Racing in Ireland remains behind closed doors, as doubts cast over Cheltenham

Racing in Ireland will continue without spectators after the Irish Government introduced new, stricter measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 earlier today.

The sport has been staged behind closed doors since its resumption on 8 June and the Government confirmed on its official website that protocols will remain in place to protect racegoers.

Elite sports, horse racing, greyhound racing, and approved equestrian events will all be allowed to continue behind closed doors under the new measures.

Furthermore, from Saturday, visitors coming in from the UK will have to prove they have returned a negative test before travelling, which could affect trainers journeying to Ireland for the Grade One Finale Hurdle at Chepstow this weekend.

Transport Minister, Eamon Ryan, explained: “They will have to present that negative test at the border management unit at an airport or at the ferry terminal.

“Failure to do so will be subject to either a fine of €2,500 or up to six months imprisonment penal provision, to make sure we get compliance.”

Moreover, Cheltenham Racecourse Boss, Ian Renton, has cast doubt over whether racegoers will be able to attend the 2021 Cheltenham Festival, with the annual race meet scheduled for 16 to 19 March.

Up to 60,000 people may be able to attend the four-day festival, with a larger crowd present at the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup, the marquee race of the event.

Speaking on the Nick Luck Daily Podcast, Renton said that they would be ‘parking’ plans to prepare for crowds.

“We’ve been pretty realistic with our expectations over the last few months but as we get closer to the Festival those small bits of hope are fast disappearing,” he said.

“We will soon have to be wholly realistic and accept that at the very best very small numbers will be present.

“At the very least I would hope that we can have owners present and hopefully getting back to the days of December where we had a crowd totalling 2000 people on each of those days.

“That is the sort of expectation we’re currently looking at.”

Last year, Cheltenham organisers were criticised for allowing the annual event to go ahead, just before the UK entered a national lockdown. Mortality rates rocketed in the wake of the festival, and the Health Service Journal released figures which revealed that Gloucestershire hospitals NHS trust, which includes Cheltenham, recorded 125 deaths.

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