Three-ring circus! Revamped Curragh paddock found to be too small
The parade ring at the centre of the Curragh’s €72 million revamp faces being at least partly torn up and reconstructed after it was deemed too small to safely cater for large numbers – but it could be more than a year before the issue is addressed.
Over the past couple of weeks, when the first 30-runner handicaps have been staged since the new parade ring was installed earlier this year, trainers and Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board officials have made it clear to the Curragh’s management that it was of inadequate size to accommodate every horse in races with upwards of 22 runners.
The licensing committee at the IHRB put its evaluation in writing, and the Curragh’s CEO Derek McGrath has conceded that the situation needs to be addressed.
The expectation by trainers and the IHRB was that all this would be done in time for the Curragh's grand reopening next April, but McGrath, while unable to make a conclusive statement, did not deny it could be the end of next year before the issue is addressed.
“It's very unlikely we will reduce field sizes, because having 30-runner races is something the Curragh holds dear,” he told the Racing Post.
“We’ve had a letter from the licensing committee stating they want us to review the size of the ring. We’ll take that back to the board and look at it over the next couple of months.”
McGrath continued: “When you have such a complex project and you are juggling a million things already, to throw another wobbler in that you haven’t already programmed in, of course it's going to have an impact.
"But the option we choose and how we're going to do it, that will all decide the extent of its impact, and that might impact when we do it. We’ve a target to race for next year from April and we don’t want to disrupt that.”
The IHRB, which is a 33 per cent shareholder in the Curragh Racecourse company, is placing the finger of blame firmly in the direction of the commercial entity, with its CEO Denis Egan stating that the licensing committed signed off on a parade ring that was bigger than the previous one.
“The licensing committee signed off on the parade ring as they were led to believe it was going to be bigger than the previous parade ring, but this is smaller, so we're disappointed about that,” he stated on Monday.
“We're waiting for the Curragh to revert to us. They have a board meeting in September and we'll have discussions with the Curragh after that as to how matters will be remedied. Our understanding was that it was going to be done before the opening.”
McGrath, who was appointed in March 2016, said the issue of how the country’s premier Flat racing venue has found itself in the predicament it has will form part of a review process.
“There weren't any criteria existing in Ireland and you could wonder why that was the case and what was the point of reference?”
On Sunday, the lack of space was apparent ahead of the opening 22-runner maiden, with the Aidan O’Brien horses circling inside the main path on the grass. Before the concluding 30-runner sprint handicap, eight horses, including Ted Walsh’s Approbare, were kept in the pre-parade ring on the advice of clerk of the course Brendan Sheridan.
“Whoever was involved advising them horse-wise, they got it wrong,” Walsh declared on Monday. “They used BHA guidelines of 4.5 metres, but all they had to use was common sense. Basically, for safety and everything else, you need to give yourself six metres for every horse because a horse is around three yards in old money.
“There are parade rings all around the country that cater for 30 horses, same as the Curragh did before, and that should have been a guide enough for them.”
Walsh added: “I’d no problem keeping my horse in the pre-parade ring, and that’s a solution for the safety side of things, but it’s no good for owners, the racing public or the groom who might want to be in the running for a best-turned-out prize. It’s just a pity they didn’t consult someone with a bit of common sense.”
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