Irish jockeys' chief hails 'huge buy-in by everyone to stay racing'
A strong collective buy-in from all sections of Irish racing has been the only way the sport has been able to operate despite the coronavirus pandemic, the head of the Irish Jockeys Association (IJA) said on Thursday.
Irish racing has bucked the trend in Europe by continuing to operate, albeit with strict personnel, hygiene and safety restrictions outlined by Horse Racing Ireland following a crucial meeting on Wednesday, with action set to take place behind closed doors at Dundalk on Friday.
By contrast, no racing will take place in Britain until at least the end of April, but BHA chief executive Nick Rust declared the sport “will not be beaten” by Covid-19 as a package to support the industry and prepare for the return of racecourse action moved closer to being finalised.
Fixtures in Ireland are scheduled to take place over the coming week, and IJA secretary Andrew Coonan made it clear that jockeys know they must play their part if racing is to continue to get the approval to take place while other parts of society come to a halt.
“We’re cautiously optimistic and hope we can continue for another period of time,” he said. “It’s only because there’s been such a huge buy-in by everyone that we’re able to stay racing at all. When times are hard like this everyone has to step up and make sure they are there to help each other.
“The jockeys are always great in times of crisis in terms of helping each other and this has been no different. They realise the importance of what’s going on but also the importance of keeping racing going, because when it shuts down, if it shuts down, then a lot of people are going to be significantly affected by it.”
With racing requiring medical services, such as ambulances, to take place, the image of the sport is something that has been raised.
Paul Struthers, chief executive of the Professional Jockeys Association (PJA), stated it had been considered before the final decision was made to cancel British racing until May on the advice of medical experts.
He said: "Everyone was aware of it and it was right that it was thought about. It was a factor with all of the other sports closing of ‘how did we look?’
"It did not inform or enforce the decision — it was entirely medically based — but it was an important consideration all the same."
Similar considerations had been taken into account in Ireland, and Coonan added: “Provided we can ensure there’s a safe environment to race in that doesn’t take away from the overall medical effort then I think we should, and must, keep racing going for as long as we can.”
With no racing set to take place in Britain until May 1 at the earliest, the PJA is working to provide information and reassurance to its members, chiefly around financial concerns.
Struthers said: “Generally they’ve been understanding of the decision to stop racing given they know things are happening, and I think there’s been a modicum of reassurance in amongst that.”
While there is no certainty around when racing will resume in Britain, Struthers outlined how the PJA and the BHA have already been in discussions around providing a weight allowance for jockeys due to restricted facilities and overall health.
He said: “I’d already been in discussions with the BHA that we factor in, for want of a better term, a ‘Covid allowance’ for riders.
“I suspect we won’t go back to racing as it was straight away and there will be a gradual return, which will require this allowance to be factored in still, and in those early discussions the BHA was quite supportive in its response.”
On Thursday, the BHA published an outline of the industry plan covering finance, people, medical and equine, with the strategy expected to be completed and agreed on Friday.
The sport’s governing body also revealed “effort is already directed at making sure racing is ready to return at the earliest possible opportunity".
Rust said: “The effort from across the sport at the moment is incredible. There is a determination that racing will not be beaten by this shutdown. The willingness to help is universal. We will do all we can to keep people informed as we progress."
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