The Jane Mangan column: Irish horse racing isn't just a sport it's an industry that employs 28,000 in rural Ireland

The Jane Mangan column: Irish horse racing isn't just a sport it's an industry that employs 28,000 in rural Ireland
Rainbow over the Kilworth & Araglen point to point races at Ballyarthur, Fermoy which was open only to jockeys, owners, trainers and officials because of the Covid 19 virus. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

“IF anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war. 

"Not missiles but microbes...we’re not ready for the next epidemic.” 

These were the words spoken by Bill Gates in March 2015. One must wonder did anyone at senior government level anywhere in the world listen to the man who founded Microsoft?

The Coronavirus has gripped the globe as quickly as wildfires rushed through Australia. Never has humankind been so united to combat a common enemy. Xenophobia, racism, misogyny and more are all irrelevant now. This is a modern-day world war and one in which nobody will escape unaffected.

The equine industry has essentially shut down in parts of the world. An overall ban on horse riding has been enforced in Italy as to avoid unnecessary injuries potentially clogging up much needed medical services while Britain and France announced this week that racing would cease until the end of April.

On Wednesday, Horse Racing Ireland held a crucial meeting to discuss Ireland’s situation and while the decision to continue to race behind closed doors was met with mixed reaction, I think the measures they have in place on race days makes it viable to continue.

Horse racing isn’t just a sport, it’s an industry that employs 28,000 people in rural Ireland. Were racing to stop, countless jobs would be lost. Yards would close and the industry as an entire would essentially collapse. 

Sales companies are postponing public auctions and stud farms continue to cover mares without the mare owner ever leaving their vehicle. All measures to ensure the wheel can keep turning.

There are 50 thoroughbred horses per 10,000 people in Ireland. What happens to these animals if racing shuts its doors? This is an industry built on bloodstock and we can’t simply close up shop and not care for the majestic animals.

These are testing times. Times that require good judgement and wisdom - not only to survive this infectious virus but to ensure that livelihoods are intact when the dust finally settles and the sun begins to rise once again.

HRI’s decision to continue racing behind closed doors means the Irish turf flat season gets underway on Monday at Naas and while Cheltenham is still to the forefront of many racing minds, it is the turn of some speedier types to step out from the shadows.

The first two-year-old maiden of the year is always of interest but it is the Park Express Stakes that headlines the card. The first Group race of the domestic calendar, this Group 3 for fillies has attracted a small but quality line up.

Ger Lyons enjoyed another fantastic season last term and looks to be building the quality of his Glenburnie Stables year on year. The addition of Juddmonte to his owner ranks has proved extremely lucrative, culminating with Group 1 success with Siskin last summer.

On Monday, Lyons saddles Even So in the Naas feature and she carries the navy colours of a certain Mrs John Magnier. An extremely well-bred daughter of Camelot, this filly progressed nicely from her debut to win at Gowran Park maiden over a mile in September. 

She races over the same distance on Sunday and while I suspect she’ll appreciate further, she should give a good account on ground that some of her opponents might find too testing.

Britain’s decision to stop racing entirely means that Newmarket’s Craven meeting won’t be run and essentially all trials for the Guineas will be missed. Nobody knows what the future holds and those who attempt to predict the future are about as sensible as those who ignored Bill Gates in 2015.

However, we can only discuss what we know. Irish racing’s current situation will continue to be monitored daily and with the number of cases set to increase, racing folk across the country are doing everything in their power to keep this ship safely afloat.

Only a few weeks ago, I commented on how easy it is to criticise from the comfort of one’s couch when referring to some comments made regarding a local point to point, this is on a completely different level but the same principles apply.

As a state governed body, Horse Racing Ireland have all necessary information to make the right decision. They know that to stop racing is to stop potential earnings across all aspects of the industry while also causing serious indirect damage to other agricultural outlets.

We are united and we will win this war.

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