Horse Racing

Friday 11 July 2014

Despite 155 years of service, Listowel will suffocate in buzz of HRI's fancy new baby

Billy Keane

Published 14/09/2013|04:00

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A view of the Listowel races

The HRI is the body in charge of horse racing in Ireland. Last week they announced a big, huge Pale Festival with 10 Group races (up to five Group One) and a few premier handicaps.

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There will be millions of our money in prizes for the winners.

Our meeting in Listowel kicks off tomorrow, but, next year, this big weekend at Leopardstown and the Curragh will run right into our famous week-long festival of racing.

That's eight festival days in a row. They wouldn't even stick that in Rio.

The HRI run both the Curragh and Leopardstown. Listowel is also subject to the control of the HRI. Yet Listowel will now be in competition with the Curragh and Leopardstown. Surely this is not fair play.

The HRI did consult with Listowel with regard to moving our fixture, but the new racing festival was already a done deal.

If Listowel moved forward a week, we would have clashed with the Ploughing Match, which would have been financial lunacy.

The first day of Listowel 2014 clashes with Champions Sunday. Listowel was offered a change, but, if we shifted to the following Sunday, it would clash with the All-Ireland football final.

Listowel mayor Jimmy Moloney said: "I cannot believe the HRI is running a huge new festival at this time of year. It is high-handed. We feel very hard done by."

MARVELLOUS

To be fair, the HRI has done some service to Listowel. Before she moved on, Tamso Doyle did marvellous work in setting up the massively successful Ladies Day.

But we more than deserved any assistance we have been given. It was our own money after all. Raised from the revenues spent in and around North Kerry and West Limerick during race week.

Listowel has been run for the good of the community – for 155 years. The directors are not paid a cent. Profits go back into the course.

Nearly every house in town turns into a B&B for the week. Enough is made for school uniforms and back-to-college fees.

Piggy banks are fed for Christmas. Small businesses, like mine, would be in big trouble but for the races. We spend 10 times more on wages than an ordinary week. The money circulates. Everyone backs a winner.

Now the HRI have said in the past that 20pc of the Listowel attendance comes from the greater Dublin area and our punters are mostly in Munster. But they seem to have conveniently forgotten about this big huge wide road.

It's called the M50 and gets you to Leopardstown and the Curragh in no time at all. Both tracks are only a couple of furlongs from the big road.

Racegoers will travel up the country. Dubliners will curtail their trips south. Money is tight. Two into one doesn't go.

The HRI will say Listowel didn't object to the new meeting. Listowel say the meeting was already decided upon and moving dates was the only option opened to them.

Maybe Listowel should have been more vocal at the time, but they will say the full impact and scale of the new meeting was never outlined in detail.

The advertising and marketing to be put into the new Champions weekend will drown out Listowel. The fact is all the media attention will be on the Pale Festival as Listowel comes after the new festival.

Such is the nature of our business. You don't read too much about football on the weekend leading up to the hurling final. Same thing here. But is this fair?

We will have six times more at our big days than Leopardstown had for the Champions Stakes Day last Saturday.

With their big pot of 750 grand. For just one race. You'd get more at a local junior hurling or football final than at most of the meetings in these big places where millions of our money is spent.

Around 30,000 will pass through the gates of Listowel on Wednesday and Friday.

Listowel is for the small man. The farmer who takes a few days off after the harvest. The family with a horse in the outhouse. Families with prams and soothers. The bunch of happygoluckies in a syndicate. Happygoluckies who could never afford a horse, but 30 of them can. They go mad when they win. The laugh and grub and sing and have the few drinks.

You have no idea what our big week means to us. We are getting ready for months. Painting our shops. Sparing up. Getting the clobber to get dressed up.

There are hurdy-gurdies and stalls. Classy restaurants. All-Ireland pig racing championships. Charity football games. Lovers and losers. Softened up meat pies in thick soup. Make believers and chancers.

Every sort comes, but most are the finest of people. There is no class distinction. We take you as we find you here in my home town.

The same people come back for 50 or 60 years in a row. Back to stay with the same families where they have become family.

Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney must investigate how it is decisions are made in the HRI. Why it is there is no race meeting televised by RTE south of a line across from Galway to Dublin?

TG4 cover our meeting and they do a great job, but RTE is where the best promotion is in terms of audience reach.

We will ask the minister for a promise that the HRI will spend the same amount pro-rata in marketing Listowel as it does the new race meeting.

By pro-rata I mean that if twice as many people go through the gates at Listowel, then there will be twice the spend. Listowel is the second biggest festival in Ireland.

INFORMALITY

We will ask the minister if he feels the HRI would treat the other big festivals of Galway and Punchestown in the same way.

More and more English visitors are coming to Listowel. They love the informality, the lack of big people in high hats, the intensity of the racing and the friendships made.

A big Bord Failte campaign will be put in place for the new meeting. Dublin tourism is booming. Next year they will have this big festival sandwiched in between the two All-Ireland finals. As if they haven't enough already.

This is not an anti-Dublin campaign. The real Dubs support us. Jimmy Keaveney is a little god in these parts. Even when Dublin beat Kerry.

Our unpaid chairman Eric Browne says Listowel may well have to cut a couple of days racing at some time in the future.

"Our track," he says passionately, "is called 'the Island'. Our families have crossed the bridges over the River Feale, every year, for 155 years.

"With the help of God, our children and grandchildren will be crossing over the two bridges next week, next year and for a good few years more. We'll never give up on the races. Never."

Irish Independent

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