A STRICT set of protocols have been drawn up for the estimated 200 Irish trainers and stable staff attending Cheltenham in less than three weeks’ time.
The Irish Government Covid-19 guidelines permit international travel for participants in elite sports at significant events, but the Cheltenham Festival presents a greater challenge than a rugby or soccer match, due to the relatively high number of travellers.
Dr Jennifer Pugh, chief medical officer with the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board, said: “The British Horseracing Authority and Cheltenham Racecourse have been amazing to work with. Many of these protocols have been instigated to satisfy our requirement to ensure we neither pass on infection or become infected whilst there.
“Keeping the Irish at Cheltenham away from everyone else is a key part of our protocol,” Dr Pugh explained.
All those travelling to Cheltenham must test negative for Covid-19 within the 72 hours before they leave Ireland. “We are offering enhanced testing facilities over the next two weeks, and we are encouraging all yards to take it up, so that they have time to make alternative staff arrangements if necessary.”
The visitors will all take another Covid test before returning from Cheltenham and they must restrict their movements at home until testing negative again on their fifth day back in the country.
At Cheltenham Racecourse, an ‘Irish zone’ is being built which will include accommodation and catering facilities. Dr Pugh said: “Chalets have been erected for staff and when you get there you stay there. Only grooms who are looking after a runner on the day can enter the racecourse green zone on that day.”
Some Irish trainers are understood to be using British-based staff to look after their runners, and those grooms will join the Irish ‘bubble’ for the week.
Bernard Caldwell, chairman of the Irish Stablestaff Association, said: “Our members are delighted they can go to Cheltenham and I am confident they will show everyone how professional they are by staying safe and following the protocols.”
Irish at Cheltenham: the rules for all travellers