Great teams stay great by making bold changes when they are needed but when many would say that things are grand as they are. Horse Racing Ireland and Leopardstown Racecourse have made a bold statement of the former.
National Hunt Horse Racing runs close to the heartbeat of Irish sport and Irish society and news broke yesterday of a major new development which will draw big crowds and the interest of the sporting world to Leopardstown Racecourse next February.
The Board of Horse Racing Ireland has approved the creation of an exciting new two-day festival of jumps racing at Leopardstown, to be run for the first time on the weekend of Saturday February 3 and Sunday February 4 in 2018.
The BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle will be the feature event on the first day, while the Stan James Irish Gold Cup will headline the Sunday card. Total prize-money for the weekend will be €1.5m in 2018.
That represents a 50 per cent increase on the prize money for the equivalent races in 2017 and that is only the start of the ambition.
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The plan is to progressively increase that fund each year, rising to €2.1m in 2020. The minimum race value for the weekend will be €75,000 for 2018, and by year three it is envisaged every race will have a minimum prize fund of €100,000.
The festival combines the feature races from Leopardstown’s current three stand-alone meetings in late January and mid-February, and is perfectly positioned in the calendar, equidistant from Leopardstown’s Christmas festival and the Cheltenham festival in mid-March.
Seven Grade 1 races and three Grade 2 events, along with both existing and new valuable handicaps (including the Coral.ie Hurdle), will feature in a two-day extravaganza in an initiative designed to build on the wonderful success of this year’s National Hunt festivals. The objective is to create a new jumps festival that becomes a destination in itself.
The full race programme and the prize-money to be offered over the next three years will be announced within the next month.
“The HRI Board enthusiastically supported the proposal from Leopardstown to create a new two-day festival of jumps racing in early February and has agreed to enhance its prize-money commitment to the weekend to reflect the increased sponsorship and racecourse contribution,” said HRO CEO Brian Kavanagh.
“HRI believes that the new festival, featuring 15 top-class races, will be very popular as it fits nicely between Christmas and Cheltenham, and will offer perfect opportunities for the top horses not just from Ireland, but Britain as well.”
“We would also hope to attract a large number of overseas racegoers to Leopardstown for the weekend.”
Leopardstown Chief Executive Pat Keogh paid tribute to the race sponsors who, along with HRI and Leopardstown, have increased their investment towards prize-money.
“This is a very exciting development for Leopardstown and we are delighted to create this new festival during the heart of the jumps season.”
“We are fortunate to have wonderful sponsors at Leopardstown and we are very grateful to them for their support in establishing this new concept without which it would not have been possible.”
“In the same way that Irish horses target the big spring festivals at Cheltenham and Aintree, our race programme and the prize funds are designed to ensure that British trainers and owners will be keen to target a wonderful weekend of top quality and high value national hunt racing.”
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