Organisers keen to build on 'huge success' of popular meeting
Popular racing photographer and passionate Listowel racecourse committee member Pat Healy hailed the 2017 Harvest Festival a "huge success" and said the organising bodies will meet in the coming weeks to discuss possible improvements.
More than 90,000 people came through the gates for the week-long festival and Healy said: "The weather wasn't great at the start and we have our clerk of the course, Val O'Connell, to thank for providing us with fresh ground every day.
"Luckily the sun came out on the days that mattered most and, while we were very happy with how the week went, we'll meet to discuss possible improvements as we want to continue to grow the festival.”
It is 15 years since Listowel added an extra two days to the festival and, while a return to a five-day meeting has been discussed, Healy said: "The way we looked at it was that it wasn't broke so why try to fix it.”
Some observers have called for less Flat racing in such gruelling conditions but Healy believes that would be a wrong move.
“Personally I'd hate to see less Flat racing at Listowel," he said. “We've seen some brilliant Flat horses here down through the years and even last week Riven Light booked his Australian ticket to take on Winx with victory in the stakes race here.
“Every year our Flat races are consistently as popular as the jumps races among punters and betting is strong. It would be a shame to take Flat racing away."
Some of the gloss was lost on the eve of the festival with the news that Coneygree would miss the Kerry National because of the ground but Healy believes the track benefited greatly from the buzz surrounding the 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner in the weeks leading up to the festival.
Healy, whose late father Liam was remembered in Tuesday’s Lartigue Hurdle, said: “We rode the waves a bit with Coneygree and the publicity that generated was fantastic. Fair play to the Bradstocks, as they were keen on bringing him over, but they decided at the last minute the ground was too testing.
“Even in his absence we had a great Kerry National and it was special seeing Lisa O’Neill win back-to-back renewals. It was also a proud moment for our family as my nephew Sean led up the winner – things like that don’t happen every day.”
Five festival stars
Willie Mullins enjoyed a lot of success through the week but none of his winners had a more exciting profile than Riven Light. He has been a revelation on the Flat this season and, after a first Listed success in the Edmund & Josie Whelan Memorial Stakes, the Rich Ricci-owned gelding was placed into quarantine as his next mission is against wonder mare Winx in the Group 1 Cox Plate in Australia.
Lisa O’Neill joined a select group of jockeys to have ridden two or more winners of the Kerry National who include Barry Geraghty, Ruby Walsh and Paddy Flood after her success aboard Potters Point for Gordon Elliott. The pair, who also claimed last year’s renewal with Wrath Of Titans, look to have a potential candidate for the Irish National in Potters Point. Always held in high regard, his career had been derailed by a number of little issues but he proved himself back on track. He looks like he can continue to progress in staying handicap chases.
The nine-year-old could not have been more impressive in winning the 2m4f novice chase on Saturday. Third in the 2014 Neptune at Cheltenham behind Faugheen, he endured some time on the sidelines with injury but still possesses a decent engine and has to be taken seriously in better-quality novice chases throughout the winter.
The four-year-old filly made a winning start to her career in a bumper for Michael Hourigan. A daughter of Footstepsinthesand, she is out of good racemare Laetitia and looks to have the size for jumping hurdles.
Another Willie Mullins horse, Lagostovegas was arguably a shade lucky to hang on for victory in a handicap hurdle as the runner-up, Davids Charm, got going too late. Lagostovegas has proved herself a versatile mare and deserves respect if she contests the Betfred Cesarewitch.