Finally, some clarity. Horse racing will return to these shores on Monday, June 8. It is not phase one of the government’s plan to lift Covid-19 restrictions, but neither is it phase three, so there is something to celebrate for the industry which has been in the dark for far too long.
“Horse Racing to return behind closed doors with strict protocols from June 8th. Much needed certainty for the sector,” tweeted Fine Gael TD for Longford/Westmeath Peter Burke.
The message emerged during Friday’s meeting between Horse Racing Ireland and the government to bring forward the reopening of the industry.
The resumption will be the best part of a month behind France and a week behind Britain, but it is, at least, a date which the industry can now work towards with confidence.
As the last sport to close down prior to lockdown, it was assumed racing would be part of the May 18 first phase of the plan to bring the country out of lockdown, so it came as a shock to the industry when Leo Varadkar initially revealed it would not return until June 29.
A lack of clarity from racing authorities did little to improve the situation but work continued in the background and, better late than never, the date was moved forward three weeks to June 8.
Horse Racing Ireland have been working in the background to have a programme ready for the resumption, and it is likely to involve a very busy schedule for the first couple of months as the industry bids to make up for lost time.
HRI chief executive Brian Kavanagh said: “We are grateful to be one of the sectors permitted to go back to work and acknowledge the responsibility on everybody in racing to ensure the events are run in a safe way.
“We know from our own experience in March when we safely ran ten meetings behind closed doors … that racing can be staged safely within the requirements of social distancing.
“With significant input from the IHRB’s chief medical officer Dr Jennifer Pugh, we have strengthened the HRI Covid-19 protocols and so, while race fixtures will return in Ireland on June 8, they will be very different from what people will have experienced before.
“These will not be race meetings as you might traditionally imagine them, rather stripped-back events which will determine the best horses in various categories, a vital factor for the breeding industry. Attendance will be kept to an absolute minimum and Covid-19 protocols will be strictly enforced.”
A fixture list to the end of June will be released on Sunday.