JUST after 1.50pm on Sunday, jockey Denis Hogan arrived back into the winners’ enclosure at Limerick Racecourse after taking the opening contest, the Follow Limerick On Facebook Hurdle with Cafe Con Leche.
There was no warm ovation, no fanfare, no loud cheering.
This is racing in Ireland in mid-March 2020, behind-closed-doors, no members of the public present, taking place under strict guidelines as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. But this way horses get to run, the trainers, jockeys, stable staff remain gainfully employed.
The strict Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) measures which have allowed horse racing to take place behind-closed-doors since Friday last are aligned with Government instruction to limit external gatherings to less than 500 people.
The guidelines include social distancing measures being implemented at tracks. Access is restricted to essential service providers and industry participants. There are no catering services, on course bookmakers or Tote services provided.
One groom per runner declared is admitted to the racecourse as well as only one owner per runner. Only trainers of horses running at the meeting are allowed enter the racecourse.
All participants are asked to vacate the racecourse after their horses have run.
The measures also include additional space between individuals being provided within the weighroom to ensure social distancing along with additional alternative facilities for jockeys’ changing to ensure best practice hygiene throughout.
A designated isolation room must be provided at each racecourse for individual use in the event any person presents with virus symptoms.
Limerick Racecourse general manager Patrick O’Callaghan said: “HRI laid out a series of directives to follow on how to carry out a race meeting behind closed doors. We implemented those to the very best of our ability.
“I must say the industry were very good in buying into it and adhering to the protocols, the conditions in place.
“Operationally it was a straight forward day.
“Racing behind closed doors without people is a very, very strange experience. It was as strange a day as I ever put down in Limerick Racecourse.
“I think the feeling among the industry was that they were glad to be there and glad to be working. People appreciated that the directives that were in place were there to protect everybody.
“The encouraging thing was that there wasn’t members of the public turning up trying to get in. We did get some calls early in the morning from people wondering what the story was. We dealt with those.
“We weren’t the first racecourse to hold a fixture behind closed doors. There were fixtures in Dundalk on Friday and Navan on Saturday before us.
“I did spend a good bit of the day on Sunday watching how things were proceeding.
“In fairness people were observing the social distancing. The jockeys were spreading out. In fairness the industry were very good.”
Also on Sunday’s card in Limerick, Herbertstown jockey Donal McInerney finished second in the Follow Limerick Racecourse On Twitter Handicap Hurdle aboard 40/1 shot The Ballyboys. The race was won by favourite, Cherif De L'isle.
Limerick Racecourse is due to race again on Sunday, March 29.