An expensive €10 for a lacklustre Curragh
Mike Deasy on an impressive Irish Derby winner but a lacklustre day at the Curragh, Brighton racecourse’s silence over its shuttle bus, the Dettori/Gosden sabbatical and more
Westover (pictured) was an impressive winner of the Irish Derby. The race was sewn up two furlongs out and the lead stretched to seven lengths inside the final furlong.
Not so impressive was the day itself. Not a lot could be done about the gusting wind – a major inconvenience for ladies’ fashions. But there were other aspects that were less satisfactory.
The day’s attendance is always going to come under scrutiny following the multi-multi-million-euro redevelopment of the stands and paddock.
After garnering complaints whilst racing carried on during construction work, there were then well documented problems when the course reopened. They have largely been addressed although there’s still a bit of a wait for the gents.
But, having spent so much money on the redevelopment, it was only natural that the cost would be equated attendance.
This wasn’t helped by the Curragh’s then chief executive talking of extravagant and probably unattainable targets for racegoer numbers.
It meant the course’s new CEO, Brian Kavanagh (pictured), had to defend the official audience of 11,300. I guess if I hadn’t gone, it would have been 11,299.
He was, he said, “delighted” with the crowd number, pointing out the new stand’s capacity was 12-13,000. I have to agree. Many more would have it bursting at the seams. Yet that was far from the case.
But that doesn’t get away from the fact that the number appears to be becalmed short of 12,000.
And it was the day’s admission charge which came in for much of the blame. A headline figure of €50 on the day was widely criticised as being too expensive for what is ostensibly a single-enclosure set-up.
Kavanagh said: “A fraction of the tickets that we sell are sold on the day.” That beggars the question: why have a figure that will come back and haunt you? If you could book online the night before the Derby for €40, why then add another €10 on the day which attracts the criticism?
The Curragh racecourse occupies a lot of land. Maybe there’s scope for a cheaper enclosure down the straight that’s ideal for a family day out.
But it was the day itself that was a disappointment.
I enjoy going to the Curragh. Getting there by public transport is no longer a lottery – I’d even say that the shuttle bus between Kildare station and the course is now reliable.
But so many people lament the loss of the Curragh railway halt from which you could walk to the racecourse. There is still a perception that getting to the Curragh requires a bit of pot-luck.
I doubt that strong winds helped, but Irish Derby Day seemed to have lost its glamour. I also attended the Sunday fixture (pictured), headlined by the Group 1 Pretty Polly Stakes. Apart from the crowd being half the size, it didn’t seem much different from Derby Day.
Ireland has enough celebs to be involved in interviews and presentations such as those which feature at Royal Ascot and Goodwood, but not at the Curragh. That would have added to the glamour.
Indeed, the longest interview during the day’s proceedings was a brown-nosing conversation with the executive vice chairman and chief executive of sponsor Dubai Duty Free.
The Curragh is no doubt indebted to the purveyor of tax-free goods at airports, but their branding seems to have subsumed the day’s main event. The racecard (good value at three euro, four if you choose to purchase one from the ladies outside the course who were on Toblerone duty post-racing) being an example in point.
Three years ago, there was an attractive floral horse-shoe seat where racegoers could take selfies. Such photos would have been splashed around social media. This year you could have stood in front of a board dominated by the sponsor’s imagery. You could have been in any of a number of airports.
I am more than happy to drink Guinness in Ireland, but just occasionally on a big day, I like to have a glass of champagne. The old champagne lounge is now reserved for owners and trainers. An alternative for artisan racegoers I could not find.
The Curragh needs to create modern brand imagery for the Irish Derby, much like Epsom and Royal Ascot have done. Something that is distinguished, clearly recognisable, long-lasting and dovetails with the sponsor’s corporate imagery and seemingly not playing second-fiddle.
I’m all for tradition, but I’m not convinced the singing The Curragh of Kildare, a bit of a dirge, has a place in the build-up to what should be the excitement of a big race. That may be heresy, but there are more upbeat ways of announcing Ireland’s biggest Flat race. Epsom got it horribly wrong with fireworks, but you get the idea.
But the race is still the centre-piece and it’s currently going through the doldrums, as do other races from time-to-time, such as Ascot’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. It has once again become a highlight of summer racing and, if Westover can bag more high-profile Group 1 victories, then the Curragh has an angle to promote next year’s Irish Derby. Let’s hope that’s the case as it’s going to be fun to see what transpires.
It will be Westover’s victory that will long live in the memory, but perhaps not the day.
Reply came there none
You may recall, but probably not, that a recent set of scribblings included an email I sent to Brighton racecourse, the kernel of which was to ask if the Sussex course had permanently axed its complimentary shuttle bus to and from Brighton station; if so, why; would they consider a paid-for service; can they sort out the mess that is trying to get a taxi back from the course: and, might they carry details in the racecard of local transport options other than taxis.
That was three weeks ago. There has been no reply.
Overheard on the train heading to the Curragh for Sundays’ Pretty Polly Stakes: “If it weren’t for the weather, it would have been a grand day.”
Knocking heads together
One can only guess at what was going on in the arrangements between Frankie Dettori and John & Thady Gosden in the weeks, probably months, leading up to their agreed sabbatical, following Gosden seniors’ public criticism of Dettori’s ride on Stradivarius in the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.
The general consensus is that it could have been handled better – dirty washing should not be laundered in public. Whatever the circumstances, it’s another high-profile episode that will no doubt feature in what I think would be a third autobiography from Dettori, likely to appear when he retires.
It reminds me of events when Richard Hughes was riding for Richard Hannon. The was a major strain on their relationship at the time which found its way into the public domain. I wondered if it was a final attempt to bring things to head so that Hughes would sort himself out. Which he did.
Maybe Gosden felt frustrated that what was being said in private was not getting through to the jockey, and a public outburst was a last throw of the die to arrive at a resolution.
One thing we can be sure of, Dettori will be ever more determined in the twilight of his riding career. That began with his Newmarket victory on Lezzo which famously turned out to be his only ride of the day. And the crowd was certainly on his side.
It is three years ago to the day that The Racing Paper was last published. A notice from the publisher said that its absence would be for the foreseeable future. As I said in 2019, the foreseeable future can be an awfully long time.
I bumped into a friend at the Curragh on Derby Day who had been to the track’s Friday evening fixture when he had a runner.
In a very sparsely attended grandstand he made the mistake of sitting in a reserved seating area on the winning line. He was sole occupier of the rows of empty seats. He was asked to move.