The Aga Khan’s Irish representative favoured the closure of the Curragh during its €65 million redevelopment, and has indicated a willingness to discuss switching the 2018 Irish Derby to Leopardstown.
Pat Downes is the Aga Khan's bloodstock manager in Ireland, representing him on the board of directors for the new racecourse company.
Along with John Magnier's Coolmore Stud, Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin, Moyglare Stud and JP McManus, the Aga Khan contributed financially to the new redevelopment of the racecourse and combined they own a third of Curragh Racecourse Ltd.
The Turf Club, which had sole ownership of the Curragh from 1790 to 2015, retains a third, and the other third is owned by the State.
The decision to race at the Curragh in curtailed seasons through 2017 and 2018 – despite building work resulting in a 6,000 crowd capacity and temporary facilities – has been criticised over its potential impact on the Irish Derby and the second leg of “Irish champions weekend” in particular.
Trainer John Oxx has said it was a shame that two of Irish flat racing's major showpiece fixtures would be run on a building site in front of a limited crowd this year. However, the hugely respected figure added that while arrangements for 2017 were set, the matter could be re-examined ahead of this September's publication of the 2018 fixture list.
Jim Bolger and Ger Lyons are other top trainers who have said the Derby would be better run at Leopardstown during building work. Lyons argued the Curragh should be closed completely, a position Pat Downes says he also argued for during board discussions.
“Running the Irish Derby and champions weekend with temporary facilities and in front of a small crowd is not ideal at all. Personally I would have closed the Curragh to allow the contractors to get on with the job. But we are where we are,” Downes said on Sunday.
“He [the Aga Khan] didn’t take a strong view on it, to be honest. I explained to him what the outcome of the discussions were, and he accepted that.”
Horse Racing Ireland's chief executive Brian Kavanagh has indicated the same arrangements will be in place in 2018 for the Derby and champions weekend, but Downes appeared to echo Oxx's remarks about a possible change of mind. "Perhaps something will happen, I don't know. But if it comes up for discussion, we would be happy to discuss it."
The Aga Khan was a central figure behind plans for the redevelopment of the Curragh over a decade ago when a reported donation of almost €15 million allowed for the purchase of the old Stand House Hotel which was situated behind the stands.
Those plans stalled on the back of repeated planning delays, and were shelved with the economic downturn.
Work on demolishing the stands at the Curragh began this week, and officials are forecasting work will finish in 2019.