Curragh boss rejects idea that Irish Derby attendances are plateauing

Brian Kavanagh insists €50 admission not an issue in relation to 11,300 Derby crowd

The Curragh’s chief executive has dismissed suggestions of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby’s public appeal plateauing and insisted building up crowd figures at racing’s HQ is a long-term project.

An official attendance of 11,300 watched the Colin Keane ridden Westover run out an impressive seven length winner of Ireland’s premier classic on Saturday.

That was slightly down on the 2019 Derby attendance of just less than 12,000, the last time unrestricted crowds were allowed at the €1 million showpiece event pre-pandemic.

2019 was also the first time the Derby was held at the revamped €81 million Curragh facility with its signature Aga Khan stand.

On that occasion there was criticism of logistical snarl-ups resulting in long queues for food and toilet facilities but on Sunday the Curragh’s CEO Brian Kavanangh reported no repeat of that.

He expressed satisfaction at Saturday’s attendance and rejected the idea of crowd sizes levelling off.

“Not at all. I was delighted with yesterday. The stand here was built for a capacity of 12-13,000 so I’m very happy with the way it worked yesterday. The idea always was that it would be supplemented on bigger days and there is limitless scope in that area.

“The key thing is that people who come to the races have a good experience. Numbers will come after that. You fit 20,000 into a stand with a capacity of 12,000 and then you’re talking about queues everywhere for the facilities.

“It’s a long-term project in terms of building the Curragh to where we want it to be. It’s about people enjoying the experience and that’s the overwhelming feedback we’ve had

“When I took this job, the ambition was to develop the Curragh, develop the facilities over time to increase their popularity.

“In many ways, we’re year one back from Covid, year one with the building getting fully worked and tested. Every meeting is a learning. But the reaction has generally been positive,” Kavanagh said.

Last week there was considerable criticism of the €50 general admission charge on the day of the big race but the Curragh boss said that had little or no impact.

“A fraction of the tickets that we sell here are sold on the day. Tickets were available right up to midnight on Friday at €40. It certainly wasn’t an issue on the ground,” he commented.

Westover’s winning margin over runner up Piz Badile was the longest in Irish Derby for 15 years and delivered Keane a first Derby victory.

It was the second year in a row a cross-channel trained colt followed up finishing third at Epsom before scoring at the Curragh. Godolphin’s Hurricane Lane was successful in 2021.

Kavanagh said such results can encourage more international competition at the Curragh.

“Racing is an international business so we want not just English but other countries coming to the Curragh. You have to put on the prize money and put on the quality of racing. We’re going to be actively looking for as much international competition as possible for our races going forward,” he said.

Westover started 11-8 joint favourite on Saturday but the other market leader, Tuesday, failed to make the fame in fourth.

“Yesterday she just got caught in the second half of the race. There was two halves and she got caught in the second. It just didn’t happen for her yesterday and maybe tactically I got it wrong with what I said to Ryan (Moore),” her trainer Aidan O’Brien said on Sunday.

“She was back there and she was coming home well but the race was over. We were very happy with the run other than she didn’t get involved. The plan was to come here and then a little rest and be trained for later on in the season. So we’ll see how she comes out of it,” he added.

O’Brien also had positive news on his star three year old colt, Luxembourg, who has been out of action since finishing third in the Newmarket 2,000 Guineas.

“He’s good, He’s back doing two canters. We’re looking at the autumn and the Champion Stakes. In an ideal world we’d like to get a run into him before it. So, we’re back in a good place with him, we think,” he said.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column