Irish jumps season not over just yet and Elliott has a suggestion for HRI

The lights have not been turned off on the Irish jumps season just yet, as Horse Racing Ireland have given themselves seven days to come up with proposals on how to end the campaign should racing resume in the foreseeable future, and Gordon Elliott has a suggestion for them.

The leading trainer thinks some of the festival days at Fairyhouse and Punchestown can be saved by running them on the same week some time in May.

Elliott said: "We are still planning for Punchestown until we are told otherwise. What else can we do? I do think we need to put our heads together and come up with a way of finishing the jumps season if at all possible.

"My suggestion would be to have three days of Punchestown and one or two days from Fairyhouse's Easter meeting and run them some time in May on the same week if we can. I think most of the industry would be satisfied with a plan like that."

The HRI board held a meeting on Wednesday morning to discuss the implications of Tuesday's decision to stop all sporting events and revealed that negotiations are underway with the Irish government to agree financial support for those in the industry who have been affected by the temporary postponement of racing.

"The board have asked Jason Morris [HRI director of racing] to review the fixture loss implications and the various options of possible rescheduling of those lost meetings and come back to us with suggestions at the next board meeting to be held next Wednesday," said HRI chief executive Brian Kavanagh. 

He added: "Our policy has always been to look for scope to reschedule meetings if at all possible and this will be the case in this situation too.

"Obviously we are unsure when the resumption of racing will happen and in what shape or form when it does resume. That could mean going behind closed doors again and, what we have learnt from the last two weeks, is that racing behind closed doors is doable. There does come a time when rescheduling certain meetings becomes impractical, though, and that is something we will have to consider as well."

"We have run ten race fixtures behind closed doors over the last two weeks through the diligence of key stakeholders in the industry; key personnel in the racecourses, HRI and the IHRB [Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board] staff; the Order of Malta and medical practitioners; and the media.

"What this has proven is that race fixtures can be safely staged while at the same time offering some level of business continuity for a crucial rural industry. The vital experience gained from staging these meetings behind closed doors may assist us to return racing as soon as possible. For the immediate future, however, there are more important priorities."

Those more important priorities include trying to secure a series of measures to support the financial, physical and mental wellbeing of industry participants in the current climate. 

Kavanagh said: "Similar to most industries, the racing and breeding sector will have to look forward now. We will continue our engagement with government around the supports that are available for the many people in our industry who have now lost their jobs and whose earning capacity has dramatically reduced. Racing and breeding supports almost 29,000 full-time employees – mostly in rural Ireland – and a sustained period without racing impacts thousands of those jobs.

“When racing went behind closed doors, many staff including bookmakers, Tote staff, catering staff and other racecourse service providers stopped earning. As of yesterday’s stoppage, many others including jockeys, trainers, stable staff, media and many other service providers joined that list.

"In the long term, a cessation of racing has major financial implications for racecourses, sales companies breeders and betting organisations such as the Tote. Supports will be necessary for each of these areas and HRI will work with all parties to achieve this."

During the meeting on Wednesday, the HRI board expressed its full and ongoing support to the efforts of the government to fight the transmission of Covid-19 and pledged the input of racing’s personnel and infrastructure to assist as necessary. Cork racecourse will be used as a testing centre from Thursday. 

HRI chariman Nicky Hartery said: "What is most important is that as a country we do all we can individually and collectively to fight the transmission of Covid-19 and focus on our health, ensuring that resources such as medical facilities and personnel are allocated where the need is most.

"We have consistently said that racing’s facilities are at the disposal of the government. Yesterday [Tuesday], the HSE [Health and Safety Executive] began preparations to use Cork Racecourse in Mallow as a much-needed testing centre for the virus and the centre will be operational from tomorrow.

"HRI will be working with the HSE and the government to identify other elements of racing’s personnel and infrastructure that could be used in the co-ordinated reaction to the crisis."