Race goes ahead despite pandemic

Race goes ahead despite pandemic

25 March 2020

THE only sporting fixture in the province at the weekend took place behind closed doors at Downpatrick racecourse on Sunday.

The Randox Ulster National, one of the most prestigious races in the calendar, unfolded in front of empty stands.

There were only a handful of people in the enclosures as 25/1 shot Space Cadet, ridden by 19 year-old amateur jockey Ben Harvey, held off last year’s winner, Amaulino, in a thrilling finish.

There were just a few cheers and claps at the finish line — nothing like the rousing applause at a normal meeting at Downpatrick.

Recorder racing correspondent Michael Carey said it was a pity, given the excellent day’s racing.

“It was probably one of the best cards I’ve seen at Downpatrick for a long time,” he said. “But there was very little atmosphere. You knew something wasn’t right.”

Meanwhile, the sporting shutdown owing to the coronavirus outbreak looks set to continue for the foreseeable future.

On Monday, the Irish Football Association announced that it is extending the suspension of all soccer until April 30.

Earlier this month, the IFA board suspended all football action under its jurisdiction until April 4.

In a statement the IFA said: “The decision has been made with public health but, equally, the health and safety of players, match officials, staff and volunteers front of mind.

“The matter will be kept under constant review and means no affiliated football will be played in Northern Ireland until that time.

Newcastle League secretary, Alan Craig, said the league welcomed the statement and would be happy to take the advice of a steering group which has been set up to devise solutions going forward.

He remarked: “As previously stated, given the current situation surrounding COVID-19, it would not be the right time to discuss what the league’s plans are surrounding cup finals and league fixtures. 

“We are asking our members and their families to stay safe and follow the advice of the health authorities.

“Only when it is appropriate to do so will we give the information regarding league and cup games but for now, football takes a back seat until such times that we are in a position to ensure the safety of our football family and the wider community.”

GAA activities have been suspended until Sunday, but Down county board secretary, Sean Og McAteer, believes a further suspension is inevitable.

“We are expecting a directive from Croke Park before the end of the week,” he said. “Realistically, we have to expect a further suspension until the end of April.”

The rugby season has ended prematurely and the IRFU has declared that there will be no promotion or relegation season.

That means Ballynahinch, who were facing relegation, will retain their status in the top flight of the All-Ireland League.  However, a club spokesman said this was “by no means our primary concern”.

He continued: “At Ballynahinch we are more concerned that our members take the correct steps to protect themselves and others as well as the welfare of our older and more vulnerable members in these unprecedented times.

“We will have to take steps to secure the future of our club in the long term as income streams disappear, but rugby will be back at Ballymacarn Park when some sense of normality returns to society.”

Yesterday, it was announced that all golf courses will close with immediate effect.

In a joint statement, the Golfing Union of Ireland and Irish Ladies Golf Union said: “Such closures will have a significant impact on golf clubs and we continue to consult with industry partners to provide clubs with all information and support possible during this time of deep uncertainty.

“We know that these decisions are difficult ones to make, but right now, it is our shared responsibility to prioritise the health of our local communities by working together to follow the UK Government guidelines.”