Horse Racing Ireland liaising with government over coronavirus concerns

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By Tommy Lyons

With the continued spread of the coronavirus, COVID-19, there is very real concern that the upcoming Cheltenham Festival could yet be in danger of not going ahead as scheduled.

The Betfair Exchange opened a market on the issue and, following plenty of support from backers who believe it will not do so, the price has dropped from a high of almost 7-2 to around 6-4.

Horse Racing Ireland has stated that it will continue to monitor the situation, but at the moment there is no expected impact on Irish race meeting.

The statement read:

There are no plans to cancel Irish race meetings and we’ve had no advice from the Department of Health to do so. We will liaise closely with Government on the matter and if the situation

changes, we will be ready to take action should it be required in the interests of public health.

Just this week, the IRFU declared itself happy to comply with instruction from the National Public Health Emergency that the Ireland v Italy Six Nations Rugby International should not go ahead on the date scheduled. In their bid to prevent the spread of COVID19, the Swiss Government has gone so far as to put a temporary ban on events which are likely to attract more than 1,000 people.

Whether that is a necessary or viable option in other jurisdictions will depend upon how quickly the breakout can be contained. With close to a quarter of a million people due to attend the Festival over the four days, it’s clear there could be a heightened risk of spreading the virus – something which could potentially be a major issues with Premier League football matches, amongst many other sporting events.

Speaking this week, Ian Renton, of Cheltenham Racecourse, was confident the meeting would go ahead, saying “We’ve had lots of things in the past: last year we had equine flu and high winds as a risk; the previous year we had the Beast From The East. We’re normally set to cope with most of these things leading up to the Festival. There’s always going to be some risk but, at the moment, we’re looking forward to a fantastic Festival. There have been 13 cases (of COVID-19) in this country (Britain), the government are doing a great job, and I’m sure they’ll continue to do so.”

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