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Thursday, 17 January, 2019

Trainers believe Irish Derby should be temporarily rehomed

The old weighing room at the Curragh getting razed
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Leading trainers Jim Bolger and Ger Lyons have condemned the decision taken by Horse Racing Ireland and the Curragh to proceed with plans to run the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at the track this year and in 2018 despite a crowd cap of 6,000 being put in place.

More than 18,000 were in attendance at the Curragh on Derby day last year, but building work is due to begin shortly on a €65 million two-year redevelopment and capacity will be restricted on major racedays, with the 6,000 limit also set for the Irish Champions Weekend fixture.

HRI chief executive Brian Kavanagh defended the decision to keep racing at the Curragh, saying: "We don't have the luxury of having an ideal replacement track."

However, Bolger and Lyons think a temporary move to Leopardstown or elsewhere would have been a better call.

Bolger said: "It wouldn't be fair to say I agree with the decision to run the Derby at the Curragh this season.

"My preference would have been to move the race for this year anyway. I had nothing to do with the decision but my preference would have been to move it to Leopardstown or Naas.

"Leopardstown would probably hold a crowd better and have been ideal for the Derby as opposed to limiting the number of people coming to the Curragh."

The Curragh's season has been shortened from mid-May to mid-September to facilitate the redevelopment and temporary facilities will be introduced where necessary to cope with racedays during the process.

'Switching Arc worked well'

Bolger cited the switch of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe last year to Chantilly during Longchamp's redevelopment - which will be repeated this year - as a good example of how another course can successfully step in temporarily.

"I was there and I thought it worked very well in France this year," said Bolger. "While it wasn't Longchamp, it worked nicely and there was a big crowd.

"Something similar could have been done here. The decision has been made but I disagree with it."

More than 18,000 were on course as Harzand won last year's Irish Derby

While Kavanagh maintains he would have had no problem running the Irish Derby at Leopardstown, he said the inability to stage a credible supporting card around the 1m4f Classic at the Foxrock track was the main stumbling block for such a move.

"This was a decision taken seriously and the fact we couldn't replicate exactly certain race programmes meant that the pros outweighed the cons in continuing to race at the Curragh," he said.

"There is also the traditional aspect of the fact that the Irish Derby has been run at the Curragh for over 150 years and it's universally regarded as one of the best tracks in the world.

"There was going to be disruption no matter what way you looked at it. We felt it was best to continue racing at the Curragh during this transition period."

'Other tracks are undervalued'

Lyons believes the Curragh, like Longchamp, should be staging no racing at all while development takes place, and said tracks such as Naas and Navan are undervalued and under-used.

He said: "I'm of the opinion they should shut the track for the year and go about building it properly without any interruptions.

"They may not have wanted to run the Classics around a bend at Leopardstown, but for one year, for goodness sake, close the place down and get the job done properly.

"On Derby weekend or Irish Champions Weekend we are trying to generate a spectacle and I don't think limiting the attendance is the way to do this. We should have run the Classics elsewhere - the likes of Navan, Naas and Leopardstown would have been ideal.

"I think we under-utilise a lot of good tracks here in Ireland and the likes of Naas would be deserving of a big race like the Derby or a big sprint like the Flying Five."

He added: "The Curragh rest on their laurels and are guaranteed these top races every year; they don't have to try as hard as our other tracks. There's more than the mighty Curragh in Ireland.”

Leopardstown would probably hold a crowd better and have been ideal as opposed to limiting the number of people
E.W. Terms
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