Racing behind closed doors is set to continue in Ireland following a meeting of officials on Wednesday.
Racing in Ireland has taken place without spectators since Friday due to the coronavirus pandemic, with two fixtures staged on Tuesday for St Patrick’s Day.
However, the British Horseracing Authority announced that after the two meetings which took place behind closed doors in England on Tuesday, racing in the UK would be suspended until the end of April.
Horse Racing Ireland considered whether it should also call a temporary halt to the action, but having examined the issue, it has opted to carry on racing, albeit with even more stringent controls.
The new restrictions imposed include no runners from overseas and no evening meetings or double fixtures, with the latter measure aimed at reducing the draw on medical resources.
Horse Racing Ireland said in a statement a sub-committee would continue to review the situation on a “daily basis”, while contingency planning for changes to race programming – should Irish racing need to be cancelled entirely for a period of time – was already under way.
HRI said the decision to continue racing is motivated by “the need to maintain employment and incomes for people working in the industry, and on the basis of being able to achieve and maintain all HSE (Health and Safety Executive) advice and instructions”.
Nicky Hartery, chairman of HRI, said: “These are unprecedented and sombre times and we are seeking the best ways to support the racing community and industry throughout what lies ahead.
“Health and welfare of employees and industry participants is the prime consideration and within that context, we have introduced protocols which can allow racing to continue and thousands of families who rely on the sector to maintain a livelihood.
“This will be kept under review on a daily basis and we are also planning measures for reprogramming fixtures as it becomes required. Changes to the programme will be separately announced.
“We have consulted with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine throughout this process and we will continue to strictly adhere to the Government and HSE advice.
“We have made it clear at all times that our medical facilities and personnel will be available for the Government to use if necessary – that will take precedence above any other consideration.”
In another change to protocols, jockeys’ weights will increase by 2lb from Friday, both on the Flat and in National Hunt races, with all racecourse saunas closed.
No owner will be permitted to attend race meetings for the foreseeable future, while there will be a maximum of 30-minute intervals between races to assist social distancing.
Brian Kavanagh, HRI chief executive, added: “This is clearly a rapidly changing situation and Horse Racing Ireland will continue to liaise with the relevant Government Departments and with our health advisors.
“The executive sub-committee of Horse Racing Ireland and the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board is meeting daily to assess the situation, and the Board of Horse Racing Ireland will continue to convene as required.
“Racecourses by their nature offer opportunities for social distancing that few other workplaces can.
“Nothing in Irish life is as it was a week ago, and in the same way, these are not race fixtures as we previously knew them, they are big open-air sites with very few people present and nobody on site if they are not involved: once a jockey or trainer has finished their business for the afternoon, they are required to leave.
“Furthermore, we have carried out risk assessments according to each individual racecourse facility, and some fixtures may be subject to greater restrictions and limitations to ensure social distancing is easily achievable and maintained.
“The Board paid tribute to the flexibility shown by stable staff, jockeys, trainers, owners and employees of the IHRB, HRI, the media and broadcasters.
“Strict measures were imposed on them almost immediately last Friday but their actions, care and vigilance have ensured that social distancing is being observed and racecourses continue to be a safe working environment.”
Friday’s planned evening meeting at Dundalk will now be held in the afternoon, while the meeting scheduled for Naas on Sunday – the first card of the new Flat season – has been moved to Monday.
Dundalk’s March 27 card has been brought forward to March 25 and becomes an afternoon fixture, with the meeting scheduled for Navan on March 28 now to be held a day earlier.
The meeting scheduled for the Curragh on Sunday, March 29 is another fixture with a new date. It will now be held on Saturday, March 28.