Irish Flat season salvaged with 39 more meetings added and Punchestown included

Horse Racing Ireland has managed to salvage 48 meetings which were lost during the Covid-19 lockdown, while Punchestown will play host to Flat racing for the first time in nearly 18 years.

A revised fixture list was released by HRI on Thursday afternoon and there was good news for trainers and owners as the Flat turf season was extended by a week to end at Naas on November 7.

Added to the nine extra meetings already announced for June and July were 39 more meetings during August, September, October and November. That means 331 of the original allocation of 370 fixtures will be staged in Ireland in 2020.

Punchestown lost their big end-of-season jumps festival due to the coronavirus, but they are set to stage a Flat fixture on September 3, subject to satisfactory trial gallops taking place over the proposed track layout in advance of the fixture. The track's other six reinstated fixtures will all remain National Hunt.

There has been no Flat racing at Punchestown since October 17, 2002. The most high-profile Flat horse to run there was High Chaparral, who was actually beaten on his debut when odds-on in September of 2001.

There will be two extra meetings at the Curragh in the final week of the Flat season, while significant extra Flat opportunities will be provided in November with the five Dundalk fixtures lost earlier in the year all being added back into that month.

There will be three all-weather meetings on Monday, Wednesday and Friday in each of the three weeks after the end of the Flat turf season, meaning that the overall number of Flat fixtures in November will double from seven to 14.

There will be no mixed meetings, although Jason Morris, HRI’s director of racing, has suggested that Listowel's Harvest festival in September could be in a position to do so. 

Morris said: "We have worked closely with all racecourses to develop a fixture list for the remainder of 2020 which is appropriate for both the horse population and each individual track, and we are very grateful for the excellent co-operation received from racecourse managers.

"We have spread the additional opportunities throughout the year and over both codes to reflect the meetings that were lost over the March to June period. By significantly expanding the number of Flat opportunities in November, including an extra week of turf racing, we are elongating the season in recognition of the severely delayed start experienced by owners, trainers and jockeys."

He added: "All fixtures which were due to be staged from the start of July onwards have been retained with no track foregoing any of their meetings although some have changed dates. The meeting at Laytown on September 1 will be kept under review to determine, based on the government guidance that will apply at the time, whether it is possible to implement the necessary protocols at the beach venue.

"Race meetings are all single code to minimise the number of people working at the racecourse with the possible sole exception of the Listowel festival. Depending upon social distancing requirements and potential crowd limitations in late September, Listowel could host mixed cards on the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of their seven-day festival. If this is not possible there will be five all-National Hunt days with Flat racing on the Monday and Thursday."