There was no crowd, no septuagenarians, and working teams stripped to the bare bones, but despite all the protocols in place Irish racing returned with great success yesterday afternoon at Naas.
It was not racing as we know it, not the great social sporting occasion we know it to be, but it was a hugely positive step forward for the industry. Strict protocols were in place, and on entry each person had their temperature - as well as their pre-booked credentials – screened. But those measures were met with great agreeability by an industry grateful to be back.
“In general, very happy,” stated racecourse manager Eamonn McEvoy, who may have been the most relived man in Naas after all the hard work which led to this day paid off handsomely.
“Everyone was playing ball, doing what we asked, so it’s been very good. The procedure on entry was excellent. Even when I went in myself, I flew through it. It was a very good experience for me, and I haven’t heard anyone else complaining about it.
“It’s a very good system setup. We’ve had no money come into the track for a few months, so it was a very practical approach we took to this: Be practical, be cost-efficient, but do stuff that would work. And I think it has worked very well. We’ve had no negative feedback.
“We’ve done what we’ve been asked to do, and it worked very well, but I have to reiterate that it worked well because HRI and the IHRB have been brilliant. The staff in the office have had to re-plan the whole year, and the staff on the ground have done trojan work, and everyone needs to be appreciative of that.” This wasn’t an entirely new experience for Naas, having held a behind-closed-doors meeting in March, but the lessons learned from that day were applied for even greater adherence to all protocols.
“There are points at which there will be contact, like when a jockey is being legged up,” McEvoy added. “We put hand sanitizer in the parade ring and anyone who legs up has been asked to give their hands a wipe because they’ve been in direct contact with somebody else.
“We have the squares painted in the ring so people can see exactly where they are, and we try to clear the ring as quickly as possible after the races. A couple of times we’ve had to say ‘come on lads, get going’ but that’s the only advice I’d give to other racecourses: as soon as they dismount, you’ve got to clear people out, and don’t leave them standing around talking.
“Other than that, it’s great that we’re back, we need to stay going, and everyone needs to row in, and hopefully they will.” The icing on this particular cake for McEvoy was the quality of the card and the winners which came for it: “It’s great to see good horses and good racing. It’s very important, and it’s why we’re all in this game. And I’d say we’ll see a few of the winners head for Royal Ascot - and that’s what Naas always wants.”