WORKING TOGETHER Ballinrobe Racecourse manager John Flannelly is pictured with Peter Staunton of the Racecourse Committee at a recent race meeting. Pic: Trish Forde
THE LARGEST crowd in living memory flocked to the Ballinrobe Racecourse in August as punters returned to the races in pre-Covid numbers.
Mayo’s only racecourse enjoyed its busiest day in decades when over 3,500 people attended the Monday evening meeting at the start of lasrt month.
The last meeting of the year at the picturesque South Mayo track takes place this Friday.
Due to Covid-19 restrictions many meetings in 2020 and 2021 took place behind closed doors or in front of only a few hundred spectators.
The scrapping of all restrictions in February meant the removal of caps on numbers attending large outdoor gatherings.
Ballinrobe Racecourse manager John Flannelly told The Mayo News that it was ‘great’ to see crowds back to pre-pandemic levels.
“We got some people back in the latter half of 2021. To see the big crowds back this year was great, to see people having a day out and enjoying themselves,” he said.
“To see the crowds back to pre-Covid levels was very good. It’s a big change after two years of all that, to go back to something of near normality.
“Over the Covid time, apart from the protocols which we had to put in place that were very stringent, racing on the track didn’t change. We have a great atmosphere in Ballinrobe, there’s a great engagement with everyone with the cheering, the racing and the noise that’s there during the races. To have all that back was great.”
Flannelly said that a large crowd is expected to gather this Friday evening (September 9) for the last meeting of the year.
He added that the racing industry was ‘very lucky’ to be allowed continue operating throughout Covid-19 restrictions.
“We went through two years of Covid, so that posed its own problems. We kept our heads above water, so the main thing was that racing kept ahead from an industry point of view.
“If you take horses out of training for six or ten months, to get them back in and get the system up and running would have been very, very difficult.
“As a racing industry we were very lucky that we were able to continue.
“A huge amount of work went into that from the industry to achieve that, that was very important. Hopefully we’re out the other end of it and it’s onwards and upwards.”
Flannelly said that work would commence over the winter to construct a new canteen for stable staff and expand the changing area for jockeys.
He added that a hotel was ‘very much needed’ in Ballinrobe to cater for the town and the racecourse.
“It’s a bigger issue than the racecourse. We would love to see more accommodation, but it’s not holding us back, but it is a bigger issue for the wider community… it’s very much needed,” he said.
“We’re looking forward to the last day of the year. It’s a Friday evening so it suits a lot of people that might be working on Saturday. Hopefully it will be a good end to a very good year. It’s great to be back and long may it continue.”