After 10 barren weeks, it is just a matter of days before horse racing returns in this country, and for most within the industry it cannot come soon enough.
Going racing will be a different experience, and the future remains uncertain, but next Monday is a positive step in the right direction.
“It’s been very tough on owners more than anyone, they are the bread and butter of the industry: No owner, no establishment,” said trainer Willie McCreery, as he yesterday reflected on a tough time globally but also looked forward to getting the show back on the road.
“After three months with no racing, you just want to get back to a norm in which you are racing. Owners could start to lose faith in what you are telling them but when you start racing, they start believing in you.
“But they have been very good, and very understanding. I have a lot of owner-breeders who need their horses racing. Racing is not just for punting: It’s a whole industry. Racing is the wheel of that industry and if that doesn’t turn the industry doesn’t turn, full stop.
“I have beautiful horses, but they are of no value until they start racing. Everything depends on racing, which you don’t realise until it stops.
I have no interest at all in betting, it’s stud farms, breeders in Ireland — huge breeders — who are the key.
“We need racing. We are the top jockeys and trainers in the world — not me, but the top trainer can compete anywhere in the world. And our horses have the best name in the world.
“Take Irishcorrespondent (formerly owned and trained in Ireland but now in Hong Kong and racing as Exultant), who has won five Group 1s in Sha Tin, as an example.
"Horses like that are invaluable to our industry. Agents buy Irish horses because they stand up to scrutiny.
“It’s a great benchmark for racing in the world. If they win here, they win elsewhere.”
While McCreery has his string ready to go, he admits getting the training schedule right was difficult when no date was set for the return.
“It was, about six weeks ago, an absolute nightmare because HRI had no start date.
"They were trying to tell people they were talking behind closed doors, but it is very hard for trainers to stop and start. I ended working horses when I didn’t have to.
“But having a date has been fantastic and now that we have our programme, it’s a new world, a new year — a different year. We will be flat out as much as possible, but health and safety must come into it as well, and I need my staff to be safe.
“I have about 30 horses ready to run, and have about 20 two-year-olds, backward sorts, and a few nice unraced three-year-old fillies which I won’t name as I know what’s good in practise won’t make a match.”
With the former All-Ireland finalist, a football analogy is never too far away, and another was reserved for leading light Up Helly Aa, who is developing into the horse he promised to be in his youth.
“He hasn’t grown but has widened a lot,” revealed McCreery. “He has put on nearly 30 kilos and is a ball of a horse. He was a tall gangly lad and was never going to make the minor team.
"The senior team was the plan but if we were too hard on him as a minor he might not want to play U21s. Too many lads get sickened if tested too early, but he always showed ability.
“But there’s no point thinking of him at this time, with fast ground. He’ll be for the end of season, when it is softer, and hopefully we’ll find something for him on Irish Champions Weekend.”
While that recent addition to the Irish calendar is set to go ahead in September, the football finals are not, and the possibility of a year without the All-Ireland championships is something McCreery is struggling to contemplate.
“I think it’s mad to say there’ll be no Gaelic Football this year. Imagine if we could see 32 counties into a round robin, be it October or later. Thirty-two into one, over five weekends, it would be some lift for the country.
“An open draw, home drawn first, make the home team choose venue.
"Everyone would love Dublin versus Galway in the first game of the season, or Mayo at home to Dublin. Imagine that. What a lift it would be.
“Wouldn’t it give us something to really look forward to?”