HRI aiming for crowds of 5,000 at Galway festival in July

Brian Kavanagh believes success of Curragh trial can lead to increase in spectator numbers

Horse Racing Ireland is aiming towards having 5,000 spectators per day at next month's Galway festival.

Following the success of Saturday’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at the Curragh, where 1,000 spectators attended the pilot event, Irish racing’s ruling body hopes to convince the Government other high-profile meetings can safely welcome back even larger crowds in July.

Although there is uncertainty about whether a relaxation of restrictions in relation to indoor gatherings will go ahead on Monday week, it is expected that the limit on outdoor gatherings will increase from 200 people to 500.

That will allow some spectators to go racing in the Republic again but HRI is hopeful some fixtures will be permitted to host significantly more numbers.

"We have proposed, with the Irish Derby trial having been successful, that further meetings such as the Irish Oaks, Leopardstown on Thursday nights, and the Galway festival, would be allowed to have to have greater numbers, either as part of continued trials or as part of a wider reopening," said HRI's chief executive Brian Kavanagh on Sunday.

The Oaks at the Curragh takes place on July 17th while Leopardstown hosts three of its popular Thursday evening fixtures next month. The renowned seven-day Galway festival starts on July 26th.

Asked if HRI was looking at a similar 1,000 crowd size to the Derby at those meetings, Kavanagh said the ambition was for “preferably more”.

“We saw yesterday there is plenty of space in the Curragh and the other racecourses I’ve mentioned, so there is capacity there.

“Obviously you have to be cognisant of Government guidelines at the time but I think places like the Curragh and Galway are huge outdoor spaces so numbers is not the issue,” he commented.

“It’s a graduated move. and there’s probably a difference with Galway which is at the end of the month.

“But you would be looking to Galway and a figure of maybe 5,000 a day. That would be just over 10 per cent of the capacity which is still very manageable.

“That is consistent with what the Government wants to do with other sports and I would be hopeful.

“In general, the Government’s desire is to open up and have an outdoor summer and, on a graduated basis, build up sports events.

“We have shown racing is suited to this. We resumed last year, and with Down Royal last week, the Curragh yesterday. We’re not seeing any obstacles to that,” Kavanagh added.

HRI’s chief executive steps down from that position in September before taking over as boss of the Curragh in November.

He was impressed by the arrangements at the Derby, which was racing’s date among a series of pilot sporting events nominated by the Government to test easing of restrictions on outdoor gatherings.

Kavanagh conceded the logistics of catering for such a relatively small crowd at Ireland’s premier Classic cost the Curragh financially.

However, he said: “It wasn’t about economics. It was about getting the wheels moving again. But there was a lot of fencing and marquees that had to be hired specially. There were a lot of indoor facilities that were out of bounds, even loos and stuff like that. But that’s the world we’re in.

“We set the criteria and we will review it ourselves and go through it. I think it was a positive day. There are plenty of learnings but overall there was a very good atmosphere.

“It was great to see people back and enjoying the races. From a health and safety point of view everything went smoothly. The Curragh put a lot of measures in place to ensure that was so.

“The segregation of professionals from the public went seamlessly. There was very good observation of protocols from the point of view of distancing and masks so we were very happy. But that’s not unexpected. The system has been in place for some times and this was outdoor event.”

Saturday’s Classic saw Godolphin’s Hurricane Lane overhaul Long Eagle in the final strides to complete a rare one-two for British-based horses.

Lone Eagle went down by a neck under Frankie Dettori to leave his trainer Martyn Meade pondering how close he got to a first Classic victory.

“It was such a shame. I thought he had it until those dying last few strides,” said the Englishman.

“I don’t want to make excuses but maybe if it was softer ground it might have slowed the others up and made it harder to make ground up.

“I did think a furlong out we were on, but then of course it started to change. He ran a fantastic race, though. I was really pleased with him.

“What he proved was he is a Group One colt, which I’ve believed all along, but nobody else seemed to. Hopefully we can win a Group One before the end of the year.

“The Grand Prix de Paris [July 14th] would look the obvious race, but my one worry about that is it does come a little quick,” he added.