Irish Derby will be run at Curragh in 2018 despite calls for switch
HRI chief Brian Kavanagh confident agreement on drug testing can be agreed
Pat Smullen on Harzand winningThe Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby in 2016. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
The Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby will be run at the Curragh in 2018 despite some calls for the country’s premier classic to be moved elsewhere during the €65 million redevelopment taking place at Irish racing’s HQ.
Building work means temporary facilities, and a 6,000-crowd capacity limit, will be in place at the Curragh during curtailed racing seasons both this summer and in 2018.
The crowd limit in particular has focused attention on the decision to keep both the Derby and the Curragh’s leg of ‘Champions Weekend’ at the track, with former champion trainer Jim Bolger reportedly stating a preference for the Derby to be run at either Leopardstown or Naas.
This year’s fixture arrangements are in place and although the 2018 fixture calendar won’t be finalised until September, Horse Racing Ireland’s chief executive Brian Kavanagh has said the Curragh programme will be unchanged next year.
“The plan has always been to race at the Curragh during construction, in a curtailed 16-week season between May and September over the two years. The 2018 fixture list won’t be finalised until September but the intention is to repeat the same 2017 arrangements again,” he said.
“We are taking a long-term view at the Curragh. It will put on a good show this year, and in 2018, with limited facilities. But it’s not as if the facilities there weren’t already limited.
“Since the days of the Irish Horseracing Authority back in 1994, just five per cent of capital development in racecourses in Ireland has gone into the Curragh. The facilities previously weren’t fit for purpose. And in the overall timeline of the Curragh, this is a short period of time,” Kavanagh added.
He said it is “quite frightening” the dependence within the Irish flat programme on the Curragh’s straight sprint course and dismissed any idea of the Derby being moved to tracks such as Naas or Navan.
“Even with temporary arrangements, the Curragh’s capacity will still be bigger than those tracks,” he said, before identifying difficulties with staging the Derby support card at Leopardstown as a reason not to stage the premier classic at the Dublin course.
“We looked at all the details in relation to this and came to the conclusion it was vital racing continues at the Curragh during construction,” Kavanagh said.
However, another top trainer, Ger Lyons, has repeated his view that the Curragh should be closed down completely during construction and added that he saw no substantial impediment to running the Derby at Leopardstown.
“After a cursory glance through the Curragh Derby weekend programme, I think you might end up losing the five-furlong Rockingham, and no more, if you moved it all to Leopardstown,” he said.
“I have no argument with the Curragh, and it’s a redundant subject anyway because the decision has been made. But from a purely practical point of view it would be better for the Curragh to close and allow the contractor do the job.
“Otherwise you have builders spending days tidying the place up to make it suitable for the public rather than getting on with the job and spending less time at it,” Lyons added.
Separately, Kavanagh said he was confident that prolonged negotiations between the Turf Club and the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association (ITBA) over the drawing up of new protocols to allow drug testing on stud farms would be worked out soon.
Another meeting between the parties in relation to the protocol recommended by racing’s anti-doping task force report last year is expected on Wednesday.
It is understood the ITBA is now arguing its members receive two days’ notice before any drug testing and that Turf Club inspections be random rather than intelligence-led. There are also believed to be issues around the use of therapeutic use exemptions.
“It’s our very strong view that everything should be done to ensure that drugs have no place in the sport or the breeding sector,” Kavanagh said.
“I’m absolutely satisfied there is no non buy-in from all parties here. It’s not a confrontational issue between the ITBA and the Turf Club.
“It might be argued it’s taking too long but this is a new departure and it’s not straight-forward. There are bits of complications that need to be ironed out but I’m confident it will be worked out. Speaking to senior ITBA members, there is no resistance. It’s just the practicalities,” he added.
Although the Turf Club is responsible for testing at licensed racing yards it has never had jurisdiction over unlicensed premises such as stud farms.
Last year’s task force report, set up on the back of several controversies involving anabolic steroids in 2014, recommended a protocol be set up to allow the regulatory body to test horses out of competition.