LEADING flat trainer John Murphy is remaining optimistic that racing will get back on track over the coming months cautioning that it will have to be done behind closed doors.
With the summer racing festivals from Tramore to Ballinrobe unlikely to operate as mini holidays for the general public as well as racing fans the focus for most trainers is keeping their staff and horses fit for the commencement of racing.
John Murphy runs a hugely successful operation from his base at Upton and enjoys plenty of success around the summer festivals like Killarney and Galway while his horses are also more than capable of mixing it with the big boys at the higher profile meetings at Naas, the Curragh or Leopardstown.
Upton is certainly racing country with leading riders Aidan Coleman and Wayne Lordan within a stone’s throw of Murphy’s magnificent training facility which straddles the hills of Upton.
The views are spectacular on a summer's day but right now the uncertainty around the racing industry is challenging for everyone including a highly successful one like Murphy.
"It’s a really crazy and unusual time for everyone and no one has experienced anything like this before.
"Maybe we heard of Spanish Flu or dangerous infectious diseases in our history books but this Covid-19 has sadly taken many of our citizens and devastated the lives of many people. From a racing perspective we are working away diligently here and training the horses as normal.
"All eyes are on May 5 really and the lifting of restrictions from government and Horse Racing Ireland will then make a decision on a return to racing. The announcement during the week restricting crowds to less than 5000 people will mean racing takes place behind closed doors at all the major summer festivals.
"It’s disappointing but I don’t think anyone was too surprised. With such an emphasis on social distancing it would have been impossible to manage. Hopefully, the likes of Killarney and Galway will race behind closed doors as this industry employs over 30,000 people around the country. To be fair many trainers have kept all their staff but are desperately hoping we will get back racing soon.”
While the governance issues are out of his control the management of his yard is still a considerable task with the uncertainty about a resumption date for racing.
“We always have about 50 horses in training with half of them two-year-olds who will be ready to run shortly. From a training point of view its full steam ahead here. We are dealing with live animals who must be looked after seven days a week. We are training for an early return to racing as the two-year-olds would be out in June and July generally.
"With ourselves, our staff and the whole farm there is a lot of responsibility and keeping everyone healthy is the number one priority. Horse Racing Ireland have indicated publicly that racing will commence behind closed doors which was done successfully before the lockdown. That was important for our sport that we demonstrated racing can be run safely and efficiently with a skeleton crew on track.”
One of the great challenges for any trainer is attracting owners who are willing to invest in the bloodstock industry. Patience is required in this game and the Murphy family run their breeding operation alongside the training yard. In a nutshell they purchase young stock at the sales, rear them and race them before moving them on at the end of the year.
"We have some terrific owners who fully support our business model and like any person are looking for a return on their investment. Hopefully the delay to the start of the new season won’t affect us too much as the end of the season is when most of our trading is completed. Our focus is really on the overseas markets which mainly takes in America, the Middle East and Australia.
"Racing is very strong in these places and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Good horses will always sell so over the years we’ve taken great pleasure watching our horses win big races in other jurisdictions while enhancing our own reputation. Our climate is perfect and our horses are so well regarded around the world. Although our winter was probably a bit too wet this year, the land has dried out pretty quickly in the springtime.”
“We sold a lovely horse last summer called Shared Ambition who has won about six races in Australia and is now joint favourite for the Melbourne Cup. There is tremendous satisfaction watching a horse like him who we nurtured, raced to win a couple of races and then sold him on. There is a hugely successful racing scene in places like Hong Kong and Australia. Thankfully this Covid 19 hasn’t hit the southern hemisphere as badly as here and they are racing behind closed doors at present.”