Irish Scene

    As we draw closer to the inaugural running of the Dublin Racing Festival, Declan Rix sets the early scene for two days of top-class racing at Leopardstown.
  • Thursday 11 January 2018
  • Blog


We are just over three weeks away from the inaugural running of the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown racecourse. On the 3rd and 4th of February, this brilliant new initiative will take place in what is sure to be another success story for Irish racing.

In 2014, Leopardstown were also involved (along with the Curragh) in the first ever Irish Champions Weekend – a two-day event of top-class Flat racing. That enterprising meeting has been a success, despite Ireland’s unwaning and unrivalled love for National Hunt action.

Jumps racing is in the DNA of Irish people, meaning this two-day fixture is guaranteed of success. There are many metrics we measure “success” today – attendance numbers, viewing figures and the class of equine on the track etc; I doubt the Dublin Racing Festival will lack in either department.

While attendance numbers have unfairly been put forward to play down the success of Irish Champions Weekend, that is one variable the Foxrock track won’t fall down on here. Crowds for the major Irish jumps racing fixtures are always supportive, and given the venue, the location and quality of racing in store, I have no doubt this will be one of the best weekends of racing in the year. Period.

The two days racing – which is a marry up of three individual Leopardstown fixtures usually held in January and February - will host seven Grade 1s – including the Irish Champion Hurdle and the Unibet Irish Gold Cup. €1.5 million prize money is up for grabs in 15 races.

Below is the order of play on Saturday:

Race 1: The Nathaniel Lacy Solicitors & Partners Novice Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m6f €100,000

Race 2: The Coral Dublin Chase New (Grade 2) 2m1f €100,000

Race 3: The Frank Ward Solicitors Novice Chase (Grade 1) 2m1f €100,000

Race 4: Handicap Chase New (Grade B) 2m1f €75,000

Race 5: The BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m €150,000

Race 6: The Coral Handicap Hurdle (Grade B) 2m €100,000

Race 7: The Goffs I.N.H Flat Race (C&G) (Grade 2) 2m €75,000

Below is the order of play on Sunday:

Race 1: The EBF Mares Handicap Hurdle (Grade B) 2m2f €75,000

Race 2: The Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m €100,000

Race 3: The Deloitte Novice Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m €100,000

Race 4: William Fry Handicap Hurdle (Grade B) 3m €75,000

Race 5: The Flogas Novice Chase (Grade 1) 2m5f €100,000

Race 6: The Unibet Irish Gold Cup (Grade 1) 3m €200,000

Race 7: The Chanelle Group Leopardstown Handicap Chase (Grade A) 2m5f €100,000

Race 8: Coolmore EBF I.N.H Flat Race (Mares) (Grade 2) 2m €75,000

As you can see from the quality of racing on offer, if you are a fan of the sport, you simply can’t miss this weekend. Dare I say it, on paper, both days would rival any day of the Cheltenham Festival. Now all we need is for owners and trainers to support the event.


With racing fans sure to support the two days, the hope is the best horses of Britain and Ireland run. Much focus of jumps racing surrounds the Cheltenham Festival, and that is understandable - Prestbury Park in March is the Holy Grail, many an Irish fan will agree.

But, while that’s the case, owners and trainers shouldn’t be afraid to run – or lose - at Leopardstown for risk of ruining their March dream. With an ideal six-week gap to the Cheltenham Festival, horses that win and lose have ample time to get over their exertions.

It will obviously vary from horse to horse, but I see no reason why horses who run well in defeat here can’t possibly go on to win at Cheltenham. The competitive edge that this Festival could put on a horse shouldn’t be underestimated. The crowd, the noise, the pace of the races may just resemble March.

A bigger tragedy for an owner or trainer could be going to Cheltenham lacking proper match practice and come undone by an inferior but more streetwise horse. Experience matters in this game, use the Dublin Racing Festival as your launch pad to March, should Cheltenham be your number one target.

To our British colleagues – the likes of Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls, Nigel Twiston-Davies, Dan Skelton, Colin Tizzard, and the many other talented trainers over the sea - if you have a good horse, Leopardstown’s beautiful track, great prize money and hospitality will welcome you and your owners.

There is €1.5million on offer with the lowest prize fund for a race being €75,000. From bumper mares, to novice hurdlers, to staying chasers, there are races for nearly all types of horse. A pre-Cheltenham Ireland-vs-Britain clash would be great to see.

For more information on the event, including ticket prices and hospitality click here.

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