Racing chief backs appeal of Champions Weekend
Brian Kavanagh realistic but happy with crowds at Curragh HQ track on Sunday
The Group One Derrinstown Stud Flying Five Stakes: Ryan Moore on Fairyland (blue&brown) wins ahead of Donnacha O’Brien on So Perfect. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Irish racing’s top official has rejected the suggestion of Irish Champions Weekend (ICW) having peaked in terms of spectator appeal.
There has been a positive reaction to the weekend action at Leopardstown and the Curragh with particular attention on the successful fundraising campaign centred on Sunday’s Pat Smullen Champions Race.
The Curragh’s unique nine-race programme was also marked by Pinatubo’s stunning nine-length victory in the Goffs Vincent O’Brien National Stakes.
However a HQ crowd of just over 10,000 brought the overall ICW attendance to 23,508. That’s less than the 24,168 which attended the first Champions Weekend in 2014. There were almost 11,000 at the Curragh leg six years ago.
Sunday’s fixture was the first ICW run at the revamped Curragh which opened the doors on its €81 million facility in May.
Leopardstown’s meeting on Saturday had to be moved forward to avoid a clash with the All-Ireland football final replay and its 13,433 attendance was the second lowest in its Champions Weekend history.
“Will we see a situation in five years’ time where there’s 20,000 people going each day, I don’t know. It’s certainly something to aspire to, but I don’t think it’s peaked at all,” said Horse Racing Ireland’s (HRI) chief executive Brian Kavanagh on Monday.
“Attendances are important but they’re only one element of the interest level. A worldwide TV audience was reached and there’s a very high level of people streaming. It’s a busy marketplace as well in terms of high-level sport. We didn’t know a fortnight ago we were going to have the All-Ireland final parachuted in on the weekend. We were probably fearing a greater impact from the All-Ireland on the Leopardstown crowd. I’m not concerned. Anyone at either meeting would agree there was a great buzz,” he added.
After heavy criticism of the Curragh’s organisation of the Irish Derby in June, Kavanagh said he was happy with how the track operated on Sunday.
“We’ve been running this event for the last few years with construction taking place at the Curragh and Leopardstown. It will be nice to have a run at it when construction is finished at both places,” he said.
The HRI boss is also chairman of the European Horse Racing Federation and said that the weekend’s crammed Group One schedule is something that will have to be lived with.
Top pattern renewals
As well as six top-flight races here, Longchamp hosted the Arc trials fixture on Sunday, featuring the Prix Vermeille.
On Saturday the Doncaster St Leger won by Logician was run 40 minutes before the Irish Champion Stakes.
“It’s not ideal and it’s something we will continue to look at. The location of the weekend in the context of the Arc is the key factor. From an Irish point of view it’s when we’re in the spotlight globally and we would be very reluctant to see that change. You’d prefer if it didn’t clash with the Leger and the Arc trials but that requires movement from one or the other which isn’t straightforward,” he said.
“I think they work okay together. Some trainers and jockeys would prefer the Leger didn’t clash, but that’s a small group of people. The Arc trials are what they are. You could argue the Blandford Stakes and the Vermeille are the only real direct clash in terms of horses that could run in both. But in an ideal world you wouldn’t have the Epsom Derby and the French Derby on the same weekend. That’s just the way it has evolved,” he added.