Horse Racing Ireland confirm 5,000 crowds for Christmas festival meetings

Leopardstown to contact customers on Monday after selling 6,000 tickets for all four days

Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) has confirmed that crowds of up to 5,000 people will be able to attend the upcoming Christmas festival meetings at both Leopardstown and Limerick.

That is on the back of Friday’s announcement by Government of increased restrictions to combat the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

They include limits on outdoor sporting events of 50 per cent of capacity or 5,000 people, whichever is lower.

Prior to that announcement Leopardstown had already put in place a curtailed 6,000 capacity and had sold out for all four days of its Christmas action.

On Sunday HRI's chief executive, Suzanne Eade, said that officials at the Dublin track will start to contact customers on Monday about arrangements.

“Clearly Leopardstown will comply with the Government announcement of 5,000. However Leopardstown has pre-sales and need to consider details around that.

“They will communicate with their customers firstly and will do so tomorrow. From a public perspective there will be no more tickets available and no walk-ups on the day.”

It is understood that the sale of flexi-tickets, which can be used on any day of the festival rather than a specific date, is a complicating factor.

Limerick holds its own four-day festival, also starting on St Stephen’s Day, and is readying to accommodate pre-sale ticket purchases.

The third St Stephen’s Day fixture, on what is the busiest day of the racing year in Ireland, is at Down Royal, which has been sold out at a 3,500 capacity for some time.

In other news, top jockey Jack Kennedy will hope to get an early Christmas present and be passed fit to ride over the festive period.

Kennedy dislocated his shoulder in a fall at Navan last month and the 22-year-old Gold Cup-winning rider has endured the frustration of having to watch from the sidelines the recent superb form of his boss Gordon Elliott.

However, he resumed riding out last week and there is confidence he will be fit in time for the start of the hugely important Christmas action on St Stephen’s Day.

“If all goes well the plan is for Jack to be back for Christmas,” his agent, Kevin O’Ryan, said on Sunday.

That will involve first having to pass the sort medical examination that has become dispiritingly familiar for the injury-plagued Kennedy.

In February of last year he was out of action for seven months following a fall in the very next race after landing the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown on Delta Work. He also suffered leg breaks in both 2016 and 2017.

Kennedy was also on board Delta Work when the Elliott-trained star won the 2019 Savills Chase and he is a general 10-1 shot to repeat that success in next week’s day three festival highlight at Leopardstown.

Other potential high-profile mounts he has to look forward to include Abacadabras in his first start at three miles in the Christmas Hurdle on the same card.

Kennedy memorably secured Cheltenham Gold Cup glory on Minella Indo at Cheltenham in March, making the most of what turned into the ultimate 'spare' after Rachael Blackmore opted for A Plus Tard.

That was the one blip on Blackmore’s historic festival but the woman who added to her list of achievements by being crowned RTÉ’s sportsperson of 2021 on Saturday night is set to be reunited with Minella Indo in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on St Stephen’s Day.

Minella Indo has a proven record of being a transformed character when it comes to Cheltenham in March and trainer Henry de Bromhead is hopeful the travel bug might prove key to his fortunes.

“He always seems a different horse at Cheltenham. He seems to come alive when he travels. We’ve seen him at Cheltenham and hopefully it will be the same at Kempton,” he said on Sunday.

De Bromhead described Minella Indo as being in “mighty form” on the back of his comeback race at Down Royal in October.

The Gold Cup hero was third to Frodon in the Ladbrokes Champion Chase and will have five lengths to make up on that rival at Kempton.

De Bromhead also confirmed A Plus Tard on course to defend his Savills Chase title at Leopardstown having pushed himself to the top of the Gold Cup betting with a stylish success on his comeback at Haydock last month.

In other news Peter Fahey’s The Big Dog is to the forefront of betting for next week’s Coral Welsh Grand National after ante-post favourite Ask Me Early was ruled out on Sunday.