Move over Cheltenham and step aside Ascot, there’s a new racing meet in town! The Dublin Festival had its first inaugural year last month and looks set to be a great new fixture in the racing calendar. Whether you’re going to enjoy a day of socialising, a touch of the finer things or having a flutter with some racing betting, if you’re going to be in Dublin in early February, it could be well worth having a look in at Leopardstown to see how year 2 is going to go down.
The event was formed by consolidating three stand-alone meets that took place in January and February into one major event, with a few added races to buff up the race card so there’s a full house of championship level races. The success of Festivals over one day events was not lost on the management of Leopardstown and the Dublin Festival was the result. The race card consisted of seven Grade One races, three Grade Two and a handful of other races with a few very interesting additions. One of the big draws was the Grade Two Coral Dublin Chase, a short distance race which always makes for a crowd pleaser. The curious part of the race-card is that the majority of big races are on the Saturday, an atypical and bold choice for an event as these days tend to be quieter. While it worked for them this year, there’s no guarantee that it won’t prove a problem down the line and it’ll be interesting to see if they adjust the card in 2019.
One of the major draws for the jockeys was, of course, the prize money- by combining multiple events the prize pot for all fifteen races was €1.5 Million and the minimum for a race was €75,000. While the majority of horses that entered were Irish, the events close proximity to the larger Cheltenham Festival served as a double-edged sword: a good means to get warmed up before the major event but being so close to the more established festival may have discouraged a few others from entering- at least for the first year.
The reception from attendees for this year’s festival was largely positive, the high number of Grade 1 races and the calibre of horses racing meant that a lot of the races were hotly contested with Samcro, Footpad and Faugheen all taking to the field. The promotion guaranteed that despite the choice to front-load the weekend there was a great turn out and Leopardstown itself served as a perfect venue with plenty of screens so crowds could see all the action. The live music came in for some mixed reviews with the main acts being Damien Dempsey and Stocktons Wing but between them they provided a solid atmosphere for the after-race entertainment and set a good bar for next year.
While we won’t see announcements about the 2019 festival until the end of the year, the success of the 2018 festival and the reaction from the jockeys who attended (Ruby Walsh in particular expressed how impressive he found the festival) is looking encouraging for next year. Definitely one to write in your calendar.