IT was a rather strange racing week, looking around the different tracks here and in Britain. Listowel got 25,700 racegoers in attendance on Wednesday. Perth Racecourse ended its season by tweeting on Thursday - Thank you, to you, our supporters, our loyal racegoers, catering, security, horsemen, and who make this magic happen at this little gem of a Racecourse.
Then Chelmsford didn’t want racegoers coming through the gates on Thursday, and the Curragh can’t get enough of them to come through its gates. Make sense of that!
Houston, we have a problem. The revelations from the HRI CEO Suzanne Eade at the Oireachtas session of the Dáil Public Accounts Committee on Thursday on the problems with the Curragh Racecourse felt a bit like that rocket ready to take off in Florida: lots of money invested but it’s got a few leaks, and not in the roof this time.
I am never quite sure if a sport should be governed by someone close to its core who has come up through the ranks and knows the people and feels the passion or ‘new blood’ from a different background who can perhaps take a wider look.
It seemed a fairly rough introduction for Suzanne Eade, answering questions from TDs on the HRI accounts.
Unfortunately, the Curragh has been making the wrong sort of headlines since it was reopened after its €81.2 million redevelopment. Efforts are being make to address some of the problems, but it’s a tough one.
The Committee heard the acknowledgement of a €6.4m loss on HRI’s initial €23m investment into the Curragh overhaul.
There can be no argument over Eade’s statement that: “The Curragh had to be updated. It had no developments since 1962 and had become uninsurable. When people look at it now, they need to look beyond it as just the racecourse – this is a magnificent training facility as well.”
Yes, there is a lot of good elements in the bigger picture and a rebuild was badly needed.
She continued: “I know it’s not financially performing the way we all want it to be, but this is the first time we’ve had a facility for flat racing where we could welcome international visitors comfortably.”
What has to be noted is that, even in places with much more basic facilities – people are going racing, and people are travelling from abroad.
Leopardstown is by no means a high-class facility on a world scale but the Dublin Racing Festival attracts huge volumes of racegoers and positive comments from Britain.
The country tracks do not offer top-class facilities but they have an appeal far beyond that, even for a poor variety of flat racing. This weekend at headquarters offers good competitive racing and the forecast is decent but it’s a test to see how it all goes.
The other bit of unease revealed from the Public Accounts Committee meeting was that there is still no live CCTV systems in place at any of Ireland’s 25 racecourses, more than four years after the drugging of a horse at a race meeting led to an outcry calling for increased scrutiny of stable yards.
While you have to make allowances for long months of Covid restrictions, it still seems a plodding pace after an incident which caused too many negative headlines. It’s not a good look.
TD Imelda Munster voiced what many others will think when she said: “Every single time we asked, the date was put back. It’s a question of either competency or the situation being purposefully delayed,” she said.
The IHRB’s Daragh O’Loughlin’s reply was that CCTV “may have been talked about for five years but the process only began after the procurement process last March” and hoped that 14 more tracks with cameras installed would be live before the end of this year.
We wonder at the current mess of British racing, and while much is healthier here, nothing should be taken for granted in what are unstable times with so many areas appealing for more funding and government spending under much sterner scrutiny.