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Getting back to the track!

There was great news for Irish racecourses this week following An Taoiseach, Micheál Martin’s announcement that attendance caps for outdoor sporting events would be removed from yesterday, as covid-related restrictions ease nationwide.

Although a positive update indeed, the specifics are far from clear or straightforward. Racecourses are not just outdoor venues; they are a combination of both indoor and outdoor facilities, making the guidelines announced on Tuesday difficult to apply here without further clarification.

The Association of Irish Racecourses (AIR) represent those who own and/or operate Ireland’s 26 racecourses nationwide, and through Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) has requested clarification for its members from the Department of Agriculture on the impact of Tuesday’s announcement.

It will be up to each individual racecourse to implement the Government guidelines, appropriate to their own unique indoor and outdoor facilities.

Paddy Walsh, chief executive of AIR, said: “It’s a positive day for our members. Finally they can get back to what they do so well, hosting decent crowds at their tracks once again. HRI will be rolling out an exciting marketing campaign nationwide to support our members’ racecourses over the coming weeks. It aims to encourage racegoers back to the track, to enjoy that unique feeling of watching racing onsite amid the buzz and the atmosphere that is synonymous with attending a race meeting in person. I for one can’t wait!”

Check it out

AIR is advising the public to check individual racecourses’ social media and website in advance of their visit, and to establish the procedures and policies in place at that particular racecourse.

While many restrictions have been lifted, each racecourse will apply the guidelines to suit their venue and facilities, so it won’t be a simple case of one size fits all.

Each of the AIR’s members’ racecourses has a different layout and range of indoor and outdoor facilities; they are all unique. Distinct guidelines will apply at each track, depending on industry specific requirements and what’s feasible for the venue.

The announcement has come too soon for some racecourses hosting meetings this weekend to implement changes.

Wexford manager Eddie Scally believes the track’s fixtures on Sunday and Monday could be close to normal if jockeys are allowed to return to the weighing room, freeing up indoor dining spaces for the public.

Wexford plans

Scally said: “Our plan is to reopen our main restaurant and we’re hoping to get back to very close to normal for the weekend. What might be the Achilles heel for racecourses at the moment is jockeys returning to the weighing room. If I can get them back there, everything is back to normal and I can reopen the main restaurant.”

He added: “We plan that once you come to the main entrance, and if you show a covid vaccine certificate, we will give you a wristband that means you can go inside. If you don’t have that wristband, you can’t come indoors and have to eat outside. Our interpretation is that attendances will be back to full capacity, but for dining or drinking indoors, just like a bar or restaurant, you have to have your covid cert.”

AIR is encouraging racegoers to check out the policies at individual racecourses prior to attending for course specific guidance.

The Association is also encouraging racegoers to come along and support their members’ racecourses as much as they can over the coming weeks and months. It has been a tough time for racecourses who worked hard to do everything in their power to facilitate racing behind closed doors, and then with various levels of restrictions. It’s time to show our support and get back to the track!

By Leo Powell

Irish field

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