‘At least we can make plans’ – Jessica Harrington welcomes June 8 date for return of Irish racing

Horse Racing Irish racing social distancing
Irish racing will resume behind closed doors with strict social distancing protocols on June 8.
Photo: Horse Racing Ireland/Alain Barr/Clonmel Racecourse

By Jon Lees

Ireland: Senior trainer Jessica Harrington has welcomed news on Friday that Irish racing will resume sooner than expected on June 8, the resumption having been brought forward three weeks from June 29 after a cabinet meeting on Friday.

Although some were pressing for an even earlier resumption, the Irish government acceded to a submission by Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) for the sport to be included in the second phase of the country’s roadmap out of lockdown. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar suggested Irish racing needed to be aligned to its counterparts in Britain and Ireland.

“It’s fantastic to get a concrete date,” commented Harrington. “You can now at least make plans. Sure I would have liked it to be earlier but to have a concrete date now means that when we get a programme of races published, which hopefully we will get by Monday, we can make a plan for all the horses.

“All we had before was June 29 so this is 21 days earlier, which is fantastic. We won’t complain about that; we would like it tomorrow if we could but it’s not going to happen.”

Horse Racing Jessica Harrington trainer with Alpha Centauri
Jessica Harrington: ready to make plans for a talented group of Classic candidates.
Photo: Horse Racing Ireland/Patrick McCann

Racing in Ireland was suspended on March 24 after ten meetings had already been staged behind closed doors. Now it has been given clearance to resume on the same basis with strict coronavirus protocols in force.

As a result only the key personnel needed to run race fixtures will be allowed on course, where all attendees will be subjected to health and temperature screening, must wear masks and observe social distancing.

Harrington said she could get to work on mapping out Classic plans for G1-winning fillies Albigna and Millisle, two of the leading candidates for this year’s European fillies’ Classic division. G2 winner Alpine Star and G3 winner Cayenne Pepper could also feature in her plans. 

Ireland: Jessica Harrington ponders Classic options for G1 stars Millisle and Albigna

Harrington explained: “The vague plan was to send one to England and one to France but until I see the dates for the Irish 1,000 Guineas I can’t make a plan. I will work back from the Irish Guineas and see who goes where.”

In France, where racing returned to action this week, the Pouliches has been rescheduled to June 1 while the Qipco 1,000 Guineas will take place on June 7, provided the sport has been cleared to resume on June 1.

HRI plans to publish a revised fixture list up to the end of June, which would include dates for the Irish 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas, as well as the details of the new raceday protocols.

Chief executive Brian Kavanagh  said: “We are grateful to be one of the sectors permitted to go back to work and acknowledge the responsibility on everybody in racing to ensure the events are run in a safe way.

“We know from our own experience in March when we safely ran ten meetings behind closed doors – and from what is happening in other countries like France, Germany, Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and America – that racing can be staged safely within the requirements of social distancing. 

“With significant input from the IHRB’s chief medical officer Dr Jennifer Pugh, we have strengthened the HRI COVID-19 protocols and so, while race fixtures will return in Ireland on June 8, they will be very different from what people will have experienced before.”

Speaking in a press briefing, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar defended the decision for bringing forward the resumption date.

“Horse racing was never specifically mentioned in the plan that we agreed back in April, so now it is, and horse racing behind close doors will be allowed to resume from the 8 June, and that’s taking into account what’s happening in the UK and what’s happening in France,” said Varadkar. 

“This is a big economic sector, a lot of people employed in it, worth nearly €500 million euro to the economy each year and because people won’t be able to travel to meetings, the amount of movement will be limited – it’s people travelling to and from their workplace, essentially, but won’t be open to spectators, not for the foreseeable future.

“We need to be aligned, or more or less aligned, with what’s happening in the UK and France in that regard,” he added.

• Read Horse Racing Ireland’s statement in full

GB: Mick Appleby finds the key to British lockdown: send runners to Sweden!

Royal Ascot: Could be next stop for Japanese star Deirdre

Coronavirus: ‘The damage will be devastating’ – Epsom trainer Adam West on plight of smaller yards amid coronavirus

USA: Preakness to be run in October as final leg of a Triple Crown like no other

USA: Monomoy Girl on the mark as racing returns to Churchill Downs