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Safety of workers jeopardised by late Dundalk finishes argue stable staff bosses

Dundalk: a serious medical incident forced the track to abandon after just two races
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The safety of workers heading home from Dundalk's popular evening fixtures is being jeopardised by late finishes to racing, senior figures representing trainers and stable staff have warned.

For the two weeks before Christmas and first six weeks in January and February, Dundalk has agreed to run its last race at 8.30pm, rather than 9pm, allowing stable staff and trainers to make an earlier exit in a bid to avoid icy conditions. However, that does not go far enough according to Irish Stable Staff boss Bernard Caldwell and Racehorse Trainers' Association chief Michael Grassick, who have called for an 8pm finish over winter.

Grassick, whose son, also Michael, trains on the Curragh in County Kildare, said: “People don’t realise how late stable staff are getting home from the races. From my own experience if you've a runner in the last race at 9pm, it will be after midnight that you're back at the Curragh and we all know that the majority of the trainers at Dundalk on a Friday night are making much longer trips than that, and many have to be in work next morning.

“It would be most desirable if we could finish each meeting at 8pm, particularly at this point, given the pressures the industry is facing from the Workplace Relations Committee and the staffing issues that face the sport."

Caldwell concurs with Grassick, and said: “I just hope it doesn’t take an accident for us to open our eyes and realise what we're asking our stable staff to do on a weekly basis.

“A lot of the secondary roads are not gritted over the winter and it remains a dangerous proposition driving home from the races very late at night. We hope we're listened to on the matter.”

Michael Grassick: “That is true, and I have written to the IHRB’s chief executive Denis Egan and to the chief veterinary officer Lynn Hillyer asking them to explain what happened at that meeting."

Dundalk chief executive Jim Martin argues an earlier finish – and therefore earlier start – would deter racegoers from attending, but stresses the track is trying to strike a balance to keep everybody happy.

He said: “Our goal is to encourage more people to come racing and we’ve found that people simply won’t take a half-day on a Friday to come racing, which is why the late starts work for us.”

He added: “We have tried to accommodate everybody by starting earlier for the eight weeks over the Christmas period but, long-term, we simply wouldn’t attract customers through the door if we had an earlier start.”

Grassick sees no reason why Dundalk and Wolverhampton, which often race on Fridays, can’t take turns in starting early each week.

He explained: “Wolverhampton and Dundalk seem to be competing against each other on At The Races, and I don’t see why the two tracks couldn’t interchange each week.

“For example, one week Wolverhampton could start and finish early, while the next it would be Dundalk’s turn. I think that would be a good way to start as we need to do something.”

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I just hope it doesn’t take an accident for us to open our eyes and realise what we’re asking our stable staff to do

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