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Uncertain times leaving Irish racecourses in the dark

One of the industries hit the hardest by the pandemic has been the horse racing industry, with behind closed doors race meetings having been implemented back in March. Andrew Blair White explores the massive struggles this has caused for racecourses in Ireland.

Photo taken Coldy Banks. Sourced from Flickr.

Leopardstown Racecourse would have looked at the year of 2020 with such optimism when entering the new calendar year. Massive renovations have been made to some of the on-course sites, making racing much more attractive for the average fan. After having a very successful Dublin Racing Festival in early February 2020, they only could host two more meetings this year before the initial lockdown of Ireland ensued in March. 

Tim Husbands, the CEO of Leopardstown Racecourse, has admitted to what has been a challenging time for all involved. “At Leopardstown, we were all looking forward to hosting some magnificent summer action and to get some big crowds in the gates. 

“The Bulmers Live Series has been very successful throughout the summer months in the last few years. Leopardstown Racecourse has firmly established itself at the forefront of raceday entertainment in Ireland, Bulmers Live is the epitome of this with unrivalled acts playing after racing during the summer months.”

However, this has not been able to take place this summer – as racing was only allowed to continue behind closed doors. In fact, for the majority of the meetings at Leopardstown, owners of the horses themselves were not permitted to attend. This has cut off a lot of potential revenue streams for the course, with big gate receipts to have been expected for the Bulmers Live Series, Champions Day and of course, the Christmas Festival. 

Despite all of this, Leopardstown have tried their level best to keep all their members in the loop with regular updates at all times. They pride themselves on their membership service, with tempting deals to entice new and younger people to the course with their Club 30 Membership package. Husbands added: “In these unprecedented times and with still so much uncertainty in relation to Covid 19 and racing, Leopardstown continues to operate in a dynamic backdrop that has in turn proven challenging to communicate with any degree of certainty as to when we can open our doors safely to both our valued members, but also the general public in the months to come.”

In continuing to drive their own high standards of membership care, Leopardstown have offered two options to members – to refund or replace this year’s membership. Given the lack of money coming through the door from gate receipts, this is a very good touch from the professional outlook. However, one must wonder how long this can carry on for. Leopardstown are in a strong position that they have solid sponsoring and brilliant facilities to work with. This is not the case for some other Irish racecourses, where the facilities are that bit more basic and they don’t have the big name races to keep the show on the road.

Given the uncertainty of when it looks like members and the public can go back to their respective tracks, it leaves the racecourses themselves in the dark. When can they plan for reopening the doors? When can they ensure members they will get fair value for membership? When can they let on-course bookmakers return? These are all questions that remain unanswered, and as a result, set out a terrifying precedent for racecourses in the future. 

Leopardstown are doing an exemplary job right now, but how long can this feasibly last without guidance, or at worst, without hope.

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