HRI predict total attendance of 24,000 at new ‘Dublin Racing Festival’

Samcro set to bypass Champion Hurdle and stick to novice route

Trainers Noel Meade, Gavin Cromwell and Jessica Harrington at the promotion event for the Dublin Racing Festival. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Trainers Noel Meade, Gavin Cromwell and Jessica Harrington at the promotion event for the Dublin Racing Festival. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

Horse Racing Ireland anticipate crowds of up to 24,000 people for the upcoming inaugural ‘Dublin Racing Festival’ at Leopardstown.

The Dublin track currently has capacity for up to 18,000 at a time. When the €1.5 million initiative was unveiled last September, champion jockey Ruby Walsh predicted the new fixtures on February 3rd-4th would “have to fill the place”.

However HRI’s racecourses chief executive John Osborne played down such expectation during the latest promotional event for the new festival at Leoaprdstown on Tuesday.

“I think we’re looking at 24,000 over the two days,” said the former chief executive of the Irish National Stud.

“We’re not sure what the biggest day will be. There’s a lot of English interest in the Saturday. But I imagine it might be 11,000 and a bit on the Saturday, and 13,000 on the Sunday.”

Increasing racing’s profile in Dublin city in particular is one of the major aims of the new festival initiative. It takes place after the traditional Christmas action saw attendances over the four days slide by almost 4,500.

The promotion-push continued on Tuesday with a ‘Mingle Morning’ where two of Michael O’Leary’s stars, Samcro and Road To Respect, were among 19 horses stretching their legs out on the track.

If much of the work was sedate the old line about not mistaking motion for action also came to mind at a subsequent media event where early entries for the seven Grade One races were released.

With Willie Mullins having done his promotional bit the day before, and the season’s leading trainer, Gordon Elliott, absent, as was anyone from O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud team, the MC, broadcaster, Ivan Yates, introduced a half-dozen strong panel as “the best of the rest”.

Jessica Harrington, Noel Meade, Henry De Bromhead & Co gamely tried to parse the big race entries for meaning but with two-and-a-half weeks to go the speculative nature of any prediction was obvious.

Definite runner

PR personnel and sponsors all but outnumbered everyone else but the business of preparing racehorses can make definitive planning, and any snappy sound-bites, seem like tempting fate.

Yates did get Harrington to commit her Irish National hero Our Duke to the €200,000 Unibet Irish Gold Cup. But the legendary trainer quickly added: “He’s a definite runner – at the moment. But there’s another two-and-a-half weeks to go. Nothing is set in stone.”

The prospect of a clash with Our Duke didn’t dissuade Meade from admitting he’d quite like to run his Christmas hero, Road To Respect, at the new festival. But he doesn’t want ground conditions to stay as testing as they are.

The going will be a consideration too in whether or not De Bromhead allows Balko Des Flos or Sub Lieutenant line up in the new festival’s most valuable contest which has 22 entries left in it.

Just two of them are British-trained and there are only three cross-channel horses left in the Day One highlight, the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle, including the holder of the hurdling crown, Buveur D’air.

If the consensus is that JP McManus’s star is unlikely to travel, there is also general agreement that other running plans are up in the air given uncertainty over the top home contender, Faugheen.

 That uncertainty encouraged the Gigginstown team to leave Samcro among the 17 left in the big hurdle prize. So perhaps the most definitive news to emerge on Tuesday was that one of the most hyped young horses in years is likely to stay in novice company instead.  

 Elliott’s assistant, former jockey, Davy Condon, indicated the Lacy Bros Novice Hurdle over two and three-quarter miles on the first day of the festival will be Samcro’s target.

“I was speaking to Gordon and he said he was leaning toward that race for Samcro. He did a nice bit of work this morning over a mile-and-a-half and he seems in really good form. Shane McCann, who rides him every day, was happy with him,” Condon said.

“He’ll definitely stay to the novice route this season and he’s going to try him over the two-six,” he added.

Espoir D’allen barely broke out of a trot during his morning visit ahead of a likely attempt to extend his unbeaten jumping record in the Tattersalls Spring Juvenile Hurdle.

“He probably hasn’t had a proper test yet and this will be his first one. It’s that time of year when they have to step up,” pointed out his trainer Gavin Cromwell whose job description also includes being farrier to the Elliott team.

Pressed on a charity bet for the new festival, Cromwell didn’t want to jinx Espoir D’allen. He opted instead for the Elliott-trained Rapid Escape who’d just had a gallop alongside Samcro.

Meade took his cue from Cromwell with his own charity offering – “I’d stop a battleship, so I’ll say Samcro!”

 A lot can happen between now and the start of February: maybe even that.

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