Pat Keogh’s father was obviously a very persistent man.
When Pat was born 62 years ago, the name MV after the legendary Vincent (MV) O’Brien was top of his father’s list. But whatever happened in his early days, ‘MV’ lost out to ‘Patrick’.
But this did not deter Mr Keogh Snr inculcating a love of racing in his son and at every opportunity brought his son to Leopardstown.
Now Pat Keogh manages the track as chief executive for the owners, Horse Racing Ireland (HRI). “In years gone by, it was out in the middle of the country. Some of the old houses near the track were summer houses owned by people in the city who travelled out by train from Hartcourt Street. Now Leopardstown is effectively in the heart of the city as the Luas comes right beside us and the track is accessible for racegoers all over the country who travel by train into Heuston.”
As Christmas approaches, Irish racing is gearing itself for the festive harvest with big meetings at Leopardstown, Limerick and Down Royal.
Pat recalled: “I remember trevelling in the bus to Leopardstown from our home in south Dublin as a child at Christmas. It was always so exciting. In a way it was like turning back the clock in time when I was appointed chief executive here in 2011.”
Having started off his working life in banking, Keogh’s career steered him to the throne of thoroughbred breeding, Coolmore in 1999 when he became financial director at the Co Tipperary headquarters of what is a global operation stretching to Australia and the US.
He said: “It was a golden time to be at Coolmore, going to work every morning and passing the boxes which were home to the likes of Sadlers Wells, Galileo and Giants Causeway. My role was at base, not going to the sales. I was in Co Tipperary with my wife Anne and three children for eight years. Great times and a wonderful experience. As circumstances changed and with the education of our chidren the overriding factor, we decided to move back to Dublin and I joined the Cosgrave property group as head of corporate affairs. When the Leopardstown position was advertised in 2011, with a good knowledge of racing and a financial and banking background, I felt I had the right credenitals. As a Dublin man, I knew the market and Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) was very keen to grow Leopardstown and I felt this was a challenge I would relish.”
While the Curragh is the home of the Classics, Pat said Leopardstown has a unique status in Irish racing as the only track where Group One flat and Grade One National Hunt races are run.
“We have 23 meetings and the only months we don’t race are November and January,” he said.
Consisting of 200 acres in the heart of the most valuable property territory in the country, Leopardstown has a golf centre, a super gym, and a public quoted company HQ on site with all the profits from these channeled into the racing kitty.
Track management is critically important and there is a full time team of seven under track foreman Willie Gibbons.
Pat and Willie meet several times a day and right now there is constant monitoring of weather forecasts and various contingency options given the vagaries of our December climate.
Pat said: “We have a good team and there is good planning. If there are any weather or track issues, Willie and I work on how to deal with any given situation. If you don’t have the track in good condition, you won’t get the horses to come. Everything else follows from that. You can have the best facilities, but if you don’t have the best track you can forget about it. We are lucky in that Mother Nature gave us a great track. It is stunning and we are very fortunate with Willie Gibbons and his team and those who came before them.”
With seven Grade One races over four days Leopardstown will be a centre of the National Hunt universe.
Everybody is catered for, said Pat. Including the travelling grooms. “They are away from their families in the UK as many have arrived by Christmas day with their horses. We give them a good Irish welcome and put them up in the Clayton Hotel near the course. The grooms who look after the horses are very important to the sport,” he said.
Although located in south Dublin, the development of the Luas has made the venue accessible to race goers arriving into Heuston from all places South and in the West of Ireland. The Luas line to Sandyford, where there is a complimentary bus shuttle operates on race days. Similar shuttle bus services operate from Blackrock station.
The track is now in the throes of €30 million redevelopment programme, the final third phase of which kicked off last month.
“The plan is that when this is completed in the Spring of 2020, Leopardstown will have facilities up to international standard to cater for up 20,000 spectators and that is essential in this day and age,” he said.
The four-day Christmas fixture will attract over 55,000 and a big emphasis is being placed this year on making the fourth a family day.
Pat said: “St Stephen’s Day is a real Dubliner’s day out, but the following two days with big races are the two real big days. The final day has been building up and it used to be a much smaller, but now attracts about 11,000 which is very respectable.”
All Willie Gibbons and Pat need now is the weather.