Dundalk ready to take stadium into future
Our family involvement with the Dundalk track dates back to 1930 when my grandfather Dermot became chairman. In fact, my grandmother was the first woman to own a winner at the track.
They had passed away before I was born, but my father Paddy was manager of the track in the early 1950s and he handed over to his brother Jimmy. So, as kids we used to go to the dogs regularly and I remember on the way home we would be given a couple of shillings to keep our mouths shut about winners and losers!
It was back in 1978 that I became a director on the death of my father and I have remained in that role since. In the early 1990s, things were going bad, but along with Gerry Kerley and Hugh McGahan, we began to think of the possibility of a joint greyhound and horseracing venture.
We first met the horse people in 1996/97 and it progressed from there. It made a lot of sense to us because, at the time, it looked as though Dundalk would lose both its greyhound track and horseracing venue and the likes of Celtic Park were closing all around us.
The deal came to fruition in 2001 when we all signed up. The Horseracing Authority didn't support us at the time, but we could see what Paschal Taggart had achieved at Shelbourne Park. The game had been turned around there and we reckoned we could build something along those lines.
The board got behind us, they saw our plans and we carried out a feasibility study. It was their opinion that the racecourse was the best site.
The new stadium opened for greyhound racing at the end of November 2003.
Two years later the HRI decided to support the building of the first all-weather track in Ireland. We had left enough space for the track between the stand and the greyhound circuit and the all-weather racetrack opened in 2007.
Ten years on, it has been a great journey for us all and we have enjoyed every minute of it. Now we are looking forward to the next 10 years and we have lodged planning permission with the town council for the first ever national hunt track comprising a mixture of all-weather and turf. It's a novel idea, but we are confident it can happen.
The dual horse and greyhound meetings have worked very well here. People book the restaurant and they stay for the night, enjoying both codes. We find that our Tote turnover on the eight greyhound races on those nights is greater than the 12-race graded card on a Saturday night. People enjoy the concept of a full night's entertainment.
The greyhound track was designed on a similar basis to Dunmore Park and it has stood the test of time. We have great ground staff and the sprint here is a very fair test of a greyhound. There is no hiding place.
The past five years have been very tough in Ireland, but we feel that the economy is turning the corner and the key will be to get prizemoney levels up again.
Whatever happens, we are ready to take the stadium into the future. Our business model allows us to make good use of our facilities and having both sports on the one site works very well.
* Jim Martin is CEO of Dundalk Stadium which is the only dual greyhound and horse racing stadium in this part of the world.