HRI boss says ‘Dublin Racing Festival’ a long-term project

Attendance levels at first festival ‘a secondary issue’ for CEO Brian Kavanagh

Jury Duty leads a pair of Gordon Elliott runners in the Grade Three Woodlands Novice Chase at Naas on Sunday.  Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Jury Duty leads a pair of Gordon Elliott runners in the Grade Three Woodlands Novice Chase at Naas on Sunday. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

Attendance levels at next weekend’s inaugural ‘Dublin Racing Festival’ at Leopardstown will be a “secondary issue” compared to establishing the €1.5 million initiative for the future. 

Horse Racing Ireland’s chief executive Brian Kavanagh said on Friday the new festival – which includes seven Grade One races during next Saturday and Sunday – is a long-term project designed to showcase the best of jump racing.

Earlier this month HRI’s racecourses chief executive, John Osborne, predicated overall attendance levels of up to 24,000 people for the event.

In comparison the first ‘Longines Irish Champions Weekend’ on the flat in 2014 attracted over 24,000 people during its two days at Leopardstown and the Curragh. Leopardstown has a capacity of 18,000.

When the new festival was launched last September champion jockey Ruby Walsh reflected a widespread belief that National Hunt racing’s traditional public popularity would see crowds throng to the ‘Dublin Racing Festival’.

Walsh was widely quoted: “I think it’s very important we fill the pace. If the best horses are turning up then there has to be an atmosphere there. The place has to be full. Hopefully it will be packed.”

Disappointment has been expressed at the lack of cross-channel trained entries for the hugely valuable event that includes the €200,000 Unibet Irish Gold Cup on Sunday and the €150,000 BHP Irish Champion Hurdle the day before.

Brian Kavanagh was reluctant to speculate on crowd figures but was adamant the new initiative, which comes just over five weeks before the Cheltenham festival, is a long-term project with a number of different ambitions.

“We’re developing something for the longer-term which I believe will be a strong feature of the National Hunt season. In setting it up we realised in year one it would take some getting used to for UK trainers. But we’ve been targeting UK racegoers on a basis that this is an opportunity to see the best Irish horses before Cheltenham and the response has been very good.

Good concept

“The feeling we get is that this is a good concept, a concept people like and will work. The number of people that are there, to some extent, is a secondary issue. It’s about developing something that showcases the best of National Hunt racing and that’s there for the long term. That actual number is not the primary concern in my mind: it’s is this a good festival to establish and I’m certain that’s the case,” the HRI boss said.

Part of a €3.2 million HRI Capital Development Scheme project at Naas, the ‘Circle’ stand,  will open on Sunday where the €45,000 Woodlands Novice Chase is the feature event.

Jury Duty leads a pair of Gordon Elliott runners in the Grade Three contest while Willie Mullins has the impressive Cork scorer, Livelovelaugh.

The application of first-time blinkers could make Moulin A Vent a threat to all however. He blew his Grade One chance at Christmas with some poor jumping but a rout of Monbeg Notorious prior to that reads pretty well after Thursday’s Thyestes outcome.

The Champion Hurdle entry Arcentete has a first Irish start in the Grade Three Limestone Lad Hurdle although back at two miles Sandsend can prove a tough opponent after his own debut in Ireland at Limerick over Christmas.

Mullins’s latest French recruit Sayo won on the flat in April and can build on the experience of a run over flights at Vichy in September.

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