The Secret Racegeor says go on to the new Curragh
The new Curragh should have opened for business last month, but after two years of being a building site, with a few race meetings thrown in, and an overspend of around €15m from the original budget of €65m, not everything was ready. So the horses raced at Naas instead.
Everything, well almost everything, was in place for the fixture on May Bank Holiday Monday, which was called the “Opening Day”. Later this month sees the Grand Opening Weekend Day 1, the Grand Opening Day Weekend 2 and, at last, The Curragh Official Opening Day. There’s also an open day.
If the Curragh is breaking the record for opening days, it’s also having crack at the number of straplines it can use to entice racegoers to the County Kildare track.
There’s The Curragh – Where Champions Are Made, The Curragh – Be Proud, The Curragh – Be There, The Curragh – Be Part Of It, and The Curragh – Be Amazed. All that’s missing is The Curragh – Ah Go On, Go On, Go On, Go On, Go On, Go On.
So is the new Curragh fit for all these exaltations? Answer, it is.
In the words of Pat Smullen, diagnosed with pancreatic cancer 14 months ago but displaying positivity in abundance despite announcing his retirement from the saddle: “It is something for Irish racing to be very proud of”. He’s bang on.
Restaurant writers say they much prefer writing reviews when they’ve enjoyed their meal but it’s easier to talk about cold soup and warm wine. The Secret Racegoer is very happy to have enjoyed the day at the new Curragh and it’s not easy to find fault.
The track’s viewing was always good and now it’s better. Terraces run the full length of the new stand, and then seating is available at the next level up, interspersed with viewing terraces.
Higher up, and the viewing is for those who can afford annual membership or restaurant dining, but there isn’t the feeling that these facilities are being enjoyed at the expense of general admission racegoers – not for the Opening Day at least.
At Level One anybody and everybody can access the Derby Bar with a terrace view of the track, and the Champagne Bar (it sells Guinness as well) overlooking the paddock.
Underneath the grandstand is the Champions Hall, a public area comprising a bar, cafe and cafeteria, as well as Tote kiosks. It’s a bit utilitarian, but does afford a glimpse into the weighing room through a large plate glass window.
Bookmakers are now situated alongside the parade ring rather than in front of the stands – a sensible place as they’re en-route from the parade ring to the race-viewing terraces.
Not everything will be got right first time. A bit more signage in the Champions Hall would help, so too would some signage when leaving the racecourse, in particular to the taxi rank. A map of the stand and facilities in the racecard would be helpful.
There could also be more raised areas around the parade ring, which probably needs a second big screen, and the Owners and Trainers room struggled with the number of connections trying to get in.
The Opening Day drew a decent enough crowd of over 3,600 and everything and everyone seemed to cope, but one assumes that on feature days there well be more temporary outside bars and food outlets to cope with the higher demand.
Bigger numbers are going to be the acid test of the new Curragh but there’s now little excuse for racegoers not to visit “the place of the horse” and enjoy a top racing experience.
If they are lucky enough to see a ride like Ryan Moore’s in the Group 3 Athasi Stakes on Oaks entry Happen, flying at the finish to grab the race on the line, they’ll have seen the best the sport can offer.
Moore also took the Group 2 Mooresbridge Stakes, a race which Ballydoyle farm, on 2/9 favourite Magical which looks like going one better in the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup back here later in the month on another of the opening days.
Outdoing Moore in garnering wins was the treble-winning jockey Billy Lee, who made most of the running on Verhoyen to land the 30-runner 6f Curragh Where Champions Are Made Handicap at 10/1, to complete the 370/1 three-timer.
What the Secret Racegoer has so far failed to do is describe are the aesthetics of the new Curragh. That’s better coming from the Curragh itself:
“Celebrating the picturesque landscape of the Curragh, the Main Grandstand is comprised of three linear planes that are respectful to the Curragh landscape whilst cutting a dramatic and elegant silhouette.
“Designed as a powerful floating horizontal form, the grandstand roof celebrates the horizontality of the landscape.
“The cantilevered roof emphasises the contrast between the natural undulating forms of the Curragh, and the precision of the man-made.
“The materials for the grandstand were chosen for their links to local flora, geology and the rural context in which they are set. The roof’s Vulcan Copper colour and materiality references the rural Irish vernacular and the agricultural heritage of Kildare.”
Ah, Go On.