AN additional five race meetings have been scheduled for March to cater for point-to-point horses unable to run between the flags due to Covid-19 restrictions.
On Friday Horse Racing Ireland released details of the extra National Hunt fixtures "in light of the continuing very high demand for opportunities to run in maiden hurdles and following the Government announcement of continued Level 5 restrictions earlier this week, which means that point-to-point racing will not resume until after April 5th at the earliest."
All five meetings will be run under the full Rules of Racing with standard broadcast coverage and integrity provision, including the comprehensive and strict HRI Racecourse Covid protocols.
The five dates are:
Friday March 5 Fairyhouse (inside track)
Monday March 15 Punchestown (inside track)
Saturday March 20 Wexford
Monday March 22 Navan
Wednesday March 24 Tipperary
The Fairyhouse and Navan fixtures will comprise largely of maiden hurdles while, subject to demand, the fixtures at Punchestown, Wexford and Tipperary will be for horses eligible to run in point-to-points and holders of a point-to-point handlers' permit may enter and run horses at these fixtures.
The race programme for the Fairyhouse card (March 5th) will be published today (Friday, February 26th), with four races initially programmed to allow for multiple divisions within an eight-race card.
The IHRB will be consulting with point-to-point handlers today to identify the most suitable races for the first meeting targeted at point-to-point horses at Punchestown on Monday, March 15th, with the publication of a programme of races to quickly follow to assist with handlers’ preparations.
It is envisaged that this first Punchestown fixture will comprise an all-bumper card with a variety of distances and age/sex restrictions, with the future programmes being subject to the demands of the horse population.
All bumpers targeted at point-to-point horses will be worth €8,000 each with standard prize money payments to the first six, and entries and declarations will be processed and published through Horse Racing Ireland as normal.
Brian Kavanagh, HRI chief executive, said: "Tuesday’s announcement of a continuation of Level 5 restrictions means that point-to-point racing has not been able to resume yet in 2021, and Horse Racing Ireland is very aware of the pressures being felt by those in the point-to-point community.
“Working closely with the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee, the IHRB and racecourses, HRI has acted to ensure that some opportunities are available in the coming weeks.
"We very much hope that the national Covid picture improves sufficiently to allow point-to-point racing to resume fully post-April 5th, because of the vital role it plays in National Hunt racing and its importance to the rural economy.”
"EASE THE PRESSURE"
Paul Murtagh, Registrar of the INHS Committee, said: "It has been a frustrating beginning to 2021 for the point-to-point community and while the only way to fully ease the pressure on the system will be a full resumption of the point-to-point season, these five extra fixtures are hugely welcomed.
“I would encourage all handlers to respond quickly to the consultative email we are sending out today so that we can get the most accurate picture of where demands most lie and create a race programme that best suits handlers’ needs.”
MORE ON THIS STORY IN THE IRISH FIELD ON SATURDAY