Fairyhouse and Punchestown Festivals cancelled as Irish National Hunt season cut short

Ruby Walsh on Burrows Saint
Ruby Walsh won his third Irish Grand National on Burrows Saint in 2019

The remainder of the 2019-20 Irish National Hunt racing season has been cancelled, including the Fairyhouse and Punchestown Festivals.

The board of Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) met on Wednesday and decided racing would resume with a month-long flat season, probably behind closed doors.

The Fairyhouse and Punchestown Festivals will not be rescheduled.

It is envisaged that the 2020 Irish Grand National will be integrated into an enhanced autumn schedule however.

The Fairyhouse Easter Festival, which incorporates the Irish Grand National, had been scheduled for 11-13 April, with the Punchestown Festival due to take place from 28 April to 2 May.

The HRI emphasised that any return to racing would only take place "with adherence to strict social distancing protocols as were successfully operated at 10 race fixtures in March" before all large outdoor gatherings were cancelled by the Irish government in an effort to stem the spread of coronavirus.

Nicky Hartery, chairman of the HRI, admitted they have no idea when the sport may return.

"We have stressed throughout that Government and HSE guidelines around fighting Covid-19 must come first and racing will only be able to resume when the Government guidelines permit and when there is adequate medical cover in place to ensure that race meetings can be staged safely," said Hartery.

"No-one can predict when this point will be reached."

'A seismic economic blow from Covid-19 fall-out'

Brian Kavanagh, the chief executive of HRI, said he hoped to publish a new fixture list as soon as possible.

"Like many other sectors, the racing and breeding industry in Ireland will take a seismic economic blow from the fall-out of Covid-19. We will be working closely with Government to limit the long-term impact of this pandemic.

"We know that jobs will be lost in a key rural industry and that the viability of some industry institutions will come under serious threat," he said.

"We are working on a range of industry supports which we hope to announce in the coming weeks.

"Once an achievable target resumption date can be identified, a new fixture list covering the rest of the year will be quickly published based on our on-going work, along with revised race programmes which will cater for the entire horse population."

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