Travellers videoed racing ponies through traffic on a busy main road in Co Cork are likely to be prosecuted, Garda sources have said.
Internet footage of the controversial sulky race on lightweight traps has sparked outrage among road safety chiefs, animal welfare groups and community representatives.
Two men can be seen weaving through traffic at high speed on the Cork to Mallow road and narrowly avoiding oncoming cars in the six-minute clip.
Superintendent Con Cadogan of Gurranabraher Garda Station described the race as “a clear breach of road traffic legislation and posed a significant danger to those involved and to other road users”.
One man in his 20s has been arrested over public order offences and was released without charge. A file is being prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Between 60 to 70 spectators and several cars and vans were at the scene when gardai were called shortly after 7am last Saturday May 5 by concerned motorists.
Gardaí say they are confident they can identify more people from the footage and plan to bring charges for alleged road traffic and animal cruelty offences.
A YouTube video of the race was viewed by more than 25,000 people within a couple of days of going live.
The film shows oncoming cars swerve as a garda patrol car chases the two men racing ponies. Officers then opt to speed ahead in an attempt to slow them from the front. Other traffic following the race can be seen driving two or three abreast while oncoming vehicles are forced onto the hard shoulder.
Travellers’ representative group Pavee Point urged members of the community to only take part in official sulky races.
A spokesman said: “Pavee Point is concerned that all the participants involved in the event filmed placed themselves, their animals and other road users in danger.
“This was a completely unacceptable misuse of a public road and Pavee Point calls on anybody contemplating similar activities to stop and consider the safety of their animals, themselves and other road users.
“We are concerned that the practice of sulky racing, which is a long-standing tradition within and outside the Traveller community, should not be conflated with the actions of the participants in this event.
“Sulky racing can be carried out in a way which is safe and well regulated, where there is space for it to take place. Examples of good practice exist around Ireland.”
Sulkies are lightweight traps or carts raced by ponies and are popular in some race meetings in Ireland and North America where it is also known as harness racing.
The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA) said sulky racing was not a new phenomenon.
The charity revealed it has come to the aid of many ponies injured as a result of trotting on hard surfaces.
Chief Inspector Conor Dowling said: “The risks to the animals involved in these races are great.
“The ponies are travelling at high speeds and, if they collide with anything or simply stumble and fall, the results can be devastating.
“Accidents can quite easily occur during the training of these ponies and horses.
“In addition, the joints of the animals take a pounding when trotting on hard surfaces which can cause permanent damage, particularly when young ponies and horses are involved.”