Ireland’s point-to-point season kicks off this weekend, behind closed doors with no paying customers but two weeks earlier than in recent seasons.
Fixtures at Ballingarry in County Tipperary tomorrow and Oldcastle in County Meath on Sunday form part of the sport’s efforts to help owners and trainers run horses who were denied action when Covid-19 forced the early closure of racing in March. Britain is also set for an earlier start to its point-to-point season, with the first meetings taking place in Devon and Gloucestershire on the weekend of October 24 and 25.
Owners with runners at Ireland’s meetings will not be able to attend for the time being unless they are also hunt officials, stewards, veterinary officers etc, but their eagerness to run horses can be seen from the number of entries received, with 160 at Ballingarry and 117 at Oldcastle. Ireland staged two point-to-points behind closed doors before closing down last season, although stricter measures are now in place.
They include a requirement that all attendees fill in an online medical questionnaire, they will be temperature tested on arrival at the course and will be obliged to wear face masks or coverings. Courses with permanent buildings can use them if social distancing is maintained, but marquees will be replaced by horse trailers with one-way systems for declaring runners and weighing riders in and out. Riders are asked to change in and remain at their cars between rides, and all present are obliged to exit the venue once their role has been fulfilled.
Online health screening will be obligatory every week in a 24-hour window over Thursday and Friday – once successfully completed attendees will receive a ticket with a QR code on it which must be presented at the entrance gate for scanning. Attendees can apply for Saturday and Sunday tickets at the same time.
People visiting Ireland from Britain are currently required to undergo a 14-day self-isolation period.