Ruby Walsh: Earlier start gives racing a huge period to showcase itself and grow

Ruby Walsh: Earlier start gives racing a huge period to showcase itself and grow
Eighty-eight fixtures were lost during the lockdown including two festivals.

Irish racing got the break it was looking for and has been moved forward a phase in the reopening plan of the Covid-19 lockdown. Rumours were flying around all week about HRI lobbying the government and NPHET about the possibility of opening racing sooner than the original June 29 date it had been given.

“I have it on good authority”, “don’t say anything but”, and “what did you hear” seemed to be the start of every conversation or Zoom call. There are those who firmly believed May 23 would be the chosen date, and May 29 would be the latest, but, in reality, and taking the blinkers off, getting racing moved forward one phase was a great result for the whole industry.

The next phase for racing will involve creating new fixtures and programmes to commence on June 8. I am sure the relevant committees have a schedule drawn up, but it will make interesting reading.

Eighty-eight fixtures were lost during the lockdown, including two National Hunt festivals, at Fairyhouse and Punchestown, which we know will not be rescheduled, and by the time we return The Curragh’s Guineas weekend will have passed by too, but one assumes it will be put back on very early in the new schedule.

Eighty-eight fixtures at roughly seven races per card would have been 616 races but, being brutally honest here, 616 races should not be replaced. The split in terms of Jumps and Flat in those months was roughly 45% to 55%, so not that uneven and, with plans to bolster the autumn National Hunt campaign, the Flat action will take precedence now but it shouldn’t have total domination.

Last Sunday night, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke about how the UK was going exit the Covid-19 lockdown, and he left pretty much everyone wondering what exactly was going to happen. Your interpretation of what he proposed was as good as mine but, by Monday evening, much more had become clear.

Professional sport could, under the right circumstances and following the right guidelines, take place from June 1 so, just as the day’s racing finished in Longchamp, UK racing knew they had a start date in 21 days. The how, what, where, and when had to be sorted but a target and a date of realistic proportions had been set.

Newcastle will kickstart the return on Monday, June 1 and racing will build through the first week, with two meetings on Tuesday, the first Turf meeting at Yarmouth on Wednesday, and onto Newmarket from Thursday to Sunday, which will stage both Guineas and the Coronation Cup, the latter relocated from Epsom but still on its original date — a real climax to end of the first week. Other changes announced in the week seem to indicate that the Oaks and Derby will be at Epsom on Saturday, July 5, with the Eclipse being confined to four-year-olds and upwards on July 6. The moving of the Coronation Cup is significant as it means the Jockey Club Stakes has been axed.

If you wish to give merit and competitiveness to the marquee races, everything cannot be fitted in. I hope the Irish bodies will follow the precedent set and even the shape of the program set in the UK, with ordinary racing early in the week building to high-quality stuff over the three weekend fixtures.

Replacing everything that has been lost will only lead to dilution while overrunning the end of the Flat season by too much will carry that dilution into 2021. A line will have to be drawn somewhere.

France have raced every day this week and Saturday in Paris, just six days after the restart, Auteuil takes centre stage. It holds a two-day fixture as a prep meeting for its biggest jumping weekend, which includes the Grand Steep de Paris and French Champion Hurdle, in three weekends’ time.

The original plan here was for Flat racing only for the first month and in the UK, National Hunt racing is not due back until July 1. There doesn’t seem to be a divide in France, and I don’t see why there should be one here or in the UK. Everyone needs to be afforded the chance to start earning a living of their own again now that the opportunity has arisen.

I also believe this to be a huge period for horse racing. Here it will pretty much have the sporting floor to itself. How it showcases and entertains anyone wishing to watch will be vital to how it grows its audience.

Ireland is in a much stronger position financially than the UK or France in terms of how the sport is funded and what it could do will be highlighted here next week. For now, racing has a date to work to. The Guineas, the Derby and the Oaks are all now inside the horizon. Cheers NPHET.

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