NOBODY knows exactly when ‘the white flag will be raised’ at Ballinrobe Races this year, but Racecourse manager John Flannelly believes that when the sport does return to Mayo’s only track ‘there’s a good chance it will be behind closed doors’.
As expected, it was announced last week that horse racing in Ireland would not be allowed to continue behind closed doors due to a change in public health guidelines to try and stop the spread of Covid-19.
As a result, the first meeting of the new season that was scheduled for Ballinrobe on Friday, April 17 will not now be going ahead.
All of the subsequent nine meetings that are pencilled in for the South Mayo course this year are also up in the air at the moment.
Speaking to The Mayo News, John Flannelly admitted that ‘racing was a long way down the list of priorities’ given the impact that Coronavirus is having on a national and an international scale.
He also confirmed that Ballinrobe Racecourse were left with no option but to lay off all their staff last Friday following the announcement that Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) had been forced to cancel all upcoming meetings.
“We had to do what we had to do with the staff, but it wasn’t just something that we decided on the spur of the moment,” explained Flannelly.
“We had discussed this, spoken to the staff about how the situation was developing, and had a lot of work done behind-the-scenes.
“The Government have been doing very well, they deserve full credit for the way they’ve organised money for all the people who have lost their jobs.
“I heard Brian Kavanagh (Chief Executive, HRI) use the word ‘catastrophic’ last week to describe the effect this could have on the industry,” he added.
“Really you’d need to be training horses, own horses or be riding horses to know for sure how this shutdown is going to impact. None of us know how long this is going to last.
“I don’t know when we’ll be back racing, but I think when we do there’s a good chance it could be behind closed doors.
“Whatever anybody thought of the decision to run some meetings behind closed doors earlier this month, I think the experience of running those 10 meetings will be invaluable.
“We all know the processes and procedures that have to be in place for racing to go ahead in that sort of a situation.
“But you have to put it into perspective,” added Flannelly. “There are people dying, people who have the virus, and countries who have it a lot worse than Ireland.
“Racing is a long way down the pecking order now, and the same goes for a lot of businesses who are under pressure. This is a health emergency and that has to be the focus.”
An update on the current restrictions that have been put in place by the Government, following public health advice, will be given on Sunday, April 19 but there is very little realistic expectation that ‘live sport’ will restart again any time in the immediate future.
Ballinrobe Racecourse also have meetings pencilled in for: Tuesday, May 5; Monday, May 25 and Tuesday, May 26; Monday, June 22; Monday, July 20 and Tuesday, July 21; Monday, August 10; Monday, August 24; and Friday, September 11.
However, John Flannelly feels that the HRI’s original fixture list ‘is gone out the window now’ given the events of recent weeks.
“The HRI will now have to facilitate everybody,” he explained.
“I’d be confident that we’ll be racing if racing comes back, but we’ll just to have to work with the HRI and the industry to figure out how to make it work.
“We have our 100 year anniversary coming up next year and I have no doubt that we’ll get through these challenges. But right now we just have to play our part like everybody else.”