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Leopardstown must be full for new festival - Walsh

Trainer Willie Mullins
Trainer Willie Mullins

Johnny Ward

Leopardstown needs to sell out or a new concept will not have achieved its potential, Ruby Walsh stressed at the launch of the Dublin Racing Festival, which Willie Mullins has hailed as one of the most exciting developments in Irish Jumps racing.

A staggering seven Grade One races will take place over the two days, February 3 and 4 next year, and €1.5m of prize-money will be on offer as Irish racing seeks to create another major festival, falling neatly between Leopardstown's Christmas offering and the Cheltenham extravaganza.

The weekend was created by consolidating Leopardstown's three stand-alone meetings in late January and February into a two-day event and adding additional races to make a full house of championship races.

No sooner has it been launched to the public and the legendary jockey was putting the pressure on organisers to make it work.

His comments come in the same month as the fourth renewal of Irish Champions Weekend drew a crowd down markedly from last year.

"I love it and this will be big - I hope it is as big as it should be, I hope they can make it as big as it should be. Look at Croke Park on Sunday for the ladies' football final - over 46,000 people, an event properly marketed, affordable and a great match," Walsh said.

"Full at Leopardstown is only 17,000. The place has to be full; fill it from lots of different levels in society. Everyone has to be targeted, included and made feel welcome."

Walsh spoke of the "brilliant track" Leopardstown is and believes that everyone benefits from a bigger crowd and consequently better atmosphere.

"Crowds are important, you fill the place - simple as that. Horses tend to attract crowds, like Winx (in Australia).

"The best of what we have is running and the atmosphere must go with it. This is a huge showcase thing, it's very brave too to give up two Sundays for a Saturday.

"It's an incredible programme but with 1.6 million people living in or around Dublin, you have to fill the place. I just hope it works over a weekend. It should be wonderful."

Mullins, who conceded that the two-day meeting would likely be critical in his battle with Gordon Elliott for the trainers' title, echoed Walsh's view that the purses and favourable exchange rate should ensure a healthy British contingency in Foxrock in February.

The champion trainer said: "It's the best initiative from Irish racing in years. A couple of the meetings had been in and out but three meetings into two will focus the whole spring for people. It will be a huge draw for visitors from England.

"Having our Gold Cup a week further away from the Cheltenham Gold Cup might encourage more to do the two. The timing looks very, very good. I imagine the interest from England both from the trainers and public will be phenomenal."

Horse Racing Ireland's chief executive Brian Kavanagh said of the initiative, launched yesterday in Dublin: "To have no race worth less than €75,000 is a great starting point. We've every intention to progressively increase prize-money over the coming years."

Irish Independent

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