DEBBIE Hartnett has seen the number of horses at her Donoughmore stables whittled down in recent weeks, with most of her string returning home to their owners as a result of the cancellation of racing.
For Hartnett’s local point-to-point yard, and pre-training facility, like a lot of others around the country, there remains a great deal of uncertainty.
Just a few weeks ago, she was ready to send her promising, young string of horses to compete on the point-to-point fields.
Now, it’s very much a case of ‘tipping away’, taking it day-by-day, for the Cork handler.
"There were 11 horses riding out here. It went down to five, later that evening. A lot of them were four-year-olds that hadn’t run, but they were entered up.
“We were ready to go, with the nicest bunch of horses we’ve had in a while.
“A few have gone home to their owners already. A couple of horses have stayed with us, in the hope that something will happen on 19 April. But, it’s all in hope.
“If the point-to-points don’t go ahead, we’ll give a little rattle at the track.
“At least, they’ll have had a run then,’’ Hartnett said. "Every other yard, big and small, has been affected by all of this.
“You have horses that you might be letting off for the summer anyway. Or you have young horses that are gone weak or lame. You’d give those horses two months off and we’ll be good again.
“But, you’re sending home horses now and wondering; how long are they going to be gone home for? In fairness, HRI and the IHRB are a credit to racing.
“They have done some job to try and keep the whole thing going, for as long as they did,’’ she added.
The local trainer believes that there will be a massive knock-on effect, throughout the bloodstock industry, particularly with regards to the sales.
‘‘A public sale is a public sale. How do you control social distancing inside in the sales ring? You can still buy a three-year-old from the field and go back to the old traditional way.
"For the people buying the big number of horses, is that economical? I’m not quite sure. There will be a lot of horses around, a lot of horses in fields, unsold, unbroken, as people won’t be able to afford to buy horses,’’ she said.
Anyone working with animals will never be idle. Horses still have to be fed, exercised, and their stables need to be mucked out.
The show goes on, and the horses continue to be cared for, in Donoughmore and elsewhere. But the focus of the local yard has shifted of late.
The emphasis had previously been on picking out race targets for the horses. Now, it’s very much back to basics.
‘‘The three-year-olds won’t be running, but they all have to be educated anyway.
“Within a few days, we’ve turned from looking at planning out races, to going back to working with mainly preparing three-year-olds.
“That’s the type of yard we have. Bigger yards might have to pull back with staff coming in.
“We are at some advantage because a lot of yards have actually completely closed.
“Here, it’s just John (O’Brien, my partner) and I. We can tip away here, in the hope that things change, and at least the horses will be ready.
“All we want really is for racing to get going again, and for people to be able to get back to work.’’
Through this time of struggle, and uncertainty, Hartnett will be dreaming of the prospects of an unraced four-year-old filly, currently based at her yard in Donoughmore. If early signs are anything to go by, this horse could be out of the ordinary.
"Rosalitta would have been running in Rathcannon. She’s a gorgeous, black mare, by Elusive Pimpernel.
“She was bought at the August sales. She’s a fabulous horse altogether. You’d be dreaming. It is better she has gotten, over the last few months.
“She’s keeping our spirits up in these doom times. She’s amazing."