Curragh could employ free admission strategy again in 2020

Track officials delighted with ‘community day’ attendance

 Curragh Racecourse: Sunday saw an official crowd of 4,100, a figure that trumped the attendance for the Group One Phoenix Stakes in August, which was less than 3,000.  Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

Curragh Racecourse: Sunday saw an official crowd of 4,100, a figure that trumped the attendance for the Group One Phoenix Stakes in August, which was less than 3,000. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho

 

More free-admission days could feature at the Curragh in 2020 after track officials were delighted with crowd levels for Sunday’s fixture at Irish racing’s HQ.

A turbulent first year at the new and revamped €81 million facility ends next Tuesday with the Curragh’s final fixture of 2019.

Customers who register for tickets will get free admission to that concluding fixture, just as they did for Sunday’s ‘community day’ meeting.

Sunday saw an official crowd of 4,100, a figure that trumped the attendance for the Group One Phoenix Stakes in August, which was less than 3,000, and also the Group One Pretty Polly Stakes in June (3,661.)

It even compared favourably to the Irish Oaks classic day in July which had an official attendance of 4,295.

The Curragh’s chief executive Pat Keogh credited veteran local trainer Kevin Prendergast with the idea and suggested such free dates would also be strategically employed in 2020.

“Kevin Prendergast is the man you have to listen to. He suggested a free open day to me shortly after I came. He said you need to get people in to see how fine it is here, that there’s a lot going on at the Curragh that local people didn’t know about.

“So we had a ‘community day’ and we were thrilled with how it went. It was a big crowd, a lot of people through the gates for the first time. It was done for a specific purpose to welcome the community back and promote the place.

“But there are commercial realities too. Free meetings might be attractive but they’re not feasible on an ongoing basis. We’ve got to maintain and improve this place.

“But we’re absolutely not against the idea of free days. It served its purpose on Sunday. A lot of people came and no doubt they’ll be back again,” Keogh said.

Crowd levels have been a focus of attention since the new Curragh opened its gates in April. The facility, which received €36 million of state money, as well as substantial investment from leading industry stakeholders, is designed to cater for 30,000.

Its biggest attendance so far however was the slightly less than 12,000 on Irish Derby day in June when there was widespread criticism about long queues for food, drink and toilet facilities.

Major days

There was improvement in place by last month’s ‘Irish Champions Weekend’ fixture which attracted over 10,000, many of them supporting Pat Smullen whose charity race raised over €2.5 million for cancer research.

Next week’s final fixture of 2019 is what is widely referred to as an ‘industry day’ so free admission has been made available for that too.

“I don’t like using ‘industry day’ but a Tuesday in October doesn’t have commercial appeal. Kids are in school and people are in work. So from a cost point of view it makes sense to have free admission,” Keogh explained.

“We’re all trying to gauge because it’s the first time at the new Curragh so it will be interesting to what appetite there is and how we go from there,” he added.

Plans are already being drawn up for 2020 when racing will resume at the Curragh on March 29th. While free days are likely to employed occasionally, Keogh was keen to stress the need for the track to make money in order to reinvest.  

“It’s really about helping us on the major days. Through the year the facility will perform well, similar to Ascot and similar to Cheltenham, and what’s there will do us for the vast majority of the days. But you’ve always got to be open to adding new facilities.

“Like Ascot and Cheltenham, on the big days, you have to have temporary facilities as well. It’s only really for the Guineas, the Derby, Oaks and Champions Weekend that you need them.

“But we would like to add more permanent facilities too, away from the main structure, things such as toilet blocks added to the site for customer convenience,” he said.

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