Brian Kavanagh, chief executive of Horse Racing Ireland, yesterday expressed concern over the financial implications of racing behind closed doors.
He said on Racing TV’s Luck on Sunday programme: “So far we’ve had two meetings under the ‘closed-door’ policy and they went fine. There were a couple of little learnings, but nothing major.
“Obviously we don’t know what is around the corner with this outbreak and we’re conscious that it was the infection of coaches and players which effectively closed the football down. That is the sort of thing you would be concerned about.
“We’re confident at the moment. We had the meeting in Navan on Sunday, which would usually have 2,500 people. It went ahead with less than 300 people there and most of them were either involved with a horse or working at the meeting. That’s comfortably within the (Irish) Government’s guidelines of limits of 500 people.”
He added: “The initial Government instruction was until March 29, so for the next two weeks at least we will be under these circumstances. Who knows what happens thereafter?
“Navan on Saturday was a sorry sight to see, but you’ve got to look at the bigger picture - there’s a major public health issue here, so we’re just glad to be able to keep racing.”
Kavanagh acknowledges racing behind closed doors will have significant economic implications, not only for the ruling body but for the sport as a whole.
He said: “The longer it goes on it will be a challenge (for HRI financially), but I don’t think that’s the important issue at the moment, the important issue is to try to get a grip on this disease and its spread.
“I think it’s our duty to try and keep the wheels turning - keep prize-money going into the system and keep people earning a living.
“Anyone working in yards are dependent on racing continuing, so it is a concern. It’s a concern probably as much for racecourses as it is for Horse Racing Ireland as they’re losing sponsorship and gate receipts.
“You can survive on media rights revenue for a couple of meetings, as a long-term proposition that’s not viable, but there’s no choice.”
Asked whether he felt Irish horses and racegoers could be restricted from travelling to Aintree, should the meeting take place, Kavanagh said: “There’s no policy (on movement) at the moment. We’re guided completely, as we were in relation to Cheltenham, by the Irish Government.
“There’s been a big shift in public mood over here, only in the course of the last week. Going to Cheltenham wasn’t an issue as people left and then once people were in Cheltenham, we were becoming aware of disquiet back home that there were so many Irish people at such a major meeting as Cheltenham.
“There’s no restrictions on horses at the moment and let’s hope by the time Aintree comes around there’ll be some light at the end of the tunnel. It’s hard to see it, but we’re meeting on a daily basis and we’re taking it one step at a time.
“Aintree is a consideration, but that’s a little bit down the road.”
Prominent owner Rich Ricci enjoyed two winners at Cheltenham, with Min in the Thursday’s Ryanair Chase and Monkfish striking gold in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle on Friday.
Ricci spoke of his surprise the meeting went ahead unaffected, but praised the efforts of the team at Cheltenham.
He said: “Surprising is the word that comes to mind. I thought all week they might do something, but I suppose you follow the advice you’re given.
“We heard what the Government said all week and I thought Cheltenham did an outstanding job - the precautions they took, the extra sanitisers around, the encouragement for people to wash their hands and the extra hot water they brought in the last day.
“I know there’s a bit of controversy about some of the Irish going back to Ireland and not self quarantining. That will be interesting, to see how that plays out, given they took a very different approach to what we did in this country.
“I was surprised (racing went ahead unaffected) and I think the prospect of behind closed doors racing must be pretty high, unfortunately - but we’ve got to act in the public and national interest.”