Thursday 14 December 2017

A makeshift Curragh does a surprisingly decent job

Ryan Moore drives Churchill to victory in Saturday’s Irish 2,000 Guineas. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
Ryan Moore drives Churchill to victory in Saturday’s Irish 2,000 Guineas. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile

Johnny Ward

A journalist was heard calling the Curragh on Saturday as he saw it: "I've seen bigger halting sites."

The decision to persevere at Irish Flat racing's maligned headquarters during its redevelopment - which in pregnancy nomenclature was two years overdue - remains controversial.

Ger Lyons bemoaned that racing takes place there this year; Aidan O'Brien strongly defended it, on the basis that the track is so fair.

One trainer said the place had been "an absolute kip for years", and it is hard to disagree. Visiting British racetracks reminds one of how antiquated the facilities are at places like the Curragh - not to mention what is on offer in the UAE and Hong Kong.

The bulldozing finally began this year and there was no shortage of criticism as Horse Racing Ireland defended the venue hosting the Irish Derby, despite the crowd being restricted to 6,000. This meet welcomed 60,000 feet not so long ago.

One of the fundamental challenges facing the architects was how to design a course that could cater for 25,000 - but on every other day of the year not feel soulless, when the crowd rarely goes above 5,000.

Before that, the under-renovation Curragh had to silence doubters. The monsoon that greeted an unsurprisingly paltry crowd on Saturday would no doubt test the temporary facilities but the weather gave the place a rather deathly appearance.

Ivan Yates, a keen racing fan, told the Racing Post: "It's an embarrassment to Irish racing, a disgrace. There's no regard for racegoers and punters. I'll never come back."

Maybe Ivan was down a few bob or soaked wet: his comments were harsh. The media room was streets ahead of the old one - Sanpellegrino, Vit Hit and filter coffee among the delights - and I asked a floating customer for his impressions.

"All very positive. Everything is a big improvement on last year. Food and service is top notch."

The champagne and wine bar is the only permanent facility still in place. The marquees include a main structure with Tote, Paddy Power betting shop, sports lounge; food and drinks area; and an owners and trainers' facility.

A hospitality marquee over two levels has two restaurants with a capacity for 250 people each, a members' lounge and an area for sponsors.

Given its stop-gap modus operandi, this is a slick structure and patrons are overlooking the parade ring, which many availed of pre- and post-race.

What impressed too was the food village featuring local produce and craft beers. This was where most people seemed to be and there was a welcoming, non-pompous atmosphere about the place. The stand with a capacity for 1,500 people serves its purpose. Big screens abound.

The delay in demolishing the main stand is due to the Listed status of the Queen's Room, a consequence of Victoria's visit in 1861.

It resembles something out of Aleppo, but these things take time. As one trainer said recently: "I wasn't in favour of this all along, but they couldn't have done a better job."

Regardless of what the detractors say, moving the Derby meet elsewhere is complex, with Leopardstown having no sprint track one of the issues. Media money is far more pivotal to racetracks than anything else - but I got the impression the Curragh had not forgotten the game would be nothing without people and horses.

O'Brien's defence of the track affirms that the thoroughbreds remain the star attraction - or at least they should do - just like his Newmarket hero Churchill did in such fine style under Ryan Moore in the 2,000 Guineas on Saturday.

Achieving the double-double in the Guineas - the first trainer to do so - was simply another milestone, one that he immediately played down. Nothing new there.

The Curragh aged slowly and Aidan O'Brien is Dorian Gray.


Killian Leonard kicked on at just the right time on 14/1 Rattling Jewel at the Curragh on Saturday, the Nicola McKenna-trained horse holding on by three parts of a length.


The Liam Cusack-trained Snugsborough was available at 25/1 on Sunday night but went off at just 6s under David Mullins at Punchestown on Monday and duly obliged.


"Curragh MC: You're not going to get bored of riding him any time soon. R L Moore (smiling): I might get bored of talking, though..."

- English journalist Chris Cook enjoying his Irish visit.

Upping the ante

Who will leave a more lasting legacy in racing, Aidan O'Brien or Galileo?

The great man's 11th Irish 2,000 Guineas was the formality most expected it to be on Saturday, with Churchill scoring at odds-on. However, the maiden that opened up the card showed the resources O'Brien has at his disposal.O'Brien had three newcomers in the race, all daughters of Galileo. One, Butterscotch, is a sister to Guineas heroine Winter. Another, Clemmie, is a sister to Churchill.

O'Brien does not have as many debut winners as one might expect - he trains them to improve early with racing nowadays - and that a patently green Clemmie could finish a close third after a pretty messy race on ground she likely resented was really promising.

Of course it is early days and she may have the high-class Alpha Centauri to worry about but take a long-term view that she can develop into something like her bro. BET: Clemmie in 1,000 Guineas, 1pt win 25/1

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