Ruby Walsh: run Cheltenham behind closed doors if necessary!

Foot and mouth - 2001. A year and three words I and anybody in agriculture or horse racing will never forget.

Ruby Walsh: run Cheltenham behind closed doors if necessary!

Foot and mouth - 2001. A year and three words I and anybody in agriculture or horse racing will never forget. The mass slaughter of farm animals in the UK, the outbreak on the Cooley peninsula here, the restrictions on the movement of livestock and bloodstock.

The cancellation of racing, firstly here and then in the UK. In Ireland it was a blanket ban, over there it was more of a regional one, depending on where the cases where were detected.

The north of England and Scotland were hit hardest but eventually infected sheep somewhere in the fields at the foot of Cleeve Hill, which caused the cancellation of the Cheltenham Festival.

Six weeks sitting on our hands, wondering how long would this last. Wondering why bloodstock had been paired up with livestock even though bloodstock couldn’t carry or be infected with foot-and-mouth disease.

Guidelines and regulations were issued after a few weeks and protocols put in place, just in time for Papillon to go to Aintree to try and retain his Grand National crown. He finished fourth in the end, and I mean the end, as I had to catch, remount and go again having parted company with him at the 19th fence.

Red Marauder won that famous renewal, but Cheltenham was never rescheduled. Instead, Sandown staged some consolation or replica races at its end-of-season meeting in April, the fallout from that being the Celebration Chase, originally put in as replacement but never taken out and then and now running in direct completion with Punchestown’s Grade 1 two-mile chase. Maybe that is the only negative still lingering from a troubled time.

None of that, really, has anything to do with the coronavirus, the spread of which is causing major alarm all around the world.

What will happen in the coming weeks is very much unknown territory and I have no doubt that elsewhere in this paper there are far more educated and informed opinions on it than mine.

What do I have an is opinion on what will happen or could happen with racing and all sporting events in the next few weeks or maybe even months. Hong Kong and Japan are continuing to race in empty racecourses, with all its Tote-type betting outlets, the equivalent of our betting shops, closed to the public and only gambling online being allowed.

Juventus and Inter will play in the Serie A this weekend in an empty stadium, as will three other games in the Serie A. Why play with no fans or crowd? Why not, is my answer. Is having the racing and football behind closed doors not the right thing to do? They can all be watched on TV. Not the same thing, I know that, but better than not being on at all.

If these games or race meeting are cancelled, rescheduling them is not straight forward.

Hundreds of thousands of people will commute through rail, bus and airport terminals every day next week in the UK, and have been since the virus spread to Europe.

Thousands are commuting and gathering all around Ireland every day too. But will cancelations like the Ireland v Italy rugby game really contain the spread of the virus or could the game have been played with Irish fans only?

Six flights a day from northern Italy land in Dublin, as in Milan, Turin and Bergamo. Do some simple and low estimates on that and you have 600 people a day by seven days.

A conservative 4,200 but obviously not all Italian, yet surely, it’s the location of where you are coming from rather than nationality that counts.

So, when will that game get played? I hear you saying: ‘does it matter?’ ‘Is it important in the grand scheme of things?’ ‘Surely containing the spread of the virus is the what’s most important?’

And you’re right. Just remember to look at it from both sides though. Sport is not everyone’s hobby or pastime. It is a profession to many and, in times like these, should be given the same respect as all other professions and industries.Stopping crowds and fans is not ideal but not allowing professionals to work is a far worse scenario for those who rely on it.

  • With Navan off today, Willie has just two runners this weekend, both at Leopardstown tomorrow.

I didn’t think Jon Snow would still be a maiden at this point in the season, but I suppose he improved a little with each of his three runs. He probably has Fakiera and Dinny Lacey to worry about tomorrow, but he is in good form and should go well.

Listen Dear switches back to hurdling for the two-and-a-quarter-mile race. She’s a couple of pounds wrong at the weights with Mengli Khan and, over hurdles, I think the trip will be sharp enough for her.

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