This is an anxious time for the members of the Association of Irish Racecourses (AIR), those who own and/or operate our 26 racecourses nationwide.
Last Friday’s announcement sheds only a little light on when patrons can be welcomed back to racecourses properly, and what that racing experience might be like for the much-missed and valued racegoers when they eventually get there. This is a concern shared by many of the racecourse managers, and by the executive of the Association.
Paddy Walsh, chief executive officer of the AIR said this week: “The reality is that we have learned very little from what was previously made out to be a major announcement for the reopening of society. We are all mindful of the rationale for a cautious approach.
“However, our racecourses are massive outdoor venues that can cater for huge crowds of spectators comfortably, and apart from the pilot event on the Dubai Irish Duty Free Derby weekend at the Curragh Racecourse, albeit welcomed as an industry, following Friday’s briefing we are none the wiser as to where it leaves the rest of us after that.”
Looking across the pond to where the racing experience is almost back to normal only increases the sense of urgency for members of the Association. Walsh continued: “Watching racing in Britain is only furthering our resolve to have punters back to our members’ tracks. Looking at racing from an AIR perspective, all I can see are stands with people in them and lots of sociable scenes of racegoers enjoying a great day at the races and, then thinking, how much our members are longing for that day at their racecourses again.
“We understand the parallel between Ireland and Britain’s easing of restrictions has been notably different, and accept that the traditional raceday experience from a racegoer’s perspective may not return for some time depending on the protocols in place.
“That customer experience and punter expectation needs to be managed, and clarity from the Government, Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) and the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board is required going forward to do so effectively.”
All eyes will be firmly set on the Curragh’s pilot race meeting, with AIR members the length and breadth of the country looking for ideas, insights and key learnings from the event. HRI has approved amendments to the current Covid-19 protocols for this fixture and these are consistent with Government guidelines.
It is wonderful to see owners finally being permitted back to visit Irish racecourses, allowing them to see their horses run in the flesh. This is a key milestone in the roadmap for reopening our racecourses and one that the AIR pushed hard for and is delighted to see finally come to fruition.
Many of the amendments made to the protocol make perfect sense; for example, the scrapping of the over-seventies ban, the allocation of more media accreditations to attend, and the right for socially-distanced, feature race trophy presentations to be held are all welcomed by the AIR.
Brian Kavanagh, chief executive officer of HRI commented: “We are working with racecourses around providing safe, achievable catering options for key personnel working at the racecourses, and aim to have a consistent offering from July 20th.”
The AIR welcomes this; however, clarity around the next steps in this roadmap for reopening our industry to the racing public is what they say they require now.
By Leo Powel