With both the Fairyhouse and Punchestown Festivals scheduled to take place within the next five weeks, it was inevitable that they would have to be shifted but news emerged yesterday that they were to be cancelled and the 2019/20 Jump season in Ireland brought to a close.
The Board of Horse Racing Ireland met yesterday and announced that circumstances permitting, there would be an enhanced National Hunt Programme between October and December and that it was hoped the 2020 Boylesports Irish Grand National could be accommodated within this.
The Board also discussed a strategy that would allow Irish racing to return as quickly as possible once it is appropriate to do so and within Government guidelines.
The Board recognised that, at least initially, racing would restart on the Flat and most likely behind closed doors, with adherence to strict social distancing protocols as were successfully operated at ten race fixtures in March.
When the time comes for that decision great care will need to be taken over the perception among the wider public who were critical of the scenes from Cheltenham at the start of the crisis.
“We have stressed throughout that Government and HSE guidelines around fighting COVID-19 must come first and racing will only be able to resume when the Government guidelines permit and when there is adequate medical cover in place to ensure that race meetings can be staged safely,” said Horse Racing Ireland Chairman Nicky Hartery.
“No-one can predict when this point will be reached. What the Board agreed today was a plan to get back racing once those guidelines allow.”
“A number of fixture and race programme scenarios have been developed by the executive which will ensure a timely and agile response when a potential restart date becomes clearer. The plan for a staggered resumption strategy would initially see a programme of solely Flat racing fixtures for one month so as to prioritise the portion of the horse population which most require the resumption of racecourse action, whilst also minimising the potential requirement for medical support.”
“Like many other sectors, the racing and breeding industry in Ireland will take a seismic economic blow from the fall-out of COVID-19,” added CEO Brian Kavanagh.
“We will be working closely with the Government to limit the long-term impact of this pandemic. We know that jobs will be lost in a key rural industry and that the viability of some industry institutions will come under serious threat.”
“We are working on a range of industry supports which we hope to announce in the coming weeks. Once an achievable target resumption date can be identified, a new fixture list covering the rest of the year will be quickly published based on our on-going work, along with revised race programmes which will cater for the entire horse population.”
“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 and this plan will allow winter National Hunt horses to take advantage of summer grass, reducing the costs for National Hunt owners, with the knowledge of an enhanced programme to come for them from the Autumn onwards, circumstances permitting.”
Difficult days lie ahead but planning for a resumption has to be made, with all the attendant contingencies, and at least that is in train.