionals to be pleased by the news, but warned that racedays will be “stripped back events” when they return.
He added: “I would like to acknowledge the constructive engagement with the Government throughout the consultative process through the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed and his officials.
“It was reassuring that the importance of horse racing as an industry was fully appreciated. The industry supports 29,000 jobs in rural Ireland, and we are the third largest producer, and largest exporter, of thoroughbreds in the world, all of which depends on racing taking place on track.
“The decision to allow racing to resume behind closed doors will be welcomed within the industry. For Flat racing in particular, but also for a significant portion of the National Hunt population, there is a seasonal and cyclical nature to the industry and these are key months in the trade and export of horses with proven form on the race track, as well as a vital period in the sales season.
“These will not be race meetings as you might traditionally imagine them, rather stripped back events which will determine the best horses in various categories, a vital factor for the breeding industry. Attendance will be kept to an absolute minimum and Covid-19 protocols will be strictly enforced.”