The Jane Mangan column: Irish racing community monitoring French situation

The Jane Mangan column: Irish racing community monitoring French situation
Exultant and Zac Purton win for trainer Tony Cruz in the HK$25 million G1 FWD Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Sha Tin on Sunday last. Picture: Healy Racing.

IN A normal world, this week would revolve around five fantastic days at the Punchestown Festival.

Fun festivities where national hunt racing’s finest competitors congregate at Ireland’s premier jumping track for one last throw of the dice before a good summer’s grass.

Champions would be crowned, winners celebrated and over €3,200,000 in prize money dispersed.

Alas, we must snap out of that dream and focus on reality. Dwelling on what we’ve lost is counterproductive; rather we must be proactive and look ahead to the opportunities the future holds.

Much of the prize money which was due to be won over the past six weeks will be pumped into a significantly boosted Autumn campaign. Those who work in the national hunt sphere will be awake to the fact that having their horses race ready in September could help retrieve some of the earnings lost during the Covid-19 lockdown.

One man who will almost certainly change his seasonal strategy is Willie Mullins, the master trainer who often starts the season slowly with his horses peaking in performance from March to May.

Somehow, I suspect Ireland’s Champion Trainer will want a slice of the Autumn cake and like many, will train his horses for those lucrative winter prizes.

A view of Fairyhouse Racecourse after Horse Racing Ireland announced the cancellation of this year's racing festivals at Punchestown and Fairyhouse. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy
A view of Fairyhouse Racecourse after Horse Racing Ireland announced the cancellation of this year's racing festivals at Punchestown and Fairyhouse. Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Racing’s schedule will be jam packed when it does eventually resume. Flat racing every day for at least a month before jumping folk get back in the groove.

However, there was some brief panic within racing on Tuesday when French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced that professional sport would not restart in the country before September.

Inevitably, this statement sent many people into a spiral. The frenzy of questions burst onto social media like petrol thrown over a flame. What would this mean for racing?

Fortunately, France Galop’s chief executive Olivier Delloye was quick to quench the potential blaze.

He told Sky Sports Racing: “As far as racing is concerned there is not so much breaking news, knowing that a couple of days earlier we got support from the two ministers who are in charge of supervising the racing and betting industry, who expressed their support for the resumption of racing on May 11.

“I do understand from an English perspective this creates some sort of confusion. You have to know that France Galop is not considered as a sport federation, so we are definitely not regulated by all the laws related to sport – we are regulated by the ministry of agriculture, so we are not really in the same situation as other sports.

“Our plan definitely assumes we will race as of mid-May on the Paris racetracks, but having said that if the Paris area proves to be a red one in terms of importance of the virus on May 11, maybe we will have to wait for another three weeks to resume racing in Paris.

“In this situation all the race fixtures might be relocated to Deauville or Chantilly, so we have B plans, C plans and D plans. We hope to not have to proceed to these alternative plans, but we are ready to do so if we have to.”

Throughout this pandemic, we have learned much from the mistakes of some overseas counterparts and indeed the wisdom of more. Essentially, France Galop have taken a significant step forward and with necessary contingencies in place, I’m sure our own governing bodies will be implementing a similar strategy.

No overseas horses and jockeys will be permitted to race in France until at least the end of May and one can expect similar restrictions enforced here.

The very fact that French authorities have announced a return date means that everybody involved can now plan towards their return. Jockeys must make weight. Trainers have targets in mind and tracks can prepare themselves for necessary restrictions.

Not long after this week’s statement, legendary French trainer Andre Fabre indicated that his Middle Park winner Earthlight will go for the Prix de Fontainebleau at Longchamp on May 11. Now that’s a prospect to get the competitive juices flowing!

Each jurisdiction is responsible for its own and while we of course want to support racing on an international scale, this is very much a case of baby steps. Each nation is in a different position and governed by different bodies. If everyone collectively acts in their own nations best interests then we will be back to normality as soon as it is safe to do so.

One thing is for sure, when the dust settles at the far side of this pandemic, we as a sport and as an industry won’t ever take the regular things in life for granted again.

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