Leopardstown target big crowd for ‘Champions Weekend’ day

Chief executive Pat Keogh believes concept can ultimately contribute towards a transformation in attendances

Sea The Stars wins the 2009 running of  the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown.

Sea The Stars wins the 2009 running of the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown.

Tue, Aug 26, 2014, 01:00

Leopardstown’s authorities are ultimately aiming at Christmas festival-type crowds for their segment of the new “Champions Weekend” formula which is designed to showcase Irish racing to a world audience.

The Dublin track hosts the first day of the heavily-invested-in new strategy on September 13th, with the Curragh taking over the following day for an overall €3.7 million package that contains five Group One races as well as a pair of Group Two contests and two Group Threes.

Leopardstown’s most important Group One race of the year, the €1million Qipco Irish Champion Stakes, is traditionally the official highest-rated race run in Ireland all year, with a luminous roll-of-honour including Daylami, Giant’s Causeway and Sadler’s Wells, and topped off by the legendary 2009 winner, Sea The Stars.

However, even Sea The Stars could only attract a crowd of 9,500 to watch his sole start in Ireland that season and attendances have fallen even further since then with an average crowd of just 8,600 over the last three years. It’s a long way from the 17,000 that watched the 2001 Champion Stakes clash between Galileo and Fantastic Light.

In attendances

However, Leopardstown’s chief executive Pat Keogh believes the ‘Champions Weekend’ concept can ultimately contribute towards a transformation in attendances for the Champion Stakes and isn’t ruling out crowds similar to the Christmas festival in five years time.

“We are aiming for a crowd possibly approaching 11,000 this year which, from a base of 8,600, would be a very significant step-up. I’d be disappointed if we don’t get that, and I would also be disappointed if we can’t get it to 12,500 within the next couple of years. This is the first year but it will build fairly quickly,” Keogh said yesterday.

Champions Weekend is so important. We aim to put on an exhibition of all that’s great in the Irish thoroughbred industry. All sport is global now. It doesn’t matter to people watching on television if a rugby match is in Wellington or the Aviva and this weekend’s racing will be watched all over the world. But we also want people to look at it and say this is where we have to be at,” he added.

Major crowd-puller

The Christmas festival is traditionally Leopardstown’s major crowd-puller and attracted 55,713 through the gates in 2013 for an average daily attendance of almost 14,000.

“This is a five-year process and if we can get 2,400 more through the gates this year from a base of 8,600 that will be a very significant challenge completed,” Keogh added.

Leading jumps rider Bryan Cooper, out of action since the Cheltenham festival with a broken leg, is aiming to return to action at the start of October.

Gigginstown Stud’s number one jockey will bypass the Listowel festival and reported: “I’m going to aim for October, maybe the meeting in Gowran in the first week of October. I’ll judge it by myself.

“There have been no setbacks, which is great, and I’m just looking forward to getting back now.”

For a horse with classic aspirations at the start of the season this evening’s €9,000 maiden at Ballinrobe is quite a come-down for Marakoush but after a three-month absence John Oxx’s three-year-old should be hard to beat.

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