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O’Neill putting owners first

Although it has been quite the achievement to keep racing going behind closed doors, racing without crowds feels more like a dress rehearsal than the usual race day experience, and for many people working on the ground at racecourses it’s just not the same without spectators.

It’s the people that attend race meetings who create the atmosphere, and it’s clear to see that spectators’ presence is well and truly missed by everyone currently operating behind closed doors.

Conor O’Neill, chairman of the Association of Irish Racecourses (AIR) said: “Our members want nothing more than to welcome our valued punters back through our gates. and we are looking forward to seeing our stands full and enclosures bustling once again. Naturally, we understand that a phased approach to reopening is most likely to enable that to happen from a public health perspective.

“The Association of Irish Racecourses wholeheartedly recognises the importance of our racehorse owners and the immense contribution that they have made to keep Irish racing going behind closed doors. Irish racing and related industries employ 29,000 people and the continuation of racing has ensured that most have remained in employment, which is truly remarkable.

“Bearing that in mind, we are most anxious to welcome owners back to our tracks to reward their unwavering support of our great sport, so they can come racing and enjoy seeing their horses run in the flesh once again. Furthermore, it would be great to welcome back the sponsors who have stood by our industry, albeit from a distance, as we work towards our ultimate goal to have crowds of supporters, members and spectators joining us again.”

Throughout this pandemic we have all missed the excitement and atmosphere that goes hand-in-hand with going racing. Owners have missed out on the joy of that more than most; to have a horse run in your colours is a great honour and comes with a hefty price tag. It makes sense that when restrictions allow for racecourses to welcome people back on-site, priority is given to owners, a sentiment echoed by AIR.

Top priority

Horse Racing Ireland and the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board are currently amending the Covid-19 protocols to ensure that owners will receive top priority when the white flag is raised for racecourses to welcome additional attendees.

Racecourse facilities have been repurposed to meet strict protocols, and to allow for social distancing, in order to ensure the continuation of racing behind closed doors.

Public areas have been transformed into jockeys changing facilities, Tote halls have become interim weigh rooms and corporate dining areas converted to handle stewarding requirements. Racecourses have also invested substantial resources to establish how facilities can best manage the gradual reopening to additional attendees.

There is a collective commitment to making this happen efficiently. However, it’s a difficult and complex issue as many on-course facilities are currently being used to provide Covid facilities for essential workers also.

Revised protocols

The requirements at each venue are unique and, depending on public health advice, some racecourses will be better equipped than others to handle the numerous hypothetical reopening scenarios that might form revised industry protocols. The potential lack of facilities available to meet protocol requirements and the quality of the racegoer’s experience, when compared with pre-Covid days at the races, are common concerns at racecourses during this period of uncertainty.

AIR is anxious to stress that this will require some patience and understanding and ask that, as racing reopens in whatever form that may be, patrons bear with racecourse personnel until normal circumstances can be restored, and we can all get back to the race day experience we know and love.

By Leo Powell

Irish Field

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