It is perhaps the biggest weekend of the year in terms of Sport in Dublin with two All Ireland Finals at Croke Park and the Longines Irish Champions Weekend likely to be watched by more people around the world than either of them.
The reason for that is the presence in the field for the Quipco Irish Champions Stakes of Japanese horse Deirdre.
“It is a huge boost to get a Japanese runner over to Ireland and she is coming with a real chance,” Pat Keogh said yesterday speaking to Sport for Business as he prepared for the biggest and richest weekend in Irish Racing history.
Keogh himself will have a unique role over the two days having been appointed as CEO of The Curragh in July but mainitaining his role in the same position at Leopardstown until tomorrow evening.
The Champions Weekend will see over €4 million in prizemoney raced for at the Dublin venue on Saturday and then down at the impressive new Curragh facility on Sunday.
“We have come close to attracting Japanese runners before but this is the first and it unlocks a lot of potential for Irish racing.
“It is a massive sport in Japan and our race is one of those that’s on a list of races that could potentially be shown on Japanese TV, so long as there is a Japanese runner.”
“With Deirdre lining up on Saturday as many as two million viewers are expected to watch, and bet, on the race on the opposite side of the world. Who knows, some of our Rugby stars may take some down time to tune in as well.”
Closer to home the All Ireland Football Final going to a replay was an unexpected rival for sporting attention but Racing had been aware of the possibility and contingency plans were ready to dust down once Dean Rock’s late late free kick failed to split the posts.
“There really isn’t a weekend when sport is not competing with itself in many ways, “said Keogh. All we can do is put on the best possible show that we can within our sport and build long term audience growth.”
Leopardstown faced similar challenges earlier this year when going head to head against the Guinness Six Nations with the Dublin Racing Festival but crowds held strong and there was a great atmosphere watching the game on the big screen at the track.
The feature races were brought forward tomorrow to accomodate a shuffle in TV coverage and Keogh was on the phones early to make sure that all stakeholders were on board.
“RTÉ, trainers, Horse racing Ireland all came on board very quickly and we were able to get the message out with no fuss. You always have to be ina position to react when circumstance demands. That’s just part of the job.”
“We are pleased with the way that advance ticket sales have been tracking and are confident that we will have a good crowd to see great racing over the weekend.”
‘Attendance is crucial for live sport but you have to take a long term view. Reacting to immediate blips will often lead you down the wrong path.”
At Leopardstown three years ago we decided to build a special evening around a Ladies Race, working with our neighbours Microsoft.”
“We did not get rich on it that first year and some might have said that didn’t work and moved onto something else. but we were confident and in the last two years it has developed and grown into being an important part of the summer season.”
“It’s the long term trends that matter.”
The excitement of Deirdre from Japan, a 10/1 chance with Paddy power this morning, is offset by the noise around the All Ireland but the fundamentals of this showcase meeting for Irish racing are rock solid.
They are in good hands with Keogh as well.