WILLIE Mullins has labelled the new Dublin Racing Festival, to be held at Leopardstown on the first weekend in February, as “the best initiative by any racecourse in a long time.”
The full programme of races for the weekend was revealed at a launch in the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin this morning. There will be 15 races (seven on Saturday and eight on Sunday) worth a combined total of just over €1.5million.
Saturday will feature the Grade 1 BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle and will be backed up by two more Grade 1 races - the Nathaniel Lacy Solicitors & Partners Novice Hurdle (2m6f) and the Frank Ward Solicitors Novice Chase (2m1f).
On Sunday, the Unibet Irish Gold Cup is the main attraction, alongside another three Grade 1 races - the Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle (2m), the Deloitte Novice Hurdle (2m) and the Flogas Novice Chase (2m5f).
The Coral Handicap Hurdle will take place on Saturday and the Leopardstown Handicap Chase, now sponsored by Chanelle Group, will be on Sunday. Perhaps the most significant change is the addition of a Grade 2 chase over two miles and one furlong - the Coral Dublin Chase - and the introduction of two Grade 2 bumpers each worth €75,000 - the Goffs I.N.H Flat Race (for colts and geldings) and the Coolmore I.N.H Flat Race (for mares) tailing the Saturday and Sunday cards respectively.
Mullins was alongside Ruby Walsh and Leopardstown CEO Pat Keogh fielding questions from the MC, Des Cahill. He said: “The timing is fantastic, especially for the two big races and in particular the Irish Gold Cup which is a week earlier than usual allowing more time between the race and Cheltenham.
“The weekend puts a huge focus on racing and will be a great occasion for Irish sport in general. I am sure there is going to be phenomenal interest from Britain as well, from trainers, owners and racing fans.”
Walsh echoed the Champion trainer and was most looking forward to the potential of a big atmosphere. He said: “For any sports person, to be able to walk out in front of huge crowds - it makes it so much more enjoyable. You see yesterday with the women’s final in Croke Park, it was a huge occasion.
“Good horses bring in crowds. Look at Winx down in Australia - it’s packed out every time she runs, even if she is a short-priced favourite. With this weekend you have the potential for a host of big names and hopefully that will help draw the crowd.”
The weekend is the amalgamation of Leopardstown’s three fixtures directly after Christmas - Coral.ie Hurdle/Coral.ie Leopardstown Handicap Chase day usually held on the second last Sunday of January, Irish Champion Hurdle Day which takes place a week after and the Irish Gold Cup Day which is usually the second Sunday in February.
Keogh admitted that the move to drop one day of racing was a brave move but is confident the weekend will be a success.
“We thought there was a gap in the market for a festival between Christmas and Cheltenham. Festivals have become so big in Irish racing - people want the big occasion and they want a big event.
“It is a brave move to lose a day of racing but we are very confident this festival will be a big success and the reaction we have got from all corners of the industry has been very positive.
“This is only the first year and we have a lot to work on but we would be hoping to increase the prize money levels further in the second and third year.”
Both Mullins and Walsh alluded that it was early days to nominate any horse for any of the Grade 1 races but both issued positive bulletins on the wellbeing of Faugheen, who was last seen winning the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown last year, and Douvan, who was injured in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham last season.