Leopardstown officials are optimistic the attendance momentum gained over Christmas will continue to this weekend’s Dublin Racing Festival, particularly with a sizeable influx of cross-channel visitors expected.
Up to 15 per cent of the crowds during Saturday and Sunday’s action are forecast to come from the UK, attracted by the sixth renewal of an event worth more than €2 million in prize money.
That could deliver even extra impetus to the boost generated by positive official crowd figures returned for the four-day Christmas action at Leopardstown.
With unrestricted crowds allowed back for the first time since 2019, a total of 60,478 went through the turnstiles over the four days.
That was a six per cent increase on the 57,035 that attended three years previously.
In contrast, the Dublin Racing Festival took place behind closed doors only once due to the pandemic in 2021.
Unrestricted access returned in time for last year’s action, which saw an official attendance of 25,210 over the two days.
Despite that welcome return to normality the figure was down from 2020′s record tally of 26,474.
Even that fell short of Ruby Walsh’s forecast before the first DRF in 2018 that such a concentration of riches into a single weekend meant Leopardstown had to “fill the place”.
The track’s capacity of up to 18,000 hasn’t been reached yet over five years of a programme featuring 15 races, eight of them at the highest Grade One level.
Rallying crowd figures over Christmas, however, mean confidence is high about the popular appeal of this weekend’s action.
“Ticket sales are tracking well, hospitality is sold out completely, and general admissions are tracking well compared to last year. I’m optimistic we’ll get a great result,” Leopardstown’s chief executive Tim Husbands said on Monday.
A general advance online admission price of €35 appears to have encouraged greater numbers of UK racegoers despite a tiny number of anticipated cross-channel runners. Favourable prices in comparison to the Cheltenham festival in March also appears to be a factor.
“I think that’s part of the reason, that they’re getting value for money,” Husbands said.
“I would say it would end up around 14 or 15 per cent coming from the UK, if not stronger. I think racegoers in the UK are looking for a genuinely different experience now and they’re looking at Ireland as a good trip to a unique destination with first class and competitive racing,” he added.
For the first time last year, the festival’s most valuable contest, the €250,000 Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup was switched to the Saturday from Sunday.
Part of the reason was to try to give the big-race field the best of ground conditions and there is likely to again be some focus on the state of the going on the steeplechase course.
A total of 12mm of water was put on the track on Saturday and watering will continue this week to try to achieve yielding ground. The going on the chase course on Monday was good to yielding in places.
The condition of the chase course has attracted criticism in recent years due to how quickly it can dry out.
In 2021, 45mm of rainfall fell at Christmas yet watering still had to take place before the second day of the festival.
Willie Mullins has been among those critical of the course and his Galopin Des Champs is a 1-3 favourite to cement his Cheltenham claims in Saturday’s feature.
“There will be a lot of watering taking place during the course of the week to get where we need to get to,” said Husbands.
“I think the work that’s been done over the last nine to 12 months means we’re actually in an even better place compared to last year. A lot more moisture has been retained in the ground so we’re confident we’ll deliver some great ground,” he added.
Galopin Des Champs tops Mullins’s six entries in advance of Tuesday’s crucial confirmation stage for all the weekend action.
Last year’s surprise Gold Cup winner Conflated is one of 11 currently figuring among the entries, although it is uncertain if he will try to defend his crown or go straight to the Cheltenham festival.