It hasn’t been decided how the lucky 1,000 spectators get chosen when limited public numbers go racing again at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby but the trial fixture has been described as a “glimmer of light” at the end of the pandemic tunnel.
The Government outlined on Friday how Ireland’s premier classic at the Curragh on June 26th is among a series of trials for the return of spectators to sporting events.
No members of the public have been able to go racing since March of 2020 and the sport has been behind closed doors for almost a year, apart from a brief period last September when owners were allowed.
Under the Government’s relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions, owners will again be allowed back next Monday.
However it is the prospect of fans being able to return that is providing a boost to Ireland’s 26 racecourses, some of which have been under considerable financial pressure due to the absence of spectators.
“Racing has been working towards this and it could only happen when the Government was happy. This is definitely a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel and, please God, after the staging of a successful trial event, we can crack on from here,” Curragh chief executive Pat Keogh said on Sunday.
“There will be a lot of responsibility on us now to stage this trial meeting and to show it can be done. Not having owners racing for this period of time has been very difficult on them. They make such a valuable contribution so we need owners back very quickly.
“Then we need the wider racing audience and fans as well. The sooner we get the trial done, that will give confidence and see a greater opening up of racing,” he added.
Social distancing protocols are set to be in place on Derby day with the public confined to outdoors and required to wear face-masks.
As for who will get one of the limited admission places – understood to be 1,000 – Keogh said: “That’s what the fun is going to be! We will work with HRI and IHRB (Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board) in terms of protocols and then with everyone to decide how the number will be broken up.”
Those protocols will be part of discussions Horse Racing Ireland plans to have with the authorities this week as well as hopes for inclusion in further trial events in July.
The slow return of spectators is expected to gather pace at the beginning of July when the numbers allowed at large outdoor events will increase from 200 to 500. That will allow a small number of spectators to join owners.
“We will be looking to stage further trials in July and to do it on a graduated basis,” HRI’s chief executive Brian Kavanagh said on Sunday.
“The key is to build them up and build a bank of knowledge and experience. You would like to get as many opportunities to test your systems as possible.
“In any event Friday’s announcement indicated that numbers will go up to 500 for outdoor gatherings from the start of July so that will allow a small amount more than owners into certain race meetings and that in itself will be building up.
“You have the situation in the North where they can have 500 people at a race meetings already. That will all build up and with more trials, and numbers growing, you’d hope during the course of July to build it up to a significant degree,” he added.
The Galway festival starts on July 26th and Kavanagh commented: “We would hope that Galway will be included in trials or that numbers will have increased at that point to allow some patrons there.”
In other news, Aidan O’Brien expects it will be “very hard” for Ryan Moore to overlook the favourite Bolshoi Ballet for this Saturday’s Cazoo Epsom Derby.
O’Brien will again be multi-represented as he pursues a record-stretching ninth ‘Blue Riband’ success, including with the first and second favourites, Bolshoi Ballet and High Definition.
Moore again has the pick but has got it wrong in three of the last four years when not on board the eventual Ballydoyle winner. The Englishman has also been on the wrong one in both the English and Irish 1,000 Guineas this season.
O’Brien said on Sunday: “Bolshoi has won the two most important trials here in Ireland. Then I suppose High Definition went and ran a very good race in the Dante.
“So we’d like to see what’s going to happen now on Monday or Tuesday [at their final gallops]. But I suppose at the moment it’s very hard to overlook Bolshoi Ballet.”