Racing Post: Ireland is the latest racing nation to fall foul of the coronavirus pandemic after the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced that all sporting events were to be cancelled as of midnight on Tuesday, including those behind closed doors, until April 19 at the earliest.
The development came just a day after the turf Flat season got underway at Naas and means the remainder of the campaign is now in the same uncertain territory as Britain, France and other major international jurisdictions.
Irish racing fixtures had been held behind closed doors since March 13 with strict protocols in place, but now racing must stop, with Tuesday’s seven-race card at Clonmel the last meeting to take place for the foreseeable future. Dundalk’s all-weather card will not go ahead on Wednesday.
The enforced shutdown in Ireland means at least 23 fixtures could potentially be lost to the coronavirus, most notably the BoyleSports Irish Grand National meeting at Fairyhouse over Easter, should they not be rescheduled.
A Horse Racing Ireland board meeting is set to be held on Wednesday morning to discuss the implications of the more extreme measures taken by the Irish government to tackle Covid-19.
Barry Geraghty, whose Champion Hurdle victory on Epatante was one of five wins at the Cheltenham Festival earlier this month, says he understands the decision to stop racing as he feels not only livelihoods, but lives, are at stake right now.
Geraghty said: “There is a bigger picture now. We’d all love to be racing, but we’d also love to be living in a world where there was no coronavirus.
“People are out of jobs as it is in all sectors, so as much as we’d love to see racing going on, there is too much at stake. As I say, there is a bigger picture. Like everything else now it’s another industry that is going to suffer as a result of what’s happening.
“You’d love to see an improvement in the situation by April 19 but that’s not necessarily likely either. It’s a bit scary, as there are a lot of lives at stake now, not just livelihoods.”
Ireland’s champion Flat trainer Aidan O’Brien suggested the priority had to be on ensuring the health of as many people as possible.
“Obviously the most important thing is the health and safety of everybody,” O’Brien said.
“That’s the reality of the situation now. We need to keep people as healthy and as safe as possible and whatever everybody has to do to achieve that is the right thing to do.
“Everyone in racing has shown they are fully behind implementing the requirements and we will do whatever is necessary. All we can do is help everyone that is on the front line dealing with this crisis. We can only hope and pray now and be vigilant in adhering to the government guidelines. After that, we will just have to take it day by day.”
Horse Racing Ireland chief executive Brian Kavanagh paid tribute to those who had worked tirelessly over the last 11 days to ensure Irish racing continued behind closed doors in the face of such adversity.
Kavanagh said: “Ireland is always good in a crisis. It was wonderful to see the enthusiasm and cooperation from so many different sectors of the industry, from the jockeys, trainers, media, medical people, Order of Malta, IHRB and everyone else who worked so hard to ensure everything ran smoothly.”
When asked whether the Fairyhouse Easter festival would be lost and if the Punchestown festival in late April might fall victim to the new measures, Kavanagh replied: “There is a HRI board meeting on Wednesday morning where all those things will be discussed.”
Fairyhouse was due to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Irish Grand National on Easter Monday, April 13, but that looks very unlikely to happen now.
The Irish Grand National has only failed to take place twice in its history, since Sir Robert Peel won the first running in 1870. It was cancelled in 1919 during the War of Independence and was also lost in 1941 due to an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.
Fairyhouse manager Peter Roe said: “We’re digesting the news at the moment. It’s not a total surprise given the current situation around the world, but it would be very sad if the 150th anniversary of the Irish Grand National would be remembered like this.
“We were working towards racing over Easter but you have to look at the bigger picture and understand what’s at stake here for the greater good of the country.
“There will be major financial implications for Fairyhouse, as there will with all the other racecourses who have lost meetings during this time.”
Speaking in an address to the nation on Tuesday evening, Varadkar said: “All sporting events are cancelled, including those held behind closed doors. These are unprecedented actions to respond to an unprecedented emergency.
“We’re in this for the long haul and this could go on for weeks, if not months. Stay at home, if at all possible.”