Hensey hails switch to Saturday night a success

Curragh general manager Paul Hensey believes the first ever Irish Derby to take place on a Saturday evening has to go down as a big success.

The Dubai Duty Free-sponsored Classic, along with seven other races, were switched from their traditional Sunday afternoon slot, with the feature event concluding the card at 7.40pm. The racing action was followed by a live performance from ex-Boyzone star Ronan Keating.

Hensey believes the wet weather that led up to the start of racing did not help in terms of attendance, but the crowd was still up on the same meeting 12 months ago.

“I think the crowd figure was 23,211, which is about 500 up on last year’s Derby meeting,” said Hensey.

“I think considering the inclement weather and everything, that has to go down as a success as there is no doubt the weather had an effect on the number of walk-ups we got on the day.

“It was a cold, wet morning and it didn’t really brighten up until around 2pm. The general feedback has been very positive and I’ve spoken to a lot of people who thought having the Derby as the last race was a very good idea.

“The crowd built up throughout the afternoon, which was a big help in terms of admissions, racecard sales and such like, as that side of things can sometimes get clogged up when everyone turns up at once.

“We had Ronan Keating on after racing as well and that kept the crowds in and allowed them to disperse gradually, so all in all I think the concept worked well.”

The undoubted star attraction was the Aidan O’Brien-trained Camelot, who was aiming for his third Classic of the season in the Irish Derby having landed the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket and the Investec Derby at Epsom.

There were doubts about his participation on Saturday morning due to the testing conditions, but he did line up and kept his unbeaten record intact, much to the delight of Hensey and the Curragh faithful.

Hensey said: “I must admit that early on I was getting quite worried as the crowds were arriving a bit slower than they have in the past. I was walking my box a bit! That was partly due to the weather, but also there was the doubt about whether Camelot was going to run.

“Thankfully with the social media that is available now, we were able to let people know exactly what was going on and we let everyone know as soon as Camelot arrived at the racecourse.

“I think that encouraged people to come racing and the atmosphere building up to the race was fantastic.

“There were people seven or eight deep around the parade ring before the race and I stood on the track watching the grandstands just before the off and you could sense the tension, as nobody wanted to see the horse get beat.

“Everyone had heard Aidan’s reservations about the ground, but thankfully he won and it was obviously a great result.

“We put a lot of effort into ancillary events such as the concert and other things that were going on around the racecourse, but at the end of the day, the bottom line is that the majority of our racegoers are real racing enthusiasts and want to see a good horse.”

It seems highly likely that the new Derby slot is here to stay and Hensey will give the idea his full backing.

“It is something we’ll obviously have to review further down the line with our team and later on the board, but my recommendation would be that we stick to the same plan for next year,” he said.

“Considering the weather, I think the concept was a big success and when you have a significant change like this, it sometimes takes a year or two to really build up.

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