Racing weekends? Dublin is the place to be in February

News today that Samcro has scoped badly and will not run in Sunday’s G1 at Naas will disappoint many. For those of us heading to Leopardstown for the inaugural Dublin festival however, it’s not all bad news as that is Samcro’s new target.

It will be interesting to see who does turn up for these big Irish races. Positioned just over 5 weeks before Cheltenham, the initiative to bring together the Irish Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle days (preciously 2 weeks apart) into one weekend of high class racing should be applauded. Indeed there are going to be 7 G1 races over the weekend – what’s not to like? Though after the Leopardstown Christmas meeting I guess it must be unlikely we will see the likes of Sizing John or Faugheen.

Irish racing has got some form here. Irish Champions weekend in September has, for the past few years, brought together the Irish Champions Stakes day, also at Leopardstown, together with the Irish St Leger and National Stakes, held at The Curragh into one linked weekend.

I attended in 2016 and loved it, especially as one of my favourite horses of recent years, Almanzor was devastating in the Irish Champion Stakes. I’ve added the link, it’s worth watching this again as Soumillon brought Almanzor down the wide outside to beat Found with the likes of Harzand, Highland Reel, New Bay and Minding behind.

To be honest the Sunday at The Curragh wasn’t nearly as good (especially with the weather turning very cold), although we did see a huge shock when Wicklow Brave held on to beat Order of St George. The Curragh clearly needed modernising and that is happening currently. Lots of controversy last year about continuing to race there while it was ostensibly a building site, I doubt I’d go back until after the works have been completed so Irish Champions weekend in 2019 will certainly be on the cards.

One of the best initiatives of that weekend was to offer a range of, what the organisers called, ‘Thoroughbred Trails’. Getting to the Curragh early, I joined a coach party to visit first Tracey Collins yard, then Mick Halford‘s yard full of Aga Khan and Godolphin blue bloods before finishing at Sheikh Mohammed’s Kildangan Stud, which was a real treat. At all three venues we were made to feel very welcome – by both trainers and one of the senior stud managers and we got pretty much full access.

From a marketing perspective I thought this was a brilliant innovation. It made me wonder why Newmarket in particular can’t do something similar – not an open day – but organised tours to stables or studs linked to say their Future Champions day?

Thinking weekends/2 day meetings rather than longer festivals (eg Royal Ascot, Cheltenham or Galway), there are not that many about. Elsewhere you have Arc weekend in October, which is more about Arc day on the Sunday following a gentle Saturday, and you have the Breeders Cup Friday/Saturday – though in none of my 4 Breeders Cup have I been on the Friday.

So well done Irish racing. I hope the Dublin festival proves to be a brilliant innovation. I for one have my tickets and can’t wait. And if Samcro is there, so much the better.

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