HRI boss ready for crucial meeting with Down Royal owners

Racing’s ruling body has given €1.2 million in capital funding over 15 years

A crucial meeting will take place on Wednesday between Horse Racing Ireland and the property group that owns Down Royal where it is hoped any uncertainty about the racecourse's future can be sorted out.

Last week the body which leases Down Royal from the Dublin-based Merrion Property Group said it was preparing for the closure of Ireland's current Racecourse of the Year. The lease runs out at the end of the year.

However the Merrion Group which bought the 300 acre site in 2005, and maintained the lease to the Down Royal Corporation of Horse Breeders, insisted it plans to run the track as a going concern with racing central to its plans.

Down Royal’s biggest meeting of the year, which features the Grade One JNwine Champion Chase, takes place in less than two weeks’ time. It also hosts a traditional St Stephen’s Day fixture before a changeover of management takes place on January 1st.


The Merrion Property Group owner Michael Roden is due to meet HRI officials on Wednesday morning with attention sure to focus on the dozen fixtures scheduled for Down Royal in 2019.

Asked on Sunday if he's confident of racing going ahead at Down Royal in 2019, HRI's chief executive Brian Kavanagh said: "Until I meet them on Wednesday, and go through the details of what needs to be done, I can't say I'm confident or I'm not confident. We haven't had the meeting yet.

“But Merrion Properties have said at all times they are committed to racing. Down Royal is a racecourse in transition. It’s not like going to a green field site and saying is this fit for racing, or could we race here, so it’s a question of transitioning.”

Kavanagh said that HRI has contributed €1.2 million in capital funding to Down Royal over the last 15 years and added that racing’s ruling body had to remain neutral during the dispute between Merrion Property and the DRCHB.

HRI allocated 12 fixtures to Down Royal when the 2019 fixture list was published last month.

Legal matter

“The dispute was entirely a legal matter between a landlord and a tenant. And until there was clarity on that HRI couldn’t get involved. There was a possibility it could go either way so to some extent we had to adopt a neutral position.

“But you had two parties in a dispute, both of whom were saying they are committed to racing in Down Royal, and committed to racing in Down Royal next year,” the HRI boss said.

“So while the process was under way we were bystanders to some extent. Now it’s concluded we can sit down with both parties and engage in terms of what needs to be done for racing there next year,” he added.

Prizemoney is likely to be one of the major details to be dealt with in regard to Down Royal’s 2019 dates.

Racing is administered on a 32 county basis. However some of the prizemoney at the two Northern Ireland tracks comes from a separate Northern Ireland racing fund which channels contributions from betting shops in the Six Counties back into the sport.

In order to keep prizemoney levels on a par with the rest of Ireland, HRI also puts in extra funding, as have the racecourses themselves, along with sponsorship.

However there appears to be some confusion about whether issues in relation to the fund could arise in any management changeover due to the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly and any state contribution to the track's prize fund.

HRI has already stated it has to be satisfied tracks have the ability to run racing before providing fixtures.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column