Only ten days after Derek McGrath revealed he would be leaving his position as CEO of Ireland’s premier racecourse it was announced that Pat Keogh, the current CEO of Leopardstown would be stepping in to replace him.
McGrath had suggested at the time of his announcement that he would be leaving at the end of the year but that will now be expedited with Keogh taking on both roles in the short term before scaling back his involvement at Leopardstown.
He has been CEO there since 2011 and has been responsible for a series of successful initiatives. The Dublin Racing Festival was held for the first time in February 2018, bringing a number of fixtures together and creating a two day blast of top-class jump racing with many of the key Cheltenham contenders in action.
It was a winner in terms of attracting the right horses and a strong crowd from Ireland and England. It also mixed in elements of music and a food festival which were well received by traditional racegoers as well as building a new audience used to the more social side of the Christmas Festival.
Keogh will at least finally get to spend Christmas not having to worry about marquees, the state of the going, the stocking of the bars and the attracting of the best equine talent. The Curragh races only on the flat in a season that extends from March to October.
“I look forward to the challenges provided by the Curragh – it is a racecourse that has always had impressive credentials in terms of its track and race programme and now has the facilities to match,” said Keogh.
“I look forward to meeting the team there. In tandem, I would like to pay tribute to my own team and all of the staff at Leopardstown who have been an absolute pleasure to work with and have dedicated themselves to bringing Leopardstown to the position it is in now.”
There are eight fixtures left this year at the Curragh, including the second leg of the Champions Weekend, with €4.6 Million in prizemoney.
That event is split over Leopardstown and the Curragh so Keogh will have worked closely with McGrath and the Curragh team since its first staging in 2014.
He has been strong in attracting sponsorship engagement at Leopardstown with the Bulmers Festival over the summer backed up by a major partnership with Microsoft around the staging of a specific night for the tech giant.
He was responsible for bringing on board Savills, the property specialists to support the Leopardstown Chase, the centrepiece of the Christmas Festival.
The Curragh has Dubai Duty Free on board as the sponsor of the Irish Derby Festival and had Kerrygold as backers of Saturday’s Oaks. Tattersalls have sponsored the Guineas Festival since 2013 and other key partners include Coolmore, where Keogh previously worked and others in the industry.
His key challenge will be to raise attendance and deliver on the experience that they enjoy at the brand new and world-class Curragh racecourse. Derek McGrath’s exiting comments about the need to unite better behind a shared vision were unpopular among sections of the high powered group that came together to support the €80 million project that has delivered a spectacular new facility.
McGrath deserves credit for having maintained the full racing programme using temporary viewing facilities over the two years of the build but now the focus will switch towards getting the message out to racing and social fans that the Racecourse is one they need to return to.
Keogh has done a top class job at Leopardstown, where he will be missed, and now is being entrusted to get it right again at The Curragh.
“I would like to thank outgoing CEO Derek McGrath and wish him well, he has been a driving force in delivering the world-class facilities which we now have at the Curragh,” said Padraig McManus, Chairman of Curragh Racecourse Ltd yesterday.
“I am delighted that we have been able to secure the services of an experienced racecourse CEO of the calibre of Pat Keogh. I welcome him to the Curragh and look forward to working with him. I appreciate the co-operation of Horse Racing Ireland and Leopardstown in this regard.”
“The Curragh development is one of which we can be proud and is a racecourse for customers at all levels to enjoy and be welcome,” added Horse Racing Ireland CEO, Brian Kavanagh.
“It is the Headquarters of Irish racing and a huge asset for County Kildare. The Curragh faces many challenges and I am delighted that Pat has agreed to take up this position and help establish the Curragh’s reputation as one of Ireland’s most enjoyable sporting venues. He and his team have done a remarkable job during his time at Leopardstown.”
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