CORK Racecourse manager Andrew Hogan has overseen plenty of changes at the Mallow venue including the construction of a magnificent new sprint track which is manicured to perfection and ready to host top-class racing when it recommences.
At present however, the track is being used by the HSE as a testing centre for Covid-19.
“Following the suspension of racing Horse Racing Ireland offered up all our tracks to help out during this medical emergency," explained Hogan. "The HSE contacted us here straight away so after clearance from the Board of Management that evening we were more than happy to help out.
“A test area was required for north Cork similar to the one in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. There is so much room here with big car parks on the both sides of the main grandstands of the track.
“There are three testing bays and it is being operated as a drive through testing facility. The nurses and medical personnel have all the necessary facilities here including changing rooms, showers, canteen areas and we just leave them alone and do their job.
“If they want anything we have some of our own staff helping out with the parking while the catering facilities for everyone is provided by local people here in Mallow. To be honest the whole thing has worked brilliantly and we’re just delighted to be helping out.”
Like most sporting organisations HRI are waiting for the government and HSE to provide information about a possible return to racing. For everyone involved in our sport it will certainly test the strength of the industry with up to 30,000 jobs involved across the country. But there is no white smoke just yet and Hogan is resigned to taking it one step at a time.
“Everyone is looking forward to getting back racing and we are ready to go when given the green light is given. But that decision is out of our hands and there has been no talk of any return yet.
“We’ve seen the GAA have talked about July at the earliest so it’s all about being patient until it is safe again. One suspects that we have a bit to run on this yet.
“Obviously, when we return racing will certainly be held behind closed doors. Social distancing will have to be maintained and that might go on for a lot longer than we had initially envisaged. To be fair racing did operate behind closed doors for a couple of weeks and it proved a great success.
"The medical experts have really highlighted the importance of social distancing so how all our sports get back to action will be interesting. During that period with no patrons on tracks everyone really worked hard to follow the HSE guidelines.”
While Hogan divides his time between Cork and managing Tipperary Racecourse the new sprint track on Leeside is sure to attract some of the hottest juveniles in training. Aidan O’Brien always targets the big sprints at Royal Ascot as well as all the other major festivals.
“The new sprint track is really going to attract very high calibre horses. The team in Ballydoyle came down here last summer to have a look and they were all so impressed. The track has really bedded in now as we decided to wait until this new season. Fingers crossed we’ll get to see these future stars at some stage during the summer.”
Meanwhile, the British Horseracing Authority delayed the return of racing indefinitely during the week which certainly got plenty of attention over here. Only last week racing officials in the UK were adamant that racing would return on May 1.
Nick Rust, BHA chief executive, said: “We stopped racing in March to protect the health and safety of the public and to limit demands on the NHS. It’s right to continue this suspension until the pressure on the NHS allows for a resumption and we can assure the safety of those taking part.
“We are in touch with government as part of our development of a responsible, coordinated plan for the return of sport when it’s appropriate to do so. We’ll continue to develop a range of options drawing on the expertise of our participants and racecourses. But for now, we are all focused on supporting the national effort, maintaining social distancing restrictions and taking care of our people and our horses. When we have the right conditions then we will be able to resume racing in as good a form as we can, which will be behind closed doors and will mean social distancing and restrictions on track and where we can race.”