All systems go for Limerick festival
IN my three years at the helm of Limerick racecourse, this is the first time that we've caught a break for our four-day Christmas Festival.
Two years ago, a hard frost and black ice on the roads decimated our attendance figures, and the big freeze claimed the first two days a year ago.
This time, there is a forecast of 11C for St Stephen's Day, along with slight winds and no significant rainfall.
Monitoring the weather forecast has become a bit of an obsession and, to be honest, the last few weeks have been a pleasure in that respect. The ground is testing, but that is what you expect at this time of year.
In the summer, you'd be praying for five millimetres of rainfall to negate the need to water, because it's impossible to please everyone once you go down that road. Now, conditions are heavy, which is one going description that everyone agrees on.
The Turf Club's inspector of courses, Val O'Connell, came in to sign off the track yesterday morning. Again, that was a painless experience.
As well as the weather being kind to us, having prepared heavily in October for our 10th anniversary celebrations, a lot of the systems were in place for the Christmas Festival. The site itself was pretty much ready.
This week, my job involved tidying up the few loose ends. On Monday, we had the Guinness and Ladbrokes marquees put in place. The following day, the Setanta screen was erected and then we unloaded 100,000 plastic glasses.
That should keep everyone in drinks for the four days, though one of the trickier aspects of the job this year has been predicting what kind of numbers to expect. Every day, we update our catering partners, Woodlands, in terms of ticket sales.
This is just their second year on board, so we are all going into things a little blind. We are probably overstocked, but that's better than running out of anything.
My first job every day is to hold meetings with our 10 full-time employees, and it is a dream to have the type of staff that we have here.
Every one of them is self-motivated. Most importantly, they are very proud of their association with Limerick racecourse, not just in the part they play but in the reputation of the track.
We've had accounts staff moving tables in the restaurant and the maintenance staff chipped in when we launched the Festival at the Crescent Shopping Centre.
Everyone diversifies as and when required to prioritise where we have to be as a company, and that work ethic and team spirit is what drives Limerick racecourse.
In the same vein, we have a very loyal base of local sponsors, while trainers from the catchment area such as Michael Hourigan and Charles Byrnes support us brilliantly.
We may not have the star names that you will get at Leopardstown, but good novices like Crash and Sir Des Champs could turn up.
Don't forget, Rubi Light was beaten in a handicap chase here 12 months. Our racing is competitive, and we feel that we are offering some great value packages.
One of the most popular has been the four-day ticket for €50. Given the standard of racing, that is excellent value, and is a gift a lot of fathers will receive on Sunday.
As for my Christmas, my wife Jacqueline, who works for point-to-point trainer Paurick O'Connor, will enjoy a lie-in while I walk the track. We will have lunch with Paurick in Tubber, after which I'll head for the track again to walk off the turkey.
To be honest, I'm a worrier, so I'm slightly more preoccupied with racing than Christmas. Hopefully when I head home to Armagh for the New Year celebrations, it will be on the back of a successful week's action.
For more information on racing in Ireland this weekend check out www.goracing.ie