Managers at the home of Irish racing set out their goal of improving its 55 year old grandstand six years ago, and although they gained planning permission within a matter of months, the economic downturn meant any progress had to be put on ice. The racecourse has scrapped the master plan, which was prepared then by EPR Architects, and would have catered for 20,000 spectators and is starting again.
A fresh brief calls for innovation in the design (hardly surprising), and emphasises the importance of blending in with the current environment. With an acknowledgement that crowds at The Curragh vary substantially, architects face the challenge of creating a big enough arena for the huge Irish Derby attendance and sufficient intimacy for the smaller meetings.
We’re still quite a time away from any new building beginning. First is to whittle down any submissions to a shortlist of six, who will then each receive €10,000 to provide sketches and a narrative of their proposals. Paul Hensey, general manager at The Curragh said, “The main development is still in the mix and this is the first of a series of steps to be passed before it becomes reality. It has always been there in the background.”
It probably means the piecemeal improvements introduced over the last few years will largely come to an end, although there is one more in the pipeline, linked in with a new deal with Oxigen Environmental, who have taken on sponsorship of the Group 1 Pretty Polly Stakes, run on 30 June.
In addition to that, the waste management and recycling company will develop a range of environmental and sustainability initiatives and projects at the racecourse.
Sean Doyle, the chairman of Oxigen Environmental, said: “We are delighted to partner the Curragh Racecourse as their waste management partner and will actively work together on a range of environmentally sustainable green initiatives. Together we aim to reduce their carbon footprint and increase their recycling to award winning standards. Our sponsorship of the Pretty Polly Stakes further seals our joint environmental commitment and business partnership.”
Meanwhile, over at Cheltenham, the Jockey Club confirmed that the Racecourse Bond launched a month ago had generated £24.7m of applications, just shy of the £25m, the Jockey Club had set as its maximum take up.
Cheltenham managing director Ian Renton was clearly delighted that the major part of the funding was now in place. He said, “It’s simply fantastic to have raised more than half of the capital towards the Jockey Club’s planned development at the home of jump racing through the Racecourse Bond. We submitted a detailed application on time at the end of April and hope to receive a decision on the project from the local authorities in the summer.”
With further funding from debentures, savings and borrowing, the Jockey Club is ready to invest £45m in developing the facilities at Cheltenham, with the intention of completing everything for an opening at the 2016 Festival.
The Bond itself, which is issued for a period of five years, will generate interest payments of over £1m each year to the 2,100 people who purchased it. As I’m one of them, I’m trusting that the Jockey Club doesn’t go bust in the next five years, otherwise I’ve blown my money, and I’ll need rather more than three successive winning Placepots to get it back!
Like almost everyone who has invested, I’ve taken up the option of a three per cent return in the form of Rewards4Racing points, and I’m looking forward to using them to visit some of the racecourses I haven’t been to before. And when the interest cheque comes through I’ll have some money for betting. Free days out at the races? Sounds like a good deal to me.