The Secret Racegoer feels the pressure at the Irish Derby
Ballydoyle had all the right horses, but not necessarily in the right order. As 33/1 shot Sovereign finished six lengths in front of Anthony Van Dyck, the crowd at the Curragh fell silent after witnessing a shock result in the Irish Derby.
Perhaps the only positive spin on this was that it was discernible that the crowd had gone silent, because up to that point there was a real buzz about the place.
It was the first Derby to be staged at the Curragh since it unveiled its €81m redevelopment. A number of meetings had already been staged and it mostly got the thumbs up from those who had attended.
The trouble was, not too many had attended. Indeed, the first two days of the Derby meeting had seen crowds (if that is the right word) of around 2,000 and 3,000. Given the second day, on Friday afternoon, included the Group 1 Pretty Polly Stakes, it was a truly disappointing number.
Would people return for the track’s most important days racing of the year? The answer was just about.
Forty-three more tickets sold and the gate would have been 12,000. That was a respectable number compared to days or yore when 25,000 were at the County Kildare venue.
It was double the number who were at last year’s Derby when the place was still under construction and when a cap was put on the crowd. So at least 6,000 people had been won back.
There are, however, major issues to be faced if the 12,000 attendance grows. Two things stood out as being totally inadequate. First trying to get a drink and, second, trying to get rid of it.
When the Secret Racegoer returned to his favourite Dublin bar after racing, the barman commented that Sovereign’s win “pissed a lot of people off”. The same vernacular was very likely in mind at the Curragh, where racegoers were in need of some relief.
The Secret Racegoer had opined after visiting the Curragh on its opening day, that on big days it was assumed temporary facilities would be put in place. For getting a drink, that was the case but not nearly enough to reduce the queues, one of which had over 100 people in it.
But temporary facilities for achieving the vernacular were absent, and there were anguished looks on the faces of those in the queues.
“There were pressures on the bars throughout”, acknowledged the Curragh’s chief executive, Derek McGrath. Many racegoers could have told him there were pressures felt elsewhere.
There was relief however when the attendance was announced. Expectations were mixed and one who piled on the pressure was the boss of sponsors Dubai Duty Free, Colm McLoughlin who, talking on RTE radio, said he expected the number to be in excess of 20,000.
The vernacular probably passed through minds of Curragh executives who would have had some idea of the likely attendance given advance ticket sales.
But 12,000 wasn’t a disaster and it wasn’t a triumph – it was a respectable number upon which to build and that needs to start with building more temporary bars and more temporary loos.
It would however be a worry if the crowd headed towards 25,000. It strikes the Secret Racegoer that the place hasn’t been designed for such numbers, and even 20,000 looks like an upper limit for comfort and, if it rained, which it sometimes does in Kildare, comfort would go down the drain.
But let’s not lose sight of the fact that the buzz was very much back and the old traditions were enjoyed.
The ladies dressed up, the finishes were close, apart from Padraig Beggy powering Sovereign home in Irish Derby to capture his second classic in two years after Wings of Eagles won the Derby at Epsom in 2017, and ladies were waiting with prams laden with large Toblerones “two for a fiver”.
Two national anthems were played, the first one still catching people out as it is that of Dubai, but the Soldier’s Song, beautifully sung by Gemma Surgue, had people on their feet.
And as the horses crossed to the Derby start, the Army Number One Band struck up the tune of The Curragh of Kildare accompanied by Gemma with the chorus:
And it’s straight I will repair
To the Curragh of Kildare
For it’s there I’ll find tidings of my dear
Hi babe, stuck in the queue for the gents, totally pissed off.
More Secret Racegoer reports
Royal Ascot 2019 part 1 http://wp.me/p8e3Dl-2bn
Royal Ascot 2019 part 2 http://wp.me/p8e3Dl-2co
Sydney Arms, Chelsea http://wp.me/p8e3Dl-1E3