Brian Kavanagh to look local as he leaves HRI for Curragh role

Horse Racing Ireland chief executive to take up the same role with Co Kildare track

Brian Kavanagh (L) pictured with Willie Mullins in 2018. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Brian Kavanagh (L) pictured with Willie Mullins in 2018. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

Brian Kavanagh has said local support of Ireland’s flagship racecourse will be a “key issue” for him when he takes over as boss of the Curragh in November.

Irish racing’s top administrator also dismissed any suggestion his new position might create a perception of ‘power behind the throne’ when he steps down as chief executive of Horse Racing Ireland in September.

Kavanagh was confirmed as the Curragh’s new chief executive last week in a move widely anticipated for someone who has been at the helm of HRI for 20 years.

In that time Irish racing has enjoyed unprecedented success although Kavanagh’s final five year spell in charge provoked controversy given that government guidelines are that semi-state CEO’s should serve only a single seven-year term.

Despite that, a number of high-profile industry professionals have argued that Kavanagh should be allowed continue in his role at HRI.

Earlier this year Jim Bolger said it would be a “tragedy for Irish racing” if Kavanagh left the top job. Willie Mullins added he felt state guidelines might need to be looked at, arguing that letting him go would be “a bit like shooting ourselves in the foot.”

Applications to replace Kavanagh closed in April and a replacement as HRI chief executive could be announced later this month.

Kavanagh’s new role, approved by the Curragh Board, of which he is a member, means he will continue to be a significant figure within the industry.

However he insisted his focus will be solely on the Curragh when his HRI contract finishes.

“No, I have done my job when I finish in September and I am ready to move on to a different challenge,” he said on Tuesday.

“There is a great team here (at HRI) and the staff and management team are really committed to racing and to doing their job well. That’s one of the good things when you move on.

“It’s a good time to get new ideas and new thinking in here and that’s never a bad thing,” Kavanagh added.

Kavanagh was a key proponent of the Curragh’s €81 million redevelopment which was opened in 2019.

It has been plagued by problems since then including issues with the size of the parade ring and the embarrassing ‘whistling’ grandstand which makes a distracting sound when the wind blows in a certain direction.

There had also been criticism about low attendance levels at a facility with a 30,000 capacity although the pandemic has made that redundant for over a year.

“There’s a job of work to be done at the Curragh on its own and I am really looking forward to getting stuck into that,” Kavanagh said.

“There is a Covid recovery aspect to all racecourses. But the level of investment in the racecourse and the gallops positions them well. Now it’s a chance to promote the place, make racegoers welcome, and a place they feel happy going to,” he added.

He said attracting local people will be a key issue in the future.

“It’s at the heart of Co Kildare. There’s a major review going on of the Curragh plains anyway by the Department of Defence and Kildare County Council in terms of the future direction of that as an amenity and a unique venue in Kildare.

“We see the racecourse and the gallops playing a central part in the future of the plains overall. That involves a strong level of local engagement and support,” Kavanagh said.

He also pointed to the importance of recent extensive redevelopment of the gallops at racing’s HQ.

“The gallops is a lesser known part of the business but it is the part of the business that is open every day of the week,” he said.

Kavanagh was previously manager of the Curragh between 1994 and 1999.

His status on the world racing stage is reflected in him holding the position of chairman of the European Pattern Committee since 2005. He is also chairman of the European and Mediterranean Horseracing Federation.

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