Walsh hails 'amazing initiative' at launch of Dublin Racing Festival
Ruby Walsh has described the Dublin Racing Festival as an "amazing initiative" and believes the weekend of February 3 and 4 at Leopardstown could be something spectacular, with seven Grade 1s and €1.5 million worth of prize-money up for grabs.
The festival was launched at the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin city centre on Monday and both Walsh and Willie Mullins gave the event a big thumbs-up.
Walsh said: "This is an amazing initiative. It's a huge showcase event and I think it's very important we fill the place. If the best horses are turning up, then there has to be an atmosphere there. The place has to be full. Hopefully it will be packed."
Also on that day will be a new Grade 2 event over 2m1f – the Coral Dublin Chase – as well as the Coral Handicap Hurdle, a Grade 2 bumper sponsored by Goffs and a 2m1f handicap chase.
Sunday has the Unibet Irish Gold Cup centre stage, with three supporting Grade 1s – the Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle, Deloitte Novice Hurdle and Flogas Novice Chase.
Mullins was full of praise for the decision to amalgamate Leopardstown's key winter races and meetings into one weekend and said: "This is a great idea and probably the best initiative any racecourse has come up with in Ireland for a long time.
"The timing is very good in relation to Cheltenham and the fact the Irish Gold Cup is a week earlier than usual is certainly a big help.
"The Irish Champion Hurdle and the Irish Gold Cup are two great races to build a new festival around, backed up by a host of top class races that will showcase the jumping talent on this side of the Irish Sea."
Pat Keogh, chief executive of Leopardstown, is enthusiastic about the prospect of attracting tourists to the new event.
He said: "We're very excited about the potential of this festival. The racing fan will get to see some of the biggest National Hunt races of the year in one weekend, while for the festival fan the entertainment will include cultural elements that make Dublin one of the fastest-growing tourist destinations in Europe.
"This is a unique sport with beauty and drama in abundance and we want to bring it to as wide an audience as possible, whether they be ardent racing fans or new to the sport.
"The UK audience is a key target as we provide them with an experience that showcases the very best Dublin has to offer."
WHAT THE CARDS WILL LOOKS LIKE
Saturday, Feburary 3
Race 1: Nathaniel Lacy Solicitors & Partners Novice Hurdle (2m6f, Grade 1), €100,000
Race 2: Coral Dublin Chase (2m1f, Grade 2), €100,000
Race 3: Frank Ward Solicitors Novice Chase (2m1f, Grade 1), €100,000
Race 4: Handicap Chase (2m1f), €75,000
Race 5: BHP Insurances Irish Champion Hurdle (2m, Grade 1), €150,000
Race 6: Coral Handicap Hurdle (2m), €100,000
Race 7: Goffs INH Flat Race (2m, Grade 2), €75,000
Sunday, February 4
Race 1: Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle (2m, Grade 1), €100,000
Race 2: EBF Mares Handicap Hurdle (2m2f), €75,000
Race 3: Deloitte Novice Hurdle (2m, Grade 1), €100,000
Race 4: Handicap Hurdle (3m), €75,000
Race 5: Flogas Novice Chase (2m5f, Grade 1), €100,000
Race 6: Unibet Irish Gold Cup (3m, Grade 1), €200,000
Race 7: Chanelle Group Leopardstown Handicap Chase (2m5f), €100,000
Race 8: Coolmore INH Flat Race (2m, Grade 2), €75,000
THE KEY QUESTIONS
Will the British challenge improve?
"There are still big prizes in Britain. They used to come over a lot more than they do now and it will be interesting to see whether they'll have a go at this sort of prize-money. The big days with big prize-money are very important and I'll be trying to get my best horses there in the best possible shape" – Willie Mullins
Will more Cheltenham Gold Cup contenders turn up in the Irish Gold Cup?
"The double was done last season by Sizing John. A lot of people shied away from it for the last number of years and maybe I should have run Djakadam in the race this year. The extra week is vital. The timing is very good in that regard" –Willie Mullins
Will losing two Sunday cards pay off for Leopardstown?
"Sunday is the prime slot and to lose two for a Saturday is a brave move by Leopardstown. Saturdays tend to be a lot quieter than Sundays. They will have to push and sell the Saturday. The Saturday programme is incredible so there is no reason why we cannot sell this to people. We're on the edge of about 1.5 million people at Leopardstown so need to get people through the gates. We simply have to" – Ruby Walsh
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