JUST a few weeks after playing host to an especially well-attended Thyestes Chase day, Gowran Park packed in another bumper crowd last week for another of its high profile jumping fixtures, Red Mills day.
The gate for the day was sponsored by Connolly’s Red Mills and the commendable decision to make this a free admission fixture was rewarded with a terrific turn out which generated a superb atmosphere throughout the day. Admittedly some in racing may not be fans of live pictures of the runners taken from an infield position but these shots were the ones which actually conveyed just how well attended this fixture was.
The enclosures was packed from top to bottom and it seemed that every available vantage point in the stands was taken. In short it was fantastic to see this meeting attract what will be one of the biggest non-festival attendances of the year in Ireland.
Last Saturday’s fixture raises a couple of points and the first one is that it would be great to see events at Gowran Park replicated around the country over the coming months.
The Thyestes and Red Mills card were always big days for Gowran Park but even so the track has succeeded in making these days even bigger and a real sense of occasion and anticipation have accompanied both of these meetings this year.
Secondly, last Saturday’s meeting cannot pass without reference to the free entrance initiative.
In the past there has been resistance to the possibility of introducing free entry to some race meetings with one school of thought suggesting that the product gets devalued if free entrance is offered. However, anyone making that point would do well to consider what took place at last weekend.
A free gate attracted a tremendous crowd on what was a pleasant spring afternoon and this in turn created an atmosphere that was engaging and entertaining and was in fact the very embodiment of what a day at the races should be like.
No doubt the majority of the crowd at Gowran were reasonably frequent racegoers but just as surely there would have been some newcomers to racing amongst those in attendance. No one should presume to speak for the latter cohort but the overall experience of last Saturday, which mixed a real sense of occasion alongside some quality racing, was surely an overwhelmingly positive one.
This is not to say that free entrance should become the norm in Irish racing, but last Saturday did illustrate how well free entry can work and how it can greatly help to enliven an afternoon which can only work to the betterment of the racing product.
It should be acknowledged that Red Mills day was by no means the first fixture in Ireland to offer free entry but the whole day offered compelling evidence to suggest that such schemes can and will work.