Capacity pressure expected at Dublin Racing Festival

Racecourses in Ireland are set to welcome full crowds again with immediate effect after the Irish government agreed to lift most of the COVID-19 restrictions on January 22, including the current limit on indoor and outdoor events.

That news will be music to jump racing fans with tickets to go on sale again next month for the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown Racecourse, and a huge crowd expected at Gowran Park on Thursday for the Thyestes Chase meeting .

The COVID pass requirement has also been scrapped for hospitality and a return to something very close to normal will begin in Navan on Saturday following Taoiseach Micheal Martin’s announcement just after 6pm on Friday night.

Martin said: “From 6am tomorrow morning (Saturday), most of the public health measures we have had to live with will be removed.

“There are no more capacity restrictions for all indoor and outdoor events. The COVID pass requirement for access to catering and indoor activities no longer applies.

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“Spring is coming and I don’t know if I’ve ever looked forward to it like this. Humans are social creatures and we Irish are more sociable than most.”

The legendary Tiger Roll is the star attraction in Navan on Saturday, running in the 2m4f handicap hurdle (1.40), and the track manager, Aidan McGarry, said: “We are lucky to be quite flexible with regard to a meeting like this one.

“We clearly planned according to the previous guidelines and had everything in-house for that, but the adjustments we need to make after this fantastic news are quite simple.”

Suzanne Eade, CEO of Horse Racing Ireland, said of the developments: “It’s great news. We had thought it was coming, and removing social distancing will be a very different game for racing because of the hospitality.

“There may also be some low-key demand, which would be great for upcoming events such as the Thyestes in Gowran and the Dublin Racing Festival.

“Paul Dermody has been doing a lot of work in the background to get people racing again, so we’re looking forward to moving on with that now. It’s really exciting.”

Tim Husbands, chief executive of Leopardstown and home of the Dublin Racing Festival on February 5 and 6, shared that excitement.

Spouses said: “You wouldn’t believe the buzz of excitement around the place since the news came out. It is astonishing. Everyone has a pep talk in their step.

“We thought we would get a small raise for the Dublin Racing Festival, but to get this news is just fantastic. It’s going to be two brilliant days and we can’t wait. The atmosphere will be something very special.”

One of the biggest dates on the Irish show jumping calendar for many is Thyestes Day at Gowran Park and the track manager Eddie Scally is predicting a blockbuster on Thursday.

Scally said: “It’s just fantastic news. The reduced capacity Thursday tickets were almost sold out. That was for 4,500 people. Now we can plan well and make sure everyone has a memorable day.”

“It will be the biggest and best Thyestes day yet and I can’t wait. I can’t emphasize enough how much I missed a full house and that carnival atmosphere.

“Racing behind closed doors just wasn’t the same. I didn’t sign up for that. It’s for days like next Thursday and a packed Gowran Park that I love this track.”

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