It’s been a long while coming, but horse racing fans, at last, have something to cheer about – the season will finally resume next month. Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) announced a revised three-week horse racing fixture list over the weekend, with June 8th marking its resumption at Naas.
The first of the season’s Irish Classics have been provisionally scheduled for the middle of June, with the 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas held at the Curragh on June 12th and 13th respectively. The other Classics – the Irish Derby and Irish Oaks – will be held on their traditional dates at the Curragh, with the Derby on June 27th and the Oaks on July 18th.
While the flat season dominates the first few weeks of the revised calendar, as expected, the first jumps race since the season was suspended in mid-March due to the coronavirus pandemic will take place later in the month. June 22nd sees the National Hunt season resume at Limerick. There’s no doubt that fans and punters alike are revelling in the news and it won’t be long before the latest racecards and pre-race odds can be found on Betfair.
Much like horse racing on the continent, meetings will be limited (to eight races) and held behind closed doors. To further contain the spread of the virus, racing will commence in Ireland at just nine racecourses, all of which are centrally located to minimise travel distances, but also have higher stable capacities, to conform to distancing measures. As well as the aforementioned courses of Naas, Curragh and Limerick, HRI operated tracks at Navan, Tipperary, Fairyhouse and Leopardstown will be used, in addition to Gowran and Roscommon. Fans will be surprised to see Cork not listed as one of the named racecourses, but it will continue to act as a Covid-19 HSE Test Centre.
As we saw in France earlier this month, when racing resumed at Longchamp in Paris, the prize purses have been cut dramatically, as a result of the implications the virus has had on the economy. This will be much the same in Ireland, the HRI has announced – and prize money reductions will be tiered, depending on the level and class of the race. It’s believed that minimum value races will be cut by €1,000, with Group 1 races being hit the hardest with reductions between 30 and 50%. Both the 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas will see their purse adjusted significantly to €250,000 each, while the Irish Derby has seen a 50% reduction in its prize funds – from €1.5m last year to just €750,000 this year.
HRI Chief Brian Kavanagh explained the situation: “Regrettably, due to the financial circumstances of the industry, prize money cuts are inevitable and we have adopted a tiered approach, endeavouring to protect the grassroots of the industry as much as possible.
“We expect there to be significant demand for horses to run once we resume, and we will aim to provide opportunities across the spectrum of age, gender and ability. We will have missed 11 weeks’ racing which will take some time to catch up.”
And while participation for international runners has been limited to Group 1 and 2 races only throughout June, the HRI envisages this should hopefully be lifted ahead of July’s racecards. During this time, overseas connections will have to comply with government legislation with regards to quarantining and this could see international horses being handled by Irish staff and ridden by Irish jockeys – with the only exception to this rule being Northern Ireland. The Classics will certainly have a very different feel if that is the case, but it’s a great opportunity for young homegrown jockeys to make a name for themselves.
It’s been a long 11 weeks, but finally there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and for those associated with the sport, it’s time to prepare for some of the biggest races and meetings in the horse racing calendar.