Day At The Track

HRV responds to once in a century COVID crisis

08:45 AM 31 Jul 2020 NZST
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Bendigo reinsman Rod Lakey with trainer Shaun Kittel after their win with The Last Chance on Tuesday night,Harness racing
Mask up: Bendigo reinsman Rod Lakey with trainer Shaun Kittel after their win with The Last Chance on Tuesday night

Harness racing in Victoria is certainly looking different and officials say the calendar continues to be fluid in order to keep racing safely through the State's worsening COVID-19 second wave.

Despite predictions to the contrary, Victoria has managed to maintain race meetings almost without disruption since the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic hit in March.

A suite of strict hygiene and behavioural protocols in place since the first wave of coronavirus is now even tighter, with participants at all race meetings and trials in Victoria now required to wear masks. HRV introduced the mask requirement ahead of Victoria's Statewide "mask up" order in place from Sunday.

A shock 700-plus cases reported on one day this week will again test the sport's leadership - but CEO Dayle Brown says returning to a regionalisation model has safeguarded the industry throughout the crisis and is the best option to keep participants racing, and the sport functioning.

"The racing calendar now for us is changing as we move forward," Brown said.

"You have to look at the knife edge we are on at the moment and the priority that always needs to be on keeping our people healthy and well and keeping our sport going," he said.

"As this second wave continues on this six-week lockdown by the State Government (in the Melbourne Metropolitan area and Mitchell Shire) has the potential to go longer.

"We don't know what these numbers will do day to day and what the government response will be, so our calendar is fluid."

The regionalisation model, which divides the State into five hubs each racing at a single track, reduced the movement of participants around the State, and was a key plank in convincing the Government to allow racing to continue.

The model was briefly abandoned when the COVID-19 curve flattened late in June, but rising cases have again seen a return to the structure.

"Going back into the regional model was the best option for us," Brown said.

"If we do have to close down this Metropolitan-Mitchell Shire area, at least we can isolate that for the short term and keep racing elsewhere."

HRV's caution in introducing the mask requirement was questioned by regions of Victoria without active COVID-19 cases, but appears to have been vindicated since, with the State Government's blanket rule.

"You only have to look overseas to see young people coming back and them talking about the effect that this virus has had on them. It can become a disability for life - even in people who were healthy, fit normal people before," Brown said.

"This is an insidious virus and it's important that we as a collective at this point in time double down and keep everyone safe and well and keep racing."

HRV has reminded participants to ensure they do not attend any race or trial meeting if they are in any way unwell.

Brown said HRV stewards were continuing to take a zero-tolerance approach regarding any person who breaches the directions and requirements, which are in place to protect the health and wellbeing of all persons involved in the harness racing industry.

In line with the zero-tolerance approach, stewards have issued a charge against unlicensed person Matthew Talty and stablehand Dylan Schembri. It's alleged Talty breached the COVID-19 protocols by gaining entry to a trial meeting at the Kilmore Racecourse on 19 May 2020 with licensed stablehand Dylan Schembri.

The charge will be heard by the Victorian Racing Tribunal on a date to be fixed.


Terry Gange

NewsAlert PR Mildura

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