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Barry O'Neill on Red Lion Lad over the last from Darragh Allen on Thunder Rock to win the Aintree Sale maiden race for 4-Y-O geldings. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Barry O'Neill on Red Lion Lad over the last from Darragh Allen on Thunder Rock to win the Aintree Sale maiden race for 4-Y-O geldings. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
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Uncertain times for the racing industry during the Coronavirus shutdown

DESPITE the current crisis, and the increased levels of uncertainty going with it, local racing yards such as those of James Dullea and Terence O’Brien are still functioning, albeit with a greater emphasis on health and safety.

Horse racing, as well as being a sport, is an industry. For those involved in working with racehorses, it is an everyday thing, a 24/7 commitment, a way of life, something much more than just another job.

“Behind the scenes, the work never really ends. It simply cannot,” said Dullea, ahead of this week's complete shutdown of racing.

The Bandon handler also revealed how the changed circumstance is impacting the industry.

“These are animals that must be looked after constantly — around the clock — even if they are not racing. Horses are not machines or merchandise that you can just leave on the shelf or switch off.

“We are also conscious of the fact that people are paying hard-earned money to keep these horses in training. We are trying to do the best we can.

“These are scary times all-round. First and foremost, people’s health comes first.

“But at the back of it, we are trying to keep an eye on people’s livelihoods, too. We are just keeping our heads down, and going as best as we can, for as long as we can.

“Hopefully, this will be over sooner rather than later. We are just trying to abide by the guidelines that we are being given by the Government and the HSE.

“We are trying to keep the show on the road, while there is racing going ahead. Nothing major has changed in the yard.”

He was racing last week in Wexford — his first day of racing since the new guidelines came in — and he thought it was very well worked.

“Social distancing was adhered to at every stage. Everybody within racing realises we are lucky to have it on, “ he said.

“But we are also quite conscious that there is an awful lot bigger things going on in the world than just horse racing. There are people in a lot worse situations than we are in the great scheme of things.

“We’re not that badly off, we are still operating away. Racing is still on, at the moment, thankfully.”

The cancellation of point-to-point racing has come as a real blow to local trainers such as O’Brien.

Without racing between the flags, which is crucial for yards buying horses with the aim of selling them on later, there will inevitably be a knock-on effect.

Carrigtwohill-based handler O’Brien is worried about the damage it could do to sales.

“I suppose it is the same for everyone, they are going to be worried about what’s going to happen to the sales,” he said.

“A lot of the smaller trainers would have horses that they’d buy on spec as three-year-olds and they’d hopefully sell on as point-to-pointers.

“That’s kind of the bread-and-butter for most of the smaller lads. But that’s going to be disrupted now.

“It’s hard to know when the point-to-points will be back. We are just starting to get a bit busy, too, getting a few new horses.

“I’d have three or four horses there, four-year-olds that I’d be hoping to sell. That usually keeps us going, to be honest. That’s definitely a worry (the cancellation of the point-to-points).

“They are talking about re-fixing as soon as it is safe to do so. I don’t know what’s going to happen.

Derek O'Connor on Kilandra crosses the finishing line to win the maiden race for 5-Y-O geldings at the Kilworth & Araglen point to point recently. Picture: Eddie O'Hare
Derek O'Connor on Kilandra crosses the finishing line to win the maiden race for 5-Y-O geldings at the Kilworth & Araglen point to point recently. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

“I’m sure every industry is the same. But if we get out of it healthy and unscathed, we’d get over the financial side of it.”

The times are testing, but the daily grind continues for O’Brien and his team at Woodstock stables.

‘‘At the moment, we haven’t really changed a whole lot in the yard.

“We are doing social distancing as much as we can, and disinfecting and washing down gear and going into the canteen one at a time, and the saddle room one at a time. We are doing the best we can.

“Everyone in the country is in the same boat. Everyone is concerned.

“I’ve an 87-year-old mother who we have to try and look after.

“There’s that, and then there’s the effect on the economy and people are out of work. The stock exchange is taking a hammering."