Scrapping of Irish horseracing festivals “the appropriate decision”

THE Punchestown Horseracing Festival has been scrapped due to the coronavirus along with the Irish Grand National this spring at Fairyhouse Racecourse.

The difficult decision to call a halt to the 2019/2020 National Hunt season was made by Irish horseracing officials amid the current Irish government ban of all sporting events until 19th April at the earliest in response to the global health crisis.

Irish horseracing legend Ruby Walsh will not be racing until the threat from the pandemic lessens


A total of 10 of the season’s scheduled races were run with strict social distancing protocols until all sports halted in March.

“The cancellation of the 2020 Punchestown Festival is of course very disappointing although in these unprecedented times it is certainly the appropriate decision,” said Punchestown CEO and Chairman, Conor O’Neill. “Above all, the health and safety of our visitors, clients, staff and participants is of paramount importance and that has been the key focus in the decision-making process. These are difficult times for everyone, both from a business and a personal point of view and I would like to reassure all of our clients that we will offer a full refund policy.”

An enhanced National Hunt schedule is expected to run from next October to December, and the 2020 BoyleSports Irish Grand National looks set to move from its Easter Monday (13th April) slot.

The Horse Racing Ireland board has allowed that racing can restart on solely flat racecourses for one month in the lead-up to the National Hunt season this autumn, most likely behind closed doors and in strict adherence to social distancing safety measures.

“We have stressed throughout that Government and (health service) guidelines around fighting Covid-19 must come first and racing will only be able to resume when the Government guidelines permit, and when there is adequate medical cover in place to ensure that race meetings can be staged safely,” said HRI Chairman Nicky Hartery. “No one can predict when this point will be reached. What the Board agreed was a plan to get back racing once those guidelines allow.”

The planned staggered resumption of racing from Flat to National Hunt will be of benefit to the horseracing community at a time when there is likely to be less pressure on health services.

Brian Kavanagh, HRI CEO said: “Punchestown and Fairyhouse are great features in the Irish racing year and to lose them is not a good thing. There are bigger issues at stake at the moment. Once a new achievable target resumption date can be identified a new fixture list will be published very quickly with a revised programme.”

The Irish thoroughbred sector has been under severe economic pressure as a result of the pandemic with rural industry jobs lost or under serious threat.

Proposed actions in Britain meanwhile include restrictions on the number of racecourses to be designated as ‘hub’ locations, however, there are no similar plans for when racing resumes in Ireland.

Kim Mullahey

Kim Mullahey is’s Ireland Correspondent. She holds an honours undergraduate degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Chicago and has taught Adult Education Creative Writing Studies. Through a media career spanning nearly 25 years Kim has written and photographed regional news, national and international horse sports, fashion and lifestyle. Kim lives with her husband and son in Kildare Ireland, and a stray marmalade cat who has adopted the family.

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