Ruby Walsh: HRI face tricky task in rescheduling National Hunt programme

Things are changing daily on the Covid-19 front, the number of cases and, sadly, deaths are on the constant increase, but I think the government is doing pretty much all it can to keep us safe whilst still trying to keep some income flowing into households.
Ruby Walsh: HRI face tricky task in rescheduling National Hunt programme

Things are changing daily on the Covid-19 front, the number of cases and, sadly, deaths are on the constant increase, but I think the government is doing pretty much all it can to keep us safe whilst still trying to keep some income flowing into households.

Nobody knows where this road we are on is going to take us but, looking into my own sport, it is most certainly a road with a lot twists and turns.

I don’t think anybody got a great shock from HRI’s announcement on Wednesday about the future plans for racing amid the lockdown. A plan to give people something to focus on and think about was needed.

As predicted, the jump season of 2019/20 is over. Punchestown 2020 has been cancelled, but there are plans to run the Irish Grand National at some point in the autumn.

When that will happen has yet to be decided but perhaps instead of the Porterstown Handicap Chase at Fairyhouse on the Hatton’s Grace card, the Irish Grand National could slot in.

The Troytown Chase at Navan could be run two weeks earlier than its usual slot, and those who had intended running in the Porterstown could run in the Cork National with the aim of winning and maybe getting themselves a run in the big one.

That said, whatever changes HRI are to make to the National Hunt program, there should be no alterations made to the standard schedule after the Hatton’s Grace card or the implications of the Covid-19 cancellations will just keep rolling on and on.

The Flat programme is a whole new ball game. HRI have said that when racing does resume it will do so with a month of Flat racing.

I can understand that, but I am not certain some of the National Hunt brigade or jumps tracks like Wexford, Kilbeggan and Downpatrick will be in favour, or even those with very little Flat racing, like Thurles or Tramore, will be seeing that in a favourable light.

Racecourses are businesses too and the revenue lost from TV rights money will be hitting them very hard. HRI didn’t put a date on a return but they could maybe have said racing won’t start before a certain time.

The UK authorities announcing that there will be no National Hunt racing before July 1 has at least given some clarity, so plans around breaks for horses as well as staffing and stabling costs can be budgeted for. For my money, the early Flat season is lost - and lost to everyone.

Nobody will have an unfair advantage whenever it resumes, so all the Guineas and Derby trials should just be forgotten for this season.

By all means, replace the pattern (Group and Listed) races throughout the season, but when we do kick-off we should do so with the Guineas as our opening weekend.

In all likelihood, that will be behind closed doors and could be months away, but it should lead to the Derby and Oaks three weeks later and the normal outline of the program followed but tightened dramatically in terms of the gap between big races.

At best, two and a half months of the Flat season will have been lost so extending the season is an option worth considering. It’s not something Frankie Dettori saw as the real answer when he spoke on Game On on Tuesday evening, because running Flat racing on winter ground is like hurling on soft ground: doable, but not pretty to watch or a reflection of anyone’s true talent.

November could be dry but running the turf Flat season beyond early December will only be an effort to run off all the black-type races to enhance pedigrees, so perhaps extending the Dundalk all-weather program might be of more benefit.

It was only last winter that a Group 1 turf two-year-old race at Doncaster was rescheduled for the all-weather at Newcastle having initially been lost to the weather.

The point to point season is gone too but hopefully they might have the autumn program to look forward to, leaving them in a slightly better position than their Flat pinhooking counterparts who are no doubt heavily stocked on two-year-olds, which have a shorter shelf life in terms of resale value.

Both of these sectors should have been reaching a time to try and liquidate some of their assets but obviously they can’t do that now. Like the stock markets and pension funds, they are watching their investments dwindle in front of their eyes - the big difference being a share doesn’t need to be fed every day.

The people with store horses (unbroken three and four-year-olds) will have to ride this out in the hope the sales can be rearranged in the autumn, and those with foals and yearlings will be hoping all has returned to normal by autumn before their sale season kicks off.

The worry is: what will normal look like for us all in six months’ time? Hopefully we are all still here to contemplate it but, financially, the world could be very different. Racehorses are a luxury item and those invested right now are sweating over more than just their health.

The number of licensed trainers in Ireland since 2005 has fallen from 121 to 81 and that will contract again. Fewer trainers will mean fewer runners, so fewer riders will be needed too, etc. etc.

But the ones who may well feel the financial backlash most are the traders. There is no doubt your health is your wealth.

We may well get on top of the virus at some stage but its effects will spread very wide and very deep.

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