Farm Ireland

Sunday 21 January 2018

Heading back to basics to revive that racing spirit

With the lure of low prices, Fairyhouse is out to pull hard-hit punters through gates on super Sunday

As the recession has hit the sector hard, Fairyhouse has met the value-for-money expectations of racegoers by offering cut-price entry
fees for the winter festival calendar
As the recession has hit the sector hard, Fairyhouse has met the value-for-money expectations of racegoers by offering cut-price entry fees for the winter festival calendar
Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

This weekend sees the first of the winter National Hunt racing festivals get under way at Fairyhouse, where some of the best jump racing of the year is on display.

The winter festival at the Co Meath track features no less than three Grade 1 races on the Sunday -- the Hatton's Grace Hurdle, Drinmore Novice Chase and The Royal Bond Novice Hurdle.

These three races boast an impressive list of winners on their respective rolls of honour. Istabraq's success in the 1996 Royal Bond Novice Hurdle was the first of 23 hurdle victories in a glorious career, while other top-class winners of this race include champions such as Moscow Flyer, Hardy Eustace, Like a Butterfly and Newmill.

The Hatton's Grace Hurdle has witnessed victories for Danoli, Large Action, Dorans Pride, Istabraq (twice) and three-time winners Limestone Lad and Solerina.

Meanwhile, the Drinmore Novice Chase has a longer tradition and the likes of Sound Man, Le Coudray, Alexander Banquet, Watson Lake, Harbour Pilot and Sackville have all proved successful.

During the Celtic Tiger years, the racing crowd was swelled significantly by legions of corporate clients and wealthy syndicates who were new to racing and horses.

However, the changed economic climate has resulted in a mass exodus of those particular clients from the track.

Fairyhouse is one of the racetracks that is mounting a major campaign to bring back the traditional race goers and get the original racing fans back through the turnstiles again.

Also Read

The 'Support Your Sport' campaign is aimed at encouraging all those directly or indirectly involved in the industry to go racing at Fairyhouse on Sunday and show their support.

"Being a leisure sport, racing is one of the first industries hit in a recession, which has a knock on effect not only for those directly employed in the industry but also on the outskirts, so to speak," said Fairyhouse Racecourse employee Amber O'Grady.

Ms O'Grady points out that the list of those affected include farmers who sell feed and bedding, industry and farming suppliers, customer service people in call centres and even part-time catering staff on race days.

"This day is really to bring racing back to the grass roots -- the actual racing on November 28 is fantastic, so the idea is to show off the core sport and bring that old-fashioned element of passion and the love of the horse back to a day at the races," she added.


Racecourse manager Peter Roe said his focus is on providing value for money for punters.

The backlash against the IRFU for exorbitant ticket prices at the Aviva Stadium and grumbling about the GAA charging structure during the summer is evidence that people are not prepared to pay over the odds for entertainment.

However, the record attendance for the FAI Cup Final between Sligo Rovers and Shamrock Rovers proved that sports fans are willing to travel if the price is right. With tickets priced from just €5-10 for children and pensioners, a crowd of more than 36,000 watched that game, making it the biggest attendance at an FAI Cup Final in more than 40 years.

"We've seen from the past few weeks that is what people want -- value for money," said Mr Roe. "It's all about pricing."

With this in mind, Fairyhouse is offering several discounted packages for this weekend's racing bonanza.

On Saturday, adult admission is €15, while students and pensioners are €10 each. On Sunday, adults cost €20, while students and pensioners will be charged €10.

However, adults can get a reduced admission fee of only €10 with a special discount voucher available at and in certain newspapers, including the Farming Independent.

Family admission for two adults and an unlimited number of children is €20 with the online voucher.

"Children under 16 are free of charge, and there are not that many ways to entertain a child for a day for free," added Mr Roe.

Special hospitality packages have also been put together for the winter festival. Prices in the Bobbyjo Bistro start at €65 a person, which includes entry to the racecourse, race card, four-course lunch, guest tipster, table for the day, music after racing, tote and bar facilities.

In the Solerina self-service restaurant, the family meal offer is €25 for two adults and two children.

"We are going back to basics and we are going to try and lure back the traditional racing supporter," Mr Roe said.

"We want to convince the armchair supporters to return to the trackside and experience the thrill of a day's racing again."

The racecourse manager believes the popularity of television programmes such as At The Races has also played a part in drawing people away from the tracks.

"At The Races made it much easier to follow a horse without having to spend the whole day at the races. Someone could just nip into the house to watch the race and then get back to work," he said.

"On a wet day, people would watch the racing on TV instead of travelling to the track."

He adds that the Celtic Tiger ethos also made people more time conscious and anxious not to lose an entire day to racing.

"Support Your Sport day is about enjoying the racing experience. So we are asking everyone from the industry accountant to the trainer's family to wrap up, bring a friend and come and support this wonderful sport live," he urged.

Weather conditions and the upcoming Budget are also looming large in the mind of the racecourse manager.

"We have been getting wetter winters and drier summers, which is making life difficult for racing, but weather is the one factor which we have no control over," Mr Roe said.

"We can only deal with what we get."

On the Budget, he admits that funding cuts are dreaded but expected.

"Our funding, because it is distributed in a grant from the Government, makes it more visible and more vulnerable.

"But racing plays an important role in this country and employs 20,000 people directly and indirectly, so hopefully that will be taken into account."

Irish Independent