Bright future for changing Irish Derby and Arc

Camelot win boosts Saturday night Derby

Over recent years the Irish Derby has had something of an image problem, with an apparent decline in standing which has resulted in lower attendances and a decrease in betting turnover on the race. The decision of the Irish authorities to move the race from Sunday afternoon and make it the final race on a Saturday teatime card was both brave and imaginative.

In the event, the card attracted 23,211 up by only 500 or so people on last year. But manager of the Curragh racecourse, Paul Hensey, was not discouraged. He said, “We have to consider the Saturday experiment as a success, as the inclement weather had to have an impact on numbers.” And as yet, the television viewing figures, at peak time of 7.40 in the evening are not yet through. Add to that, there was considerable uncertainty during the day as to whether Camelot would run for Aidan O’Brien and the Coolmore team.

He did, which was good news for the race in terms of its standing in relation to the Pattern system. Nevertheless, the Irish authorities will have to consider what more they can do to make the race more attractive on a world stage; the last four runnings have featured just four horses trained in England, and none from any other part of the globe.

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Hensey claimed that reaction to the change had been enthusiastic. He said, “The overall feedback we have had has been positive. While it is something we will obviously have to review in the next month or so with our team and with the Curragh committee later, my recommendation would be that we stick with the same plan for next year. I think the concept was a success. When you have a significant change like this is sometimes takes a year or two to really build up. Looking to the future I think the Saturday night Derby will gather momentum and it will become a fixture in people’s diaries.”

Meanwhile France Galop have reached an outline agreement with Paris City Council which gives them long term lease and security over the course at Longchamp until 2056. Key to France Galop in discussions was that any deal would also cover jump racing at Auteuil, as president Bertrand Belinguier explained. He said, “One of the most important parts of about the negotiations we have had with the City of Paris is that the new agreement will cover Auteuil and Longchamp. What is more, we will have the option to review the terms of the lease, which might be necessary were the economic climate in racing to change.”

The agreement means that Longchamp will undergo a major redevelopment for which initial costings are in the region of £82m. This will mean the course closing for two years after the Arc in 2014, with an expected re-opening for the Arc in 2016. During that time the course will undergo a complete makeover, including putting in an all-weather track.

Dominique Perrault Architecture, the company that designed the Francois Mitterand Library, and Olympic venues in Madrid and Berlin, is lined up for the redevelopment, after winning an international competition. Perrault has described the design for a new grandstand as like a series of “stacked plates.”

Belinguier said, “I am happy that we can now move forward with the new Longchamp. It’s been talked about for so many years. I’m also happy that we have been able to secure the future of jump racing at Auteuil.”

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