The Punchestown Festival, due to start at the end of April, has been cancelled - it was confirmed this afternoon.
Nearly a month ago, as the first cases of Coronavirus were confirmed in Ireland, the management team at Punchestown Racecourse had insisted they were pressing ahead with the event.
The five-day event, which was due to run from April 28 to May 2, is County Kildare’s most valuable sporting occasion.
According to some estimates it is worth over €60m to the local economy with many racegoers travelling to the races from the UK and mainland Europe.
However a statement from Punchestown announced this afternoon: "Following consultation with Horse Racing Ireland and the relevant statutory bodies the Punchestown Festival has been cancelled in response to the ongoing threat to public health due to Covid-19.
"Punchestown Racecourse would like to take this opportunity to reassure all of their clients that they will be operating a full refund policy as a result of the event not going ahead.
"The Punchestown team will communicate directly with all clients in due course as they endeavour to manage this process as efficiently as possible.
"The Punchestown team are adhering to government work place restriction guidelines and the commencement of the refund process will take place at the earliest opportunity."
The 2021 Punchestown Festival is scheduled to take place from Tuesday 27th April to Saturday 1st May.
Speaking on behalf of Punchestown Racecourse, CEO Conor O’Neill said “The cancellation of the 2020 Punchestown Festival is of course very disappointing although in these unprecedented times it is certainly the appropriate decision. Above all, the health and safety of our visitors, clients, staff and participants is of paramount importance and that has been the key focus in the decision making process. These are very difficult times for everyone both from a business and a personal point of view and I would like to reassure all of our clients that we will offer a full refund policy.
O’Neill continued “On behalf of the directors, management and staff of Punchestown Racecourse, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of those that have supported us from our sponsors and clients to the racing industry and the community of Kildare and beyond. In particular, thank you for your patience over the past number of weeks which has enabled us to work in conjunction with Horse Racing Ireland and the relevant government authorities as we have continuously monitored and assessed the feasibility of various scenarios before ultimately making the decision to cancel the event in its entirety. In these difficult and challenging times we send our support and best wishes to all and together we can look forward to better days ahead”.
The Board of Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) said that it had met today and in response to the need to provide as much clarity as possible to the racing industry, in very uncertain times, the Board agreed it was prudent to bring the 2019/2020 National Hunt season to a close at this point.
The Board also discussed a strategy that would allow Irish racing to return as quickly as possible once it is appropriate to do so and within Government guidelines.
The Board recognised that, at least initially, racing would restart on the Flat and most likely behind closed doors, with adherence to strict social distancing protocols as were successfully operated at ten race fixtures in March.
Nicky Hartery, Chairman of Horse Racing Ireland, said:
“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. No-one can predict when this point will be reached.
“What the Board agreed today was a plan to get back racing once those guidelines allow.”
A number of fixture and race programme scenarios have been developed by the executive which will ensure a timely and agile response when a potential restart date becomes clearer. The plan for a staggered resumption strategy would initially see a programme of solely Flat racing fixtures for one month so as to prioritise the portion of the horse population which most require the resumption of racecourse action, whilst also minimising potential requirement for medical support.
The decision was also taken by the Board to end the 2019/2020 National Hunt season immediately, with the spring festivals at Fairyhouse and Punchestown not to be rescheduled. Instead an enhanced National Hunt programme from October to December 2020 will be revealed later this year and it is intended to include in that programme the 2020 BoyleSports Irish Grand National.
Brian Kavanagh, Chief Executive of Horse Racing Ireland said:
“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.
“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.
“While the conclusion of the National Hunt season is a major blow for that sector and jump racing enthusiasts, in making an early decision we want to give as much certainty as possible to owners and trainers and this plan will allow winter National Hunt horses to take advantage of summer grass, reducing the costs for National Hunt owners, with the knowledge of an enhanced programme to come for them from the Autumn onwards, circumstances permitting.”