GET your coat and grab your hat – racecourse are back to full capacity with immediate effect.
The news was confirmed on Friday evening by the Taoiseach during his address to the nation to announce the swift easing of social restrictions which have been in place for almost two years due to Covid-19.
Racecourses have been operating at 50% capacity since September with limited access to indoor facilities due to the need to reserve space for jockeys and racing officials to socially distance.
Matters took a turn for the worse at Christmas when Leopardstown’s four-day festival was forced to go behind closed doors as insufficient staff were available for work due to the spike in Covid cases and close contacts.
But with the vast majority of cases proving mild and hospitals not overrun as feared, the Government this week received advice from public health body Nphet that it was safe to remove almost all restrictions.
From racing’s point of view, the first to gain will be Gowran Park, which stages the Goffs Thyestes Chase next Thursday. Manager Eddie Scally said: “We had planned to only have 4,500 here and all those tickets are gone, but we plan to put more on sale now. Our normal Thyestes crowd is 9,000.”
Leopardstown Racecourse had stopped selling tickets for the Dublin Racing Festival (February 5th-6th) due to uncertainty on crowd limits but they are expected to go back on sale this weekend, with news on hospitality to follow early next week.
Since Covid struck, jockeys and racing officials have been based in public areas in racecourses – such as bars and betting shops – to allow for social distancing. With that requirement all but gone, racecourses will be able to cater for more racegoers.
Speaking prior to any official announcement, the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board’s senior medical officer Dr Jennifer Pugh said: “If we get confirmation from Government on timelines this evening I would expect the weighroom to be open for the Dublin Racing Festival, with no requirement from us for the Tote hall.
“It is likely that we will ask racecourses to continue to provide a smaller overflow facility for jockeys, which they were doing before Christmas, for a few more weeks with a view to moving fully back to weigh rooms then. The new weighroom in Leopardstown is so spacious that no overflow would be required there. We hope to have full jockey catering reinstated also.
“Hopefully the requirement for contact tracing will also be removed so we would no longer require use of the IHRB App for industry but we await confirmation from Government.”