Monday 2nd March feels like a long time ago. 134 long days ago I left Leopardstown Racecourse and haven’t set foot on a racecourse since. I miss it dearly. A job, a business, a way of life.
I went out for Sunday Lunch last weekend to Keenan’s (no relation!) of Tarmonbarry, a beautiful village on the River Shannon. The place was a hive of activity but everybody was respecting the distancing measures that were in place. The food was fabulous, the company was top class and the pint of creamy stout was to die for. It’s probably the happiest I’ve been since March. It was great to be content even if it was just for an hour or two.
On my drive home I started to think about racing, it’s never too far from my mind. Siobhan, my fiancé often tells me to switch off but my ‘off’ button just doesn’t work to be honest. I ask myself the same question I’ve asked myself a million times since March. When will we be back? Back on a racecourse that is. Initially May, then June, then July, September? Christmas? The silence from Horse Racing Ireland on the whole issue has put me through every emotion known to man. Angry, fed up, pissed off, bitter. If I’m honest, at the moment it’s probably a combination of them all. On course bookmakers in Ireland spent over 1 million euro in pitch fees in 2019. The last I heard from HRI was an email in March and not a word since. No update, no vision, no light at the end of the tunnel. Simply put, its bad manners. Of course they will say they are doing their best but I believe actions rather than words are what’s needed at this stage. I fully respect and understand they can only work within government guidelines and that my colleagues and I are a tiny cog in a huge wheel but the way we have been treated since the resumption of racing leaves a lot to be desired. It doesn’t surprise me, but it still disgusts me. Hairdressers, churches, hotels etc. were given a plan, a vision, a roadmap. We have been ignored point blank. We have been left in no man’s land.
Its clear HRI are happy enough to plod along at a pedestrian pace and race behind closed doors. Our government are moving at a snail’s pace and these guys that are supposed to be representing the sport wont bang any doors down to try and get things moving any quicker.
If I’m wrong and they are moving heaven and earth to try and get racing back to some degree of normality as they have in France and appear to be doing very shortly in the UK, it would be great to hear from them. Their accounts department have my phone number, email address and home address. They have never been shy previously. It would be great to hear something from them, even if it’s not the news I want to hear and a return date is further away than I want. At least it would give us a road map. It’s hard to tell staff constantly ‘I’m sorry but iv no update on when I can take you back’.
I took the decision to renew my English licence in recent weeks. Through necessity rather than preference. In difficult times its always important to keep a cool head. Is England where I may have to concentrate on for the foreseeable future? I hope it’s not but it’s looking a lot more likely now than it was in May or June. The house of cards appears to be crumpling in Ireland. The racing game is on life support here. Owners not welcome, punters not welcome and a government that will be under huge pressure to tighten spending hardly points a bright future for horse racing in Ireland. I have a tiny share in a horse and saw it working during the week. The horse hasn’t run yet so the dream is still alive but leaving the Curragh I wonder what’s the point. I can go out for my Sunday lunch now but an owner can’t get a bowl of soup at the races. Am I even going to be able to see this thing run without feeling like I’m in the way? Driving by the grandstand of the Curragh Racecourse I look at it like an ex I haven’t gotten over. Someday I’ll be back but it’s not easy. It’s still very raw.
The last minute cancellation of the Derby sale was farcical and is going to have severe knock on effects on the bloodstock sector. Life was already going to be tough enough without this cock up. Owners not really welcome but will ye buy a horse and pay training bills? The talented horse men that have invested heavily in these store horses won’t be re investing in foals if they can’t get paid. This hurts the breeder who in turn will invest less with the stallion farms. Everybody has a place in the food chain and once one is affected everybody is affected. The guys at the top in HRI along with government officials will no doubt sympathise with all and say all the correct things but how many times have they sat on a bale of straw outside a stable in Tattersalls or Goff’s trying to sell a horse, how many times have they stood under an umbrella in the rain shouting the odds at a race course or how many times have they relied on a race day taking place to earn a day’s pay?
Make no mistake, I’m not putting all the blame solely at the door of HRI, the Irish government certainly haven’t been in any rush to help racing return to any sort of normality but when the main men in HRI retire with lucrative pensions what will they be remembered for? The group that saved the industry through extraordinary times and returned it to glory days or the group that watched it fall asunder and ultimately end up like the greyhound industry.
Their legacy is in their hands.