Chaos was sparked yesterday when it was announced that racing would no longer operate at Down Royal from 2019 onwards with the future of the Co Down track now in doubt.
Racecourse management stated that it would “close operations” at the end of 2018 with a new site being sought for racing before it later became clear that new management would be installed with racing continuing at the current venue, where racing has taken place for 333 years.
With 12 meetings already planned for next year at the HRI’s reigning racecourse of the year, closure would be nothing short of a disaster and there is clearly much doubt and tension surrounding its future.
Ahead of their marquee two-day fixture on November 2-3 headlined by the JNWine.com Champion Chase – which has been won by Cheltenham Gold Cup winners Kauto Star and Don Cossack – the long-term outlook for the Grade One track at Maze is unknown.
Track management are involved in a dispute with owners, Dublin-based Merrion Property Group, since they sought to evict the Down Royal Corporation of Horse Breeders, the group which had managed the track since the new owners took over having purchased the track for €6.1 million in 2005, with the matter said to be the subject of a tribunal.
Merrion, owned by multi-millionaire Mike Roden, have indicated their plans to assume control of the racecourse from January 1 and run it as a going concern (a business operating and making a profit). The Merrion statement read: “We will continue our preparation to deliver horse racing from the beginning of 2019. We are looking forward to a new era at Down Royal and to enhancing the experience of racegoers and other stakeholders while contributing to the local and wider community.”
HRI chief executive Brian Kavanagh described the developments as “a sad day” and hopes that the situation can be resolved but the prospect of the December 26 card at Down Royal being their last is a very real one.
“We’d like to sit down with both parties to establish what the situation is and we have a meeting in the pipeline with Mike Roden which will possibly take place next week,” he said.
Denis Egan, chief executive of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB), confirmed that any change in management at the track would require a new licence to race so the future of racing there is up in the air.
Elsewhere, Henry de Bromhead continued his rich vein of form as Sub Lieutenant (8/11 favourite) spearheaded a 6/1 double for the Waterford trainer and Rachael Blackmore.
Having ridden Milliner (3/1) to victory in the opening maiden hurdle, Blackmore steered Sub Lieutenant to a comfortable Grade Three Chase victory much to his trainer’s delight.
“He saw it out really well. I’d say we’ll aim for the north now (Down Royal). I’m delighted to see him coming back to himself again,” he said.
Champion trainer Willie Mullins took the other major prize – the Grade Three Buck House Novice Chase – through the Ruby Walsh-ridden Cadmium (15/8), while the Closutton maestro added another string to his bow with True Self (6/4 favourite) taking the Listed Beckford Stakes in what was his first runner at Bath.