Naas chairman calls for examination of how racing fixtures are allocated
Willie Mullins warms up for ‘Dublin Racing Festival’ with hat-trick
Willie Mullins: is 1-3 with Powers to claim the new Dublin Racing Festival’s trainer title. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
Ahead of this weekend’s inaugural €1.15 million ‘Dublin Racing Festival’ there has been a call for a fundamental rethink on how fixtures are allocated in Ireland.
At Naas on Sunday, Willie Mullins warmed up for the lucrative two days at Leopardstown by saddling an 11-1 hat-trick which included Sandsend’s Grade Three success in the Limestone Lad Hurdle.
Before all that, the new signature ‘Circle’ building at Naas was officially opened by the Horse Racing Ireland chairman Joe Keeling who appeared to endorse comments by racecourse chairman Dermot Cantillon about how the best races should be allocated to the best racecourses.
Cantillon, a former HRI board member who is married to the former Turf Club senior steward, Meta Osborne, strongly argued at the ceremony that fixtures should in future be awarded on the basis of merit.
“There’s a status quo within Irish racing and I don’t think it serves us well. I think we should give fixtures to tracks which deserve them, to tracks that make the effort, the safe tracks, tracks that bring racing forward and show it in its best light. And that is not happening. It is something that really should be examined,” he said.
Cantillon pointed to last week’s promotion of the Flying Five Stakes to Group One level by the European Pattern Committee and was critical of its continued inclusion on the ‘Longines Irish Champions Weekend’ programme at the Curragh in September.
“It will now be in Champions Weekend with four other Group Ones. So the big get bigger and the likes of Naas get forgotten about,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be great today if we could announce that we were having our first Group One at Naas.”
Keeling appeared to endorse Cantillon’s views and said: “I’m all for giving the best races to the best run racecourses and I think Naas is well on the way to being a premium racetrack.”
That was in reference to Cantillon’s expressed desire for a rethink on how Ireland’s racetracks are classified. The Naas chairman also spoke about racecourse reliance on media-rights deals, mentioning that only 15 per cent of Naas’s income comes from gate receipts.
“Naas as a business model is tied up with fixtures and media rights. We wouldn’t exist but for media rights. This is probably shocking to admit but media rights are about 80 per cent of our income. Admissions through the gate is 15 per cent. The big challenge for us is to build that up,” he said.
The focus of the overall €3.2 million redevelopment at Naas, Cantillon added, is on the parade-ring and emphasising the focus on horses and racing.
“We need to move away from short fixes, the bands, the best turned out ladies competitions: we need to get people to go racing because they love horses,” he said.
Punters love winners too and champion trainer Mullins was in sparkling form at Naas.
It helped close the €500,000 gap to Gordon Elliott in a trainers’ championship duel that bookmakers reckon is the leader’s to lose.
Elliott is a 2-5 favourite to dethrone Mullins this time after their epic duel last season which went down to the final day of the campaign at Punchestown.
With €1.5 million in prizemoney up for grabs this weekend, Leopardstown’s lucrative festival could have a major influence on the destination of the title almost three months before the season finishes up.
Mullins is 1-3 with Powers to edge the new festival’s leading trainer title although that betting is based on winners rather than prizemoney. The owners’ award is judged on prizmoney and has Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud as an odds-on favourite.
“We will need a lot of things to go right,” Mullins conceded on Sunday where he also saddled Sayo and Ballyward to win.
His bumper favourite Voix Des Tiep could finish only third to The Big Dog and Mullins was also third with the 9-4 joint-favourite Livelovelaugh in the Grade Three Woodlands Park Novice Chase.
Even that outcome played a little into Mullins’s hands though. Elliott’s Mossback, the other joint-favourite, fell at the last leaving his stable companion Jury Death apparently certain to win.
However the 7-2 shot, Moulin A Vent, who had looked beaten after jumping dreadfully for much of the race – and touched 1,000-1 in running – rallied to such effect up the run-in that he won by over four lengths under Sean Flanagan.
“There’s no doubt he has a lot of ability but he doesn’t know how to jump,” said the winner’s trainer, Noel Meade. “His owner is very keen he goes to Cheltenham. The obvious race is the four-miler. But whether you’d put an amateur on him I don’t know.”
Mullins’s 11-4 winner Sandsend was a neck too good for favourite Forge Meadow in the Limestone Lad.
“It was only his third run. To be able to do that with the experience he has was very good. He should improve hugely from that and will go up in grade,” Mullins said.