The general manager of Leopardstown racecourse is hopeful that up to 5,000 people could be allowed to attend Irish Champions Weekend, although he admits a crowd of 1,000 is more likely.
Ahead of next month’s Champions Weekend and the Listowel Festival, Irish races await the next government announcements on measures to deal with rising rates of Covid-19 infection.
Currently there is a limit of 500 spectators on racetracks in the Republic of Ireland. This contrasts sharply with Great Britain where full attendance picked up last month.
The 1,000-spectator trial events allowed at the Irish Derby in June and on each day of the Galway Festival were successful, spurring hopes of a larger crowd as vaccination rates increased.
However, the government maintained its limit of 500 on racetracks despite increased crowds at other sporting events, including 40,000 in Sunday’s All-Ireland Pitch Final at Croke Park.
Similar participation will be allowed in the All-Ireland football final which has been moved to September 11, the same day the Champions Weekend first leg takes place in Leopardstown. The return leg will take place at the Curragh the next day.
The apparent gap has angered many in the desperate race for larger spectators, especially at its most high-profile events.
Horse Racing Ireland has asked the government for up to 5,000 people to attend Champions Weekend and Listowel Harvest Festival every day.
Irish Champions Weekend is the unmissable event of the year for flat racing in this country.
It was held behind closed doors last year, but in 2019, a crowd of 13,433 people attended the Leopardstown stage. Just over 10,000 were at the Curragh that year.
Tim Husbands took over at Leopardstown in 2019 and described the past 17 months with little or no attendance as “very difficult” financially for the course.
However, he’s optimistic that some increase in crowd size will be in place for Champions Weekend.
“We just don’t know what that increase will be. All of our planning is on a 1000 model, 3000 model and 5000 model. Like everyone else, we look forward to hearing what the government has to say next week, ”he said on Sunday.
“Mile is more realistic, but I would like to think we could get three at 5,000.
“We have to be optimistic. I think when you have a big event in a sports stadium that’s happening across town (All-Ireland final) with 40,000 people, I think it’s not unreasonable to think that we could reach 3000.
” It’s my aim. I get paid to be optimistic and that’s who I am, ”he added.
The delay in staging the second All-Ireland football semi-final due to a coronavrius outbreak in Tyrone GAA’s squad saw the final postponed to the same day as the Irish Champion Stakes by a million euros take center stage in Leopardstown.
Normally such a clash would be bad news for the HRI race track, but Husbands thinks it could turn out to be positive now.
“I think it’s actually helpful that it was moved to that date, in terms of those people making decisions about how many people can attend a sporting event,” he said.
Racing, which operates under the banner of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Navy rather than the Department of Sports, has been told its crowd levels have remained low due to higher levels of mixing on longer periods on the tracks as well as contact tracing methods being easier in the stadiums.
HRI and other organizations have argued that the sport’s protocols have been shown to be effective over an extended period of time without an outbreak of Covid-19 linked to racetracks.
As autumn approaches, the possibility for racing fans to be allowed inside the tracks is seen as vital, especially with the indoor hospitality which has been operational nationwide since the 26th. July.
“I would make a comparison with the hotel industry which is now open to dining. We should be seen in a very similar vein, ”commented Mari before stressing the need for a quick decision by the government.
“We planned and worked with our service operators, such as the cleaning company, based on our models. But we would need the time to put the plans in place. That’s why we’re hoping to hear something early next week.
“Obviously we’ve been able to run race meetings throughout and we’re very grateful for that. But it’s also obviously very difficult for any business based on people going through turnstiles, ”he added.
The Listowel Festival runs from September 19 to 25 and is traditionally one of the busiest meetings of the year.
In 2019, more than 89,000 were on track over the seven days.