What a week it has been for the Association of Irish Racecourses (AIR) and its members, those who own and operate all 26 racecourses on the island of Ireland. They have lobbied hard to increase attendances at racemeetings; however, it has been far from straightforward.
Our industry is quite extraordinary as it covers a multitude of categories, namely agriculture, sport, hospitality and entertainment. Our racecourses are professionally organised events where mass gatherings traditionally have taken place both indoors and outdoors.
Following Tuesday’s announcement by An Taoiseach, Michéal Martin, further clarification was sought by AIR members through Horse Racing Ireland. It has since been agreed that the following guidelines apply during the period September 6th to October 22nd inclusive.
- Racecourses can facilitate up to 50% of their capacity limit where patrons have mixed immunity in an outdoor setting.
- Indoor settings at racecourses can be opened in line with Failte Ireland guidelines to those who are vaccinated.
- The 50% capacity guideline also applies to bookmakers who will be permitted to attend.
Each racecourse is reviewing the guidelines to determine what is feasible for their unique venue. They will then set out their covid policy and procedures accordingly for this graduated reopening phase.
It is important to note that no two racecourses are identical. This will not be a simple flick of a switch exercise for the many who have repurposed their sites to ensure the continuation of racing. Many public and reserved areas have been repurposed and used as weigh-rooms, changing areas, pressrooms and stewards’ rooms.
Regular racegoers will be well aware of just how unique each venue is, and although the graduated reopening phase is very much welcomed by AIR it will have to be considered on an individual racecourse basis.
Paddy Walsh, chief executive officer of the Association of Irish Racecourses, said: “We welcome the graduated return to meaningful crowds at our member’s racecourses. They can finally plan for the months ahead with greater certainty than they have had in quite some time. The clarification sought via Horse Racing Ireland for this graduated reopening phase was very important for our members to properly assess what is feasible for each individual racecourse between Monday September 6th and Friday October 22nd, given their upcoming fixtures and unique circumstances.”
Clarifications released by Horse Racing Ireland confirm that 4,000 people will be permitted to attend each day of Irish Champions Weekend, at Leopardstown on September 11th and the Curragh on September 12th.
It also confirmed that 2,000 people per day can attend the week-long Listowel Harvest Festival which commences on Sunday, September 19th.
The short lead-in time for all three aforementioned racecourses presents obvious logistical challenges. Listowel still needs to retain much of its indoor areas to facilitate key industry personnel such as jockeys, stewards and the media. Therefore the decision to run the meeting as an outdoor-only event was taken.
The Curragh and Leopardstown can revert to pre-covid arrangements and will be able to offer some indoor options to vaccinated patrons.
The agreement also allows for up to 50% capacity of the bookies’ ring to be back in action during this period, good news for another sector of our industry who were adversely affected by Covid-19 restrictions imposed on racecourses.
Walsh added: “With the exception of Listowel, Leopardstown and the Curragh, whose positions have been publicised, racecourses with fixtures during this period will individually decide how best to operate within the guidelines, given their own unique set of circumstances.
“Provided there isn’t a surge in covid numbers, it is with great hope and confidence that all AIR members are looking forward to October 22nd and beyond when we can host sizeable crowds once again at our racecourses nationwide.”
By Leo Powell