FROM famine to feast — sporting fans have been starved of live action for months.
However, at long last the dense fog of uncertainty which engulfed our sport in March is beginning to dissipate, making way for a sun soaked horizon brimming with promise. As it stands, there are 16 Group 1 races set to be run between Britain, Ireland and France in June.
Royal Ascot, June 16-20, is set to be held without any spectators or indeed Royals but will feature its usual programme of eight Group 1 contests across four days.
June will kick off with French classics but not as we know them. The Poule d’Essai des Poulains and Poule d’Essai des Pouliches are likely to be run at Deauville instead of Longchamp after it was announced on Tuesday a new government decree will temporarily force the closure of tracks in the so-called “red zones” coronavirus is still actively circulating.
To their credit, France Galop wasted no time in activating their contingency plan to switch upcoming meetings which were due to be run in the French capital.
As a result, Sunday’s meeting which was due to be held at Longchamp now switches to Deauville on the Normandy coast while today’s Fontainebleau flat card will be run at Vichy. Credit where it is due — the French continue to impress during these unforeseen circumstances.
At this tender stage of planning, there are strict protocols in place on the domestic and international racing fronts. The BHA has clarified that international runners will be permitted to take part in their three Group 1 races in June, while HRI is allowing the same for all Group 1 and Group 2 contests.
However, runners crossing the Irish Sea will be subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine period upon arrival in Ireland. According to current guidelines, travellers between France and England will have to undertake a fortnight’s quarantine on either side of the Channel, but whether foreign runners will be allowed to compete in France is still unknown.
These factors are obstacles but the bigger picture is paramount. Racing is back, the rest can be overcome. These restrictions will create a real headache for trainers and jockeys but what might prove a sacrifice for one party will provide an opportunity for another.
Considering the Newmarket and Irish Guineas are on within one week of each other, a jockey must decide which meeting they will ride as both is not an option.
One would envisage Ryan Moore will opt to stay in Britain to ride Ballydoyle’s horses that travel to Newmarket while Wayne Lordan and Seamie Heffernan can take the reins at the Curragh. Moore will also be staying put in Britain with Royal Ascot and Epsom on his radar.
The same headache will play on the mind of Jessica Harrington’s stable jockey Shane Foley who looks set to ride Albigna in the Irish 1,000 Guineas. This means sacrificing the ride on Millisle in the Newmarket equivalent. Harrington had also intended to run Alpine Star in the French Guineas but that plan is almost certainly up in smoke.
Ger Lyons has already ruled out running his Classic hope Siskin at Newmarket’s Guineas as it would necessitate his stable jockey Colin Keane to miss out on 14 days of domestic action. Newmarket’s loss is the Curragh’s gain!
These decisions are tough but it’s important to maintain perspective in such situations. Most trainers and jockeys don’t have one horse worthy of such an issue in their respective yards. You won’t find pity in these pages!
Looking ahead to July, Ireland’s flagship summer bonanza at Ballybrit has been given the green light. Despite much speculation surrounding the card and indeed its number of race days, the Galway Festival has been confirmed as a seven-day event run behind-closed-doors.
Due to begin on July 27, this Galway Festival will maintain its entire race program but without any people present. Galway 2020 will be like no other festival ever run at the iconic venue but racecourse manager Michael Moloney, sales and marketing manager Sinead Cassidy and the entire team at Ballybrit have been working tirelessly to make this happen.
After a prolonged hibernation, dawn has come. The sun is on the rise and horses are ready to run. We can now look forward to a summer filled with promise.