Curragh chief insists crowd restriction ‘not an issue’ in 2018

Building at €72m racecourse redevelopment on schedule to finish around Christmas

Artists’ impression of the Curragh Racecourse development plan. File image: Handout/Curragh Racecourse

Artists’ impression of the Curragh Racecourse development plan. File image: Handout/Curragh Racecourse

 

On Friday, the Curragh will host the first of 18 fixtures this year with the €72 million flagship redevelopment of Irish racing’s headquarters on schedule to be completed by Christmas.

The public will be able to examine the extensive and impressive work carried out during the winter and spring through back-to-back fixtures at the track on Friday and Saturday.

A new parade ring and 24 new saddling boxes dominate the area behind the new stand. Newly situated temporary facilities – including a 400-capacity stand area facing down the track – are also a significant change from 2017.

Last year the decision to race at the track during redevelopment proved controversial with attendances being limited to less than 6,000 people on-site due to planning restrictions.

There was widespread criticism in particular of the impact of that crowd limit on both the Irish Derby and the Curragh’s leg of “Irish Champions Weekend”.

As a result just 5,142 people attended the Derby compared with 25,000 in 2015. A total of 5,370 were at the Champions Weekend fixture.

On Tuesday, the Curragh chief executive Derek McGrath was reluctant to address the matter of a restricted crowd capacity for 2018.

He told The Irish Times the 6,000 crowd limit was “not an issue”. Pressed as to whether or not a similar restriction is in place for this year he said: “No there isn’t.” He also said no one was turned away in 2017 and it would be the same this year.

“From my point of view I’m more interested in having the problem that we have to turn people away. But by suggesting there is a ceiling you immediately tell people don’t go: and we don’t want to go there.

“We think we did that last year for a reason. This year we don’t need to because we know that throughout the season last year we never had the problem so why introduce it as a limiting factor. We just want to be positive this year.”

The Curragh company is made up of one-third shareholders comprising the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board, the State through Horse Racing Ireland, and private investors. Half a dozen of those, including Coolmore and the Aga Khan, initially put in €5 million each in 2015.

Last year, €2 million more in private investment was made and McGrath confirmed on Tuesday that others, who wish to remain silent investors, have since put money into the project which was originally budgeted to cost €65 million.

McGrath attributed the extra cost to a combination of factors including inflation, the need for a public procurement, and extra elements added to the project because all those investing in it realised they had “one shot” at the redevelopment and wanted it done as well as possible.

Debt-free

He said the objective all along was that the new Curragh would begin operations debt-free and that building work was on schedule to finish at Christmas. The first meetings there will be run in March of 2019.

This year’s opening programme will be the first of four race-meetings run on a Friday at the Curragh in 2018.

“We would like to make it more social and the Friday evening meeting here over Derby weekend is very popular with locals. We would like to get more back racing,” added the Curragh’s commerical manager, Evan Arkwright.

The capacity of the new Curragh when completed will be 30,000.

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