Ruby Walsh: For feet through the gate, Leopardstown must look itself in the mirror

Most of Willie’s winter horses are 14 weeks away from seeing a racecourse, but it has caught my attention how many people look that far ahead
Ruby Walsh: For feet through the gate, Leopardstown must look itself in the mirror

Some Dove (Rachael Blackmore - left) wins the Assembly Tech Handicap Hurdle at Tramore. Picture: Healys

AS the jet stream has taken a brief deviation from its usual course and headed north to bring some heat to Scandinavia, we have all enjoyed a short second summer before the cool winter and darkness approaches.

I don’t need the weather or the purchase of the paraphernalia our kids need to go back to school to tell me it’s coming. Our calendar in racing is set in stone, and two weeks ago, the horse boxes started to roll into Willie Mullins’s yard, and tubby, sun-kissed thoroughbreds emerged to begin what every sport terms ‘pre-season training’.

It is the fancy name for monotonous graft as athletes build strength and fitness to help them prepare for the efforts that lie in store.

Most of Willie’s winter horses are 14 weeks away from seeing a racecourse, but it has caught my attention how many people look that far ahead. Monkfish, who won’t be on track this side of Christmas at the earliest, has gained some headlines in the racing papers this week for that reason, and between now and whenever you deem the start of the winter National Hunt program to be, more will follow suit.

That’s all for the future because right now one of the summer festivals which has suffered in Galway’s shadow has made a very bright start to its time in the sun.

Tramore in August is traditional for some, and with the sun beating down, it is as popular as ever with the locals and holidaymakers. It is a unique racecourse and not suitable for everyone’s taste regarding equine participation, but it is always well maintained and markets itself to an available audience.

Last night and tonight, they will stay open as long as the crowd wishes to remain, and between fish and chips and ice cream, they will cater for everyone’s taste. It is a small venue, but that brings the ability to create an atmosphere.

Like Ballinrobe in the west or Downpatrick up north, their pristine appearance, with basic facilities, suits this time of year, and they go after who is available right now. When each venue races in the evenings during the summer, you see children and families sprinkled through the crowd, all outside and hopefully being entertained by the occasion as much as the event.

That’s because a day at the races offers so little action compared to everything else it competes against. Tramore will produce less than 25 minutes of racing this evening over the 185 minutes it will take to run the meeting, while the Curragh this afternoon will have a maximum of 13 minutes in 245 mins from the first to last race. That’s a lot of time waiting for the next race, at a ratio of one min racing time to seven minutes waiting time in Tramore and one to 18 at The Curragh.

Having people to talk to, drink with, and dine with helps pass the lulls between races, but those periods seem to drag forever at empty racecourses. How people fill that time and what they do adds to or makes their race day experience.

It is not difficult to name the racecourses that continually engage with and encourage the local community to come racing. Locals meet locals or people they might not meet often or have a chance to socialise with, and this is what lots of country tracks are doing best.

TWO of our marquee venues, albeit neither a holiday destination, are lagging behind what their smaller rivals are achieving. Naas is making strides in engaging with a summer audience, attracting some of the large population it has on its doorstep.

You could argue Wexford is not maximising the holiday crowd it could have but it has gone for the race day slots that maximise its streaming revenue.

Attendances may be in decline, but the effort some are making with sparse or rural populations to draw from makes you wonder what others are doing wrong.

The two venues I refer to are The Curragh and Leopardstown. The Curragh is struggling for local momentum, and a Saturday afternoon slot against five UK meetings will not greatly benefit its streaming revenue.

Today on the plains will be hot, long, and tedious for anyone having a day out, and I would be willing to guess Tramore, with much poorer racing, will have triple the crowd. Still, for feet through the gate, Leopardstown must look itself in the mirror.

Over 1.2 million people live in Dublin, and its Thursday night meetings look like they can’t even attract 0.5%, except for when adding Razorlight to the card. Individual meetings can’t be compared to festivals, but all Kilbeggan’s, Sligo’s and Roscommon’s fixtures are stand-alone too.

Many of our non-urban courses are getting people to come because the meeting is being staged. From the time people enter Tramore tonight, they will be greeted with food and drink outlets that are friendly and affordable, but the buzz about the venue, helped by the on-course bookmakers too, will make it a place people want to be.

They are there for Tramore races, to enjoy the evening, the racing and the people they will meet. Maybe Dublin has a different dynamic, but somebody could do with finding out what it is.

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