Leopardstown's Christmas festival forced to go behind closed doors
Leopardstown's four-day Christmas festival will be staged behind closed doors in a bitter last-minute blow for the track.
The meeting, which begins on December 26, had been expected to have 5,000 racegoers in attendance, but rising Covid-19 cases in the country and among the course's staff have left officials at Leopardstown with no choice but to stage the fixture without spectators.
Industry personnel, owners and Leopardstown members will be allowed to attend, with the track's chief executive Tim Husbands believing it would be "impossible" to have other people there.
Husbands said: "We have seen the rising case numbers nationally and locally reflected in our staff over the past few days, a situation that has become increasingly concentrated over the past 24 hours and has forced us to make this late decision.
"It makes it impossible for Leopardstown to provide a safe and enjoyable experience for the general public and has led us to make the difficult call to close the festival to the general public.
"I know this will be hugely disappointing news to all of those who had purchased tickets in advance, as it is deeply disappointing to the team here who have worked so hard in putting a fantastic festival together."
On Monday Husbands had spoken of the hard work staff at the track had done last weekend to ensure the track could honour all tickets sold for the Christmas festival.
The Irish government announced last Friday a cap of 5,000 people, or 50 per cent of capacity, was being introduced at sporting events until January 30 to combat the spread of the Omicron variant.
Leopardstown will not be the only track to hold racing behind closed doors over the festive period, with Chepstow’s Welsh National card to be run without spectators for the second season running after the Welsh government announced further Covid-19 measures.
Musselburgh’s New Year’s Day fixture has been similarly impacted by restrictions imposed by the Scottish government.
As it stands, all racing in England over the busy festive period will take place with uncapped crowds in attendance, including at Kempton’s two-day King George meeting.
The Covid cases within Leopardstown's staff has forced the track to seek help from other racecourse's workforce to help the Christmas festival go ahead in a scaled-back form, with refunds for those who had tickets to be processed as soon as possible.
"We have managed to deploy staff from other racecourses and we’ve had colleagues from Horse Racing Ireland who answered the call and kindly volunteered to work at Leopardstown over Christmas," Husbands added. "However, that still hasn’t been sufficient as we have not been able to keep pace with the volume of staff who, in particular, have been identified as close contacts.
"In addition, we know that our experience with cases and close contacts has been replicated in our third-party suppliers which by itself would have had implications next week.
"Thankfully we still have the staff necessary and expertise to put on four brilliant days of racing from Sunday, and can ensure industry professionals, owners, our members and our sponsors representatives, that they will be safe at Leopardstown for what unfortunately will be a pared-back festival."
Limerick's four-day Christmas festival, which also begins on December 26, is set to still welcome the capped number of 5,000 spectators each day.
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