Hanging with Hector an 'egg-citing' start to busiest week of year
As the manager of Naas racecourse, this is by far the busiest week of my year. On Sunday, we host our Cheltenham Trials meeting, which is backed by Paddy Power and has really taken off over the last couple of years.
The 2009 fixture was probably the first time we really hit the nail on the head since tweaking the programme, with Go Native, Joncol, An Cathaoir Mor and Rite Of Passage all winning, while the MCR Hurdle winner Puyol was just touched off in a maiden hurdle.
In attracting horses of that calibre, Sunday's meeting is one that we are immensely proud of and we have the added attraction this year of the GOAL Jockeys' Olympics, in aid of the Haiti appeal, which should be a scream.
Ruby Walsh, Barry Geraghty and Paul Carberry are the three team captains, and the four competitions are an egg-and-spoon race, a three-legged race, a slow bike race and a football skills challenge. Barry helped us to launch the event in St Stephen's Green on Monday, and Hector O hEochagain joined in as well -- he's a bit of a loose cannon that fellow, isn't he?
I had brought up a load of big chocolate eggs thinking they would be better for the photo shoot, but no, Hector had to have real ones, and he wasn't happy until he had them all broken.
As if that wasn't bad enough, he then decided to kick one of the footballs into the lake, at which point the warden on duty started to pay us some 'special attention', shall we say.
PR and marketing really hit top gear after the launch. We've had promotions and competitions running throughout the week on two national radio stations, so all of that helps to spread the word.
With the inclement weather costing us meetings this season, we've redoubled our efforts to get a positive result out of Sunday and the response has been very good. The corporate end is fully booked up -- it's the first time that has happened in a while -- and we've changed our admission policy for the year too.
For starters, we will be letting all students and U-18s in for free, while general admission now costs just €15. Effectively, though, you are only paying €5 in, as the bundle includes a €5 betting voucher for the rails bookmakers, and a €5 refreshment voucher that can be used at any of the catering facilities.
Since taking on the role of manager in January 2007, I'm of the opinion that Naas should be able to attract 5,000 people through the gates on its biggest day. The last couple of years have seen us stuck around 4,200, but I've a good feeling about this year. If we don't hit the magic 5,000, I don't think we'll be far off it.
The quality of horses expected to show up should help. In the Woodlands Park 100 Nas Na Riogh Novice Chase, An Cathaoir Mor will try to give a Grade One penalty to Sports Line, and the bumper will be a hot renewal again, with nine winners entered.
The sponsors are offering to double the first prize at Cheltenham if Sunday's winner can go on to score at the festival, so that's a real incentive for the trainers of the good horses to fit this bumper into their schedules.
Another one to look forward to is Tranquil Sea in the Paddypowerpoker.com Chase. Tranquil Sea beat Joncol here before going on to win the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham in November, so Edward O'Grady is reverting to a tried and tested route leading to Cheltenham.
Although I'm biased, our big day on Sunday is the one meeting that has come out of the woodwork in recent years to compete with the established major fixtures at the likes of Leopardstown and Punchestown, and I think we can build on that again now.
Thankfully, the weather shouldn't give us any problems this time, so it's just a case of keeping the fingers and toes crossed that people will come out and support us. We're doing our best to offer a bit of value, and I think racegoers recognise that.
- For more information about Irish racing this weekend check out www.goracing.ie