Attendance issue dominates Irish Derby postmortem
Capri brought Aidan O'Brien's number of wins in the big race to 12 on Saturday
Capri, ridden by Seamie Heffernan (left) before winning the Dubai Duty-Free Irish Derby at the Curragh. Photograph: PA Wire
Plans for the 2018 Dubai Duty-Free Irish Derby to be run at the Curragh are unchanged although racing officials will examine the possibility of expanding the controversial 6,000 crowd limit put in place during the track’s €70 million reconstruction.
The decision to keep the derby at its traditional home despite the attendance restriction dominated the run-up to Saturday evening’s €1.5 million classic won by the Aidan O’Brien-trained Capri.
However, Sunday’s initial fallout concerned the retirement due to injury of the shock 40-1 Epsom hero Wings of Eagles, who badly fractured a sesamoid when finishing third to his stable companion the day before. Wings of Eagles will be retired to stud.
“He pulled out very sore this morning and when the lads X-rayed him his sesamoid had completely come apart. It’s incredible he ran the race he did. We’re sorry to lose him because he was unusual in that he stayed very well but quickened very well. It’s a pity,” O’Brien said.
The champion trainer indicated his 12th Irish Derby hero will get a midsummer break and Capri is as low as 3-1 for September’s St Leger at Doncaster. O’Brien was speaking at the Curragh’s Sunday fixture where the derby postmortem continued.
Ultimately a fixture which attracted more than 25,000 people in 2015 saw the official attendance fall short of even the limited capacity with an official crowd of 5,412 recorded.
Former champion National Hunt trainer Noel Meade, chairman of the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association, was quoted as saying the decision to run the derby at the Curragh sent out wrong signals and urged a rethink about staging the second leg of Irish Champions Weekend there.
“It has to be looked at because you can’t turn people away like we are,” Meade told the Racing Post.
However, Horse Racing Ireland chief executive Brian Kavanagh said on Sunday that September’s champions weekend fixture will go ahead as scheduled and said he saw nothing at the Derby fixture to suggest changing plans to run both showpiece events at the Curragh in 2018 are necessary.
“We can’t change champions weekend for this year. The programme is long set,” he said.
“The programme for 2018 is being finished and will be published in September. But from the point of view of HRI and the Curragh board the decision was taken to race during construction and I can only say I saw nothing over the weekend to change my view.
“I thought there was a good atmosphere and there are practical issues that make it important we race here. There are no straightforward solutions. The reconstruction of the Curragh was always going to cause some difficulties because so much of the flat fixture list is built around it,” Kavanagh added.
The failure of Saturday’s crowd to even reach the 6,000 limit was attributed by Curragh chief executive Derek McGrath to fewer Association of Irish Racecourses card holders than expected showing up for the big day.
“We budgeted for a certain figure of AIR cards and they were down on what we budgeted for and allocated for,” he said.
Both the smaller crowd and the temporary facilities inevitably generated a different and generally more subdued atmosphere on Saturday and Kavanagh said expanding the onsite attendance limit could be examined.
“I think it’s worth investigating the scope for expanding. I’d like to look at that because there was a lot of space at the west end of the track. The planning conditions are for the temporary facilities as they are. But there is space there,” Kavanagh said.
He echoed John Magnier’s comments after Capri’s success about the importance of the Curragh’s mile-and-a-half course. The Coolmore supremo said he was sure that neither the English runner-up Cracksman, or the French hope Waldgeist, who finished fourth, would have run in the derby if it had been run elsewhere.
“There is value in the Irish Derby being run here year after year. John Gosden and André Fabre can speak for themselves, obviously. But if you run a €1.5 million race at Leopardstown in June it won’t be the Irish Derby,” Kavanagh said.
After the derby Magnier said: “I know for sure the English horse and the French horse would not have been here if the race was somewhere else. It’s clear looking at it now it would have been just a domestic [race] and that’s not what the Irish Derby is supposed to be.”