Keane and Moore take advantage as Group 1 riders get Irish quarantine exemption
Boost to international riders hoping to compete at Irish Champions Weekend
Jockeys travelling to participate in Group 1 races on Longines Irish Champions Weekend will not have to serve a mandatory 14-day quarantine period upon arriving in the country following a change in protocols.
The change in regulations for elite athletes is a major boost to jockeys who wish to ride in Group 1 races in Ireland, and Irish-based jockeys competing in top-level races aboard, and has had an immediate impact, with leading riders Ryan Moore, Colin Keane and Billy Lee all altering their Group 1 plans this weekend.
Keane and Lee are now able to ride Siskin and Romanised respectively in Sunday’s Prix du Moulin at Longchamp, while Moore, who had been in quarantine in Tipperary since Saturday night for Irish Champions Weekend, is booked for three rides at Haydock on Saturday, including Lope Y Fernandez in the Betfair Sprint Cup.
Government regulations involving international travel in Ireland require anyone entering the country to self-isolate upon arrival, but Horse Racing Ireland chief executive Brian Kavanagh confirmed fresh protocols for elite athletes will be implemented for Group 1 races, a move Keane and Lee were quick to welcome on Thursday.
Keane said: “It's great news. Ger [Lyons] spoke to me late last night that it was looking like we'd get the go-ahead, I was delighted to hear it."
Under the new requirements, which are in line with recent regulations released by the government for top-level sportspeople, riders will be subject to a risk assessment for each time they intend to compete abroad and will undergo three Covid-19 tests – once before travelling and twice on their return.
The Republic Of Ireland's national football team will also abide by the criteria for elite sportspeople outlined by the government. The team are in action in Bulgaria on Thursday evening and host Finland in Dublin's Aviva Stadium this week in the UEFA Nations League.
Keane, who spent 14 days in quarantine after finishing third on the Irish 2,000 Guineas hero Siskin in the Sussex Stakes, is scheduled for a Covid-19 test on Thursday night in advance of his top-level assignment in France this weekend.
"I have to get a test tonight for the all-clear, again on Monday morning and seven days after,” said Keane, who turns 26 next week. “Hopefully everything should be fine and we can go back to normal then.”
The six-strong Prix du Moulin has attracted a top-class field, with Prix Jean Prat star Pinatubo a possible, along with fellow Godolphin colts Persian King and Victor Ludorum.
Queen Anne Stakes scorer Circus Maximus is also in contention for the €270,000 prize, as is Romanised, who was originally due to be ridden by Olivier Peslier but will now be partnered by regular rider Lee.
"We're going to France very hopeful and he's come out of his run in the Jacques le Marois in good form," said Lee. "It's looking like a very strong race but hopefully our horse should be bang there if everything goes well."
Irish racing's governing body had previously written to the department of agriculture in advance of next week's Longines Irish Champions Weekend, seeking clarification as to whether an elite sporting exemption could be implemented ahead of an important autumn period.
Without such an agreement, top British-based rider William Buick would have been unable to ride Ghaiyyath in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown should connections decide to run.
"There are a new set of protocols, which will be published on the HRI RAS website soon for international travel," said Kavanagh. "They're based on the guidelines that were published last Friday by the government in relation to international elite athletes.
"The details of what needs to be done are in there, but in simple terms, each proposed travel has to be subject to a risk assessment and there's a testing programme required, as well as an isolation or travel bubble element required while travelling."
He added: "The protocols apply to Group 1 races in any country, subject to the risk assessment, which [IHRB senior medical officer] Jennifer Pugh will do."
Rumours of a change in policy began to emanate when Moore was booked for rides at Haydock on Saturday. The jockey can now travel between the two countries and ride at both Haydock and Irish Champions Weekend, provided he adheres to the agreed Covid-19 protocols.
Talking on his Betfair blog, Moore said: ‘’Many thanks to the Irish government, and Horse Racing Ireland, for lifting the mandatory 14-day quarantine period for jockeys on Thursday, so my isolation in Ballydoyle has come to an end and I am now on the way back home.
“The decision makes a lot of sense, given what is happening in other sports like football, and all credit for those to have made this happen.”
Lope Y Fernandez had originally been on course for a tilt at the Derrinstown Stud Flying Five Stakes at the Curragh next weekend, but a pleasing piece of work on Thursday morning has persuaded Aidan O'Brien to declare the high-class three-year-old for Haydock.
"We're happy for him to take his chance after he went very well this morning," O'Brien told the Racing Post on Thursday. "We weren't going to run him but we just changed our minds."
Kavanagh explained the requirements for the risk assessment riders will have to undertake, saying: “It's a complex matrix. It involves the country in which the event is being held, what the situation is with the disease there, will it be held in multiple venues, will it include competitors from a large number of countries, will it include events that could increase the spread of the disease and so forth."
He added: "Looking at it from the point of view of what will be a small number of jockeys travelling, this will be at the low to very low end of the risk matrix, but that assessment has to be done on a case-by-case basis.
"It's another step along the way and we'll see how it goes. The challenge is to run it in a safe and secure fashion. The protocols are comprehensive and strong."
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