Fairyhouse aiming to extend upward attendance curve during Easter festival action

Just over 28,000 fans attended 2023 Easter festival including 16,165 spectators for the Irish Grand National

Fairyhouse officials are confident they can continue the recent upward curve in Irish racing’s festival attendances during their upcoming Easter action.

A worrying slip in crowd figures at Cheltenham earlier this month – including an attendance of less than 47,000 on the second day – contrasts with recent encouraging festival numbers in Ireland.

Leopardstown’s Christmas action was witnessed by just over 62,000 during the four days, up on 2022′s corresponding figure of 60,478. There was a four per cent increase at last month’s Dublin Racing Festival to 36,020. It included a record DRF crowd of 20,017 on day one.

The latest big festival kicks off at Fairyhouse on Saturday, building up to Easter Monday’s highlight, the €500,000 Boylesports Irish Grand National.


The latest acceptance stage for Ireland’s richest jumps race will take place on Wednesday and although the smallest National field in some time is likely, the Easter dates appear set to maintain their traditional public appeal.

Last year’s Easter Monday attendance of 16,165 was up over a thousand on 2022 and contributed to a total festival tally of just over 28,000.

“I would hope there would be slight improvement and if the weather gives me a chance I would be very confident I can get it [increased figures]. But I do need a bit of a bounce in the weather,” Fairyhouse’s general manager Peter Roe said on Tuesday.

“I’m tracking way ahead of last year. Hospitality is absolutely sold out for Easter Monday and is basically sold out for the three days. Everything is where we want it to be at this stage, but Irish people tend to leave a lot of it to the last minute.

“There are two bank holidays in two weeks this year which is not great in terms of people and their money. But there’s always issues. Considering everything I’m very happy where we are. I’d just like the weather to give me a bounce,” he added.

That weather has left ground conditions officially “heavy” at Fairyhouse and the decision has been taken to cut the maximum fields for non-graded races to 20 from 25.

“There’s plenty of fresh ground for the three days. We’ve reduced the numbers slightly to ensure that for the feature races in the middle of the cards we have as good a ground a possible based on the weather forecast,” Roe said.

Saturday’s action includes the €100,000 Rybo Handicap Hurdle but there will be a pair of Grade One highlights on the Easter Sunday programme.

Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott each have a trio of entries among the nine left in the WillowWarm Gold Cup, traditionally known as the Powers Gold Cup, and which features both Galopin Des Champs (2022) and Al Boum Photo (2018) on its recent roll of honour.

They contributed to Mullins winning the last five renewals of the race and this time he can pick from the trio of Blood Destiny, Il Etait Temps and Tactical Move. Elliott’s Found A Fifty, runner-up to Gaelic Warrior in the Arkle at Cheltenham, tops Elliott’s hopefuls.

A massive entry of 22 hopefuls were left in the Honeysuckle Mares’ Novice Hurdle at Tuesday’s acceptance stage. The included Brighterdaysahead, who lost her unbeaten record when an odds-on runner-up to Golden Ace at Cheltenham. Jade De Grugy, fourth in that race, is also in the mix.

There are a pair of cross-channel entries, Springtime Promise and Victora Milano, for the Honeysuckle and there are two other potential raiders for Sunday’s Tattersalls Sales Bumper. Jonjo O’Neill has left in We’re Red And Blue, while Clap Of Thunder is a possible for Nigel Twiston-Davies.

Farouk D’alene is topweight for Monday’s Irish National but Elliott’s stayer also features at No 16 of the 58 entries left in the Randox Aintree Grand National after Tuesday’s latest forfeit stage for the world’s most famous steeplechase.

The maximum field size for the Liverpool spectacular, which takes place a dozen days after the Irish National, has been cut to 34 from 40. Just half a dozen of the current 34 rated horses are British-trained, although they include the favourite and defending champion Corach Rambler.

Martin Brassil’s Panda Boy, a general 12-1 shot in ante-post lists, is currently No 35 on the list. He is one of six horses (from No 33 to No 38) due to carry 10.6, with their current handicap marks at the time of elimination to decide the order of balloting. Should that still be identical, it will then come down to a random ballot.

Thursday’s cancelled jumps fixture at Clonmel has been rescheduled to next Thursday (April 4th) and next Wednesday’s flat programme at Gowran (April 3rd) has been cancelled more than a week in advance following heavy rain and an unfavourable forecast. The card scheduled for Wexford on Wednesday was cancelled due to waterlogging.

“Despite being over a week away, the track is not going to come right in time for flat racing next week following a very wet winter and particularly this month. There is also further rain to come between now and next Wednesday,” said Gowran’s clerk of the course Paddy Graffin.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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