Aga Khan, Magnier and McManus among backers of €65m Curragh deal
The Aga Khan, JP McManus and John Magnier are among the backers of a new company established to redevelop, own and operate the Curragh Racecourse.
The €65m project includes plans for a new grandstand and parade ring.
The company - Curragh Racecourse Limited - will be chaired by Eir chairman and former ESB chief executive Padraig McManus, inset. Other board members include Goffs chairman Eimear Mulhern - daughter of former Taoiseach Charlie Haughey.
"The Curragh has always had iconic status in world racing and we are determined to create a racecourse which does justice to the quality of the racing staged there and the owners, trainers and racegoers who make it such a special racing experience," Mr McManus said.
The project aims to see the new racecourse open in 2018, with racing intended to continue until then. The track will not be affected by the plan.
It includes plans for a new weigh room, the establishment of a museum of Irish racing at the course's arrivals and reception area, and the refurbishment of the existing stable yard. A separate investment programme will be put in place for the training ground. The existing entrance to the course will be moved.
Horse Racing Ireland chairman Joe Keeling said the project is "the most important venture in the modern history of Irish racing. "The Curragh will be benchmarked against the best racecourses in Europe. It will be profitable, with customers whose loyalty is built around exceptional racing, facilities and customer service," he added.
The group will now embark on a public consultation process and aims to submit a planning application before the end of the year.
The Turf Club, Horse Racing Ireland and the group of private investors will each own a third of the shares in the new company.
Other private investors include Eva-Maria Bucher Haefner, daughter of the late billionaire businessman and racehorse breeder Walter Haefner, the Irish arm of the Godolphin horse racing stable founded by the ruler of Dubai, Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, and businessman and racehorse owner Michael Tabor.
Mr Tabor said the track is one of the finest in Europe but that the facilities at the course fall behind its international competitors.
More private backing is expected and talks with other potential investors have begun. Previously a plan for redeveloping the racetrack was put on ice in 2008.
"[The Curragh] is a jewel of world racing, but its facilities do not match the quality of the track. [The Aga Khan] was disappointed that the previous development stalled, but is delighted to participate in the new redevelopment project," Aga Khan spokesman Pat Downes said. "He would like to compliment the Irish Government for their support of this project and sincerely hopes that the new Curragh Racecourse can act as a catalyst for a renaissance of the entire Curragh from an environmental, archaeological, military and heritage perspective,"
The Aga Khan is the spiritual leader of Ismaili Muslims.
JP McManus' daughter Sue Ann Foley said the family was "pleased to be associated with this flagship project for Irish racing".
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney said Irish racing "is a high-value contributor to the rural economy and a generator of inward foreign investment, competing with and beating some of the biggest players internationally.
"The Curragh is the heart of Kildare, the thoroughbred county," he said.
"It is an acknowledged centre of excellence in every aspect of the thoroughbred industry and this project will secure its place as the keeper of Ireland's racing traditions and a welcoming host of some of Ireland's best sporting and social occasions.
"I am particularly grateful to the private investors for their support of the project, an investment which will be matched by the State through Horse Racing Ireland," Mr Coveney added.
The first recorded race at the Curragh took place in 1727. It was designated for the purpose of horse racing and training in 1868 and passed to the Minister for Finance - and then to the Minister for Defence - after independence.