Leopardstown Christmas capacity expected to be heavily cut

Attendance could be limited to 4,000 per day; Rachael Blackmore favourite for BBC award

The 2020 Leopardstown Christmas Festival took place behind closed doors. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

The 2020 Leopardstown Christmas Festival took place behind closed doors. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

 

The numbers of spectators able to attend Leopardstown’s Christmas festival later this month is set to be significantly cut.

A limit of 10,000 people per day - just over half the track’s usual capacity - had been announced last week for one of the busiest meetings of the year and a festive tradition for many in the Dublin area in particular.

However Tuesday sees the start of renewed Government Covid-19 restrictions to curb the spread of the virus ahead of Christmas and they are likely to have a major impact on the four-day festival at Leopardstown.

Racing’s authorities are working to finalise arrangements but provision for a similar capacity limit to the 4,000 allowed at Leopardstown’s ‘Irish Champions Weekend’ date in September hasn’t been ruled out.

Just over 57,000 people attended the four days of Christmas action at the south Dublin course in 2019. It was held behind closed doors last year due to the pandemic.

“We are awaiting some guidance from HRI (Horse Racing Ireland) and the IHRB (Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board) in relation to how we can manage the crowd effectively given that there is now a requirement to have table service in all areas.

“It’s highly likely that our capacity will be reduced from the 10,000 that we had previously identified,” Leopardstown’s chief executive, Tim Husbands, said on Monday.

That means demand for tickets at one of the busiest fixtures of the year is likely to become intense, particularly on the major sponsorship days.

Paddy Power is the headline sponsor on Day Two of the festival while the €175,000 Savills Chase is the highlight of Day Three. The festive action opens on St Stephen’s Day.

Crucial to any reduction in capacity is the requirement from Tuesday within all bars and restaurants for table service only and with a metre between each table. There is also a maximum of six adults per table with no multiple bookings.

That makes catering for up to 10,000 indoors “unrealistic” according to one racing official while there is also pressure to get sufficient levels of casual staff required for such an event.

“First and foremost we have to provide a racegoer experience that is still an enjoyable one. But we also have to manage our own level of costs against the level of income we’re getting.

“It’s a fine balance but we’re very, very conscious that we have a responsibility to provide a great event for those that are here and also for those that are watching on television,” added Husbands.

There are also four days of action over the Christmas period at Limerick while the St Stephen’s Day fixture at Down Royal has already sold out its 3,500 admission tickets.

BBC World Sports Star

In other news, Rachael Blackmore is hot favourite to beat some of the biggest global names to the BBC’s World Sports Star award later this month.

The ground breaking Irish jockey is as short as 5-4 in some lists to beat tennis great Novak Djokovic and iconic American footballer Tom Brady to the prestigious award which will be announced on December 19th.

Blackmore is included among six nominees on the back of her pioneering successes in 2021 which included becoming the first woman to ride the winner of the Aintree Grand National on board Minella Times.

She was also leading jockey at the Cheltenham festival with six winners including Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle.

First presented in 1960 the BBC award has been given to some of the greatest names in sports history including Muhammed Ali, Jack Nicklaus and Roger Federer.

On the approach to ‘awards season,’ Blackmore is also odds-on to scoop the RTÉ sportsperson of the Year award later this month.

Also among the list of nominees is the world champion boxer, Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, triple-Olympic champion Jamaican sprinter Elaine Thompson-Herah and Formula 1 star Max Verstappen.

Public voting on the award has begun and ends next week.

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