Draining work all worthwhile now the Chase is finally on
It has been a busy time since we had our first meeting of the year at Kilbeggan a fortnight ago. Kilbeggan is only a small racecourse but, as the secretary/manager, I am basically here on my own and am responsible for everything.
Following the last meeting, the preparation of the track itself has been ongoing in advance of tomorrow evening's card. We've had a huge amount of drainage work done this year because of the bad weather, so grass growth has been very slow.
As a result, we have been behind with our schedule all year and the chase track wasn't ready for the first meeting. It just hadn't recovered in time, but it has now. We finished putting down all the sand last Friday and have been watering since then.
In an ideal world, you'd love to be able to switch on the taps three days before racing and switch them off the night before and for the sun to shine on the day, but it doesn't work that way. You have to make decisions, so we have been watering steadily in an effort to provide good-to-firm ground. The drying weather hasn't helped, but there is rain forecast so that will aid our cause if it arrives in time.
If it does, like I say, we'd like it to clear again before the meeting gets under way! We put a lot work into promoting the races in the local media around the midlands and in the national media, but we are well rewarded for doing so.
We regularly attract between 4,000 and 5,000 people, and would have up to 7,000 on our big days. A bit of fine weather doesn't half help. Ultimately, when a meeting is over, we have to pay the bills, and getting people through the turnstiles is critical.
In these times, there is a huge reduction in the amount of money people have to spend on entertainment, which is the business we are in. Kilbeggan races are social events, and it is a challenge to attract people racing.
This time last year, I decided to forget about what we achieved during the Celtic Tiger years and ignore all the negative publicity. If you didn't, in my job you literally couldn't go out and ask people to sponsor a race or bring a corporate group to the races.
So I disregard all the negative stuff and try and make the best of what's there. Last year, that worked, and I'm hoping it will again this time.
Apart from endeavouring to keep attendances up, a specific target right now is to try and have four races sponsored per meeting; you have to be realistic. We have succeeded on that score for tomorrow and one of the sponsors, the ICA, is having its centenary celebration with us.
The ICA will be celebrating all around the country, but the Westmeath gathering here at the racecourse (which is expected to be around 800) will be the biggest all year. That will all add to the atmosphere.
We also have a band, a DJ and kids' entertainment, so there should be something for everyone. If racing is to survive, tracks need to deliver a better product, and that's what we are striving to achieve here.
The new Tote Go Racing Club is also being launched with us tomorrow. The club will be free to join and offers some tremendous incentives, such as discounted or free admission packages, free Tote bets, yard visits and so on. If you're in the vicinity, be sure to pay us a visit -- it should be a great evening.
For more information on racing in Ireland this weekend check out www.goracing.ie.