Irish Racing’s Brave New World

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HH The Aga Khan and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar officially open the new Curragh racecourse | Racing Post

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KILDARE, Ireland — “Today belongs to those from overseas,” proclaimed commentator Jerry Hannon as Beshaayir (GB) crossed the line in front in the G2 Lanwades Stud S., hard on the heels of two other fellow British-trained winners of the day’s group races, including the first of the Irish Classics for 2019.

But that was Saturday. Twenty-four hours later, as the official opening of the magnificent new facilities at the Curragh was staged in breezy sunshine, it was a different story altogether. Ireland’s Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arrived to a brass band welcome, highlighting the strong link between the Irish government and one of the country’s most important sectors of industry, encompassing sport, agriculture and tourism alike. It’s a relationship which is undoubtedly the envy of many fellow European nations whose once-proud racing traditions are in danger of being reduced to irrelevance while struggling for political recognition.

“The Curragh is the keeper of Ireland’s racing traditions and this place is home to some of our biggest social and sporting occasions,” said Leo Varadkar in his address before the unveiling of the Aga Khan Stand, so named in honour of one of Europe’s biggest owner-breeders whose great investment in the sport in Ireland extends to his multi-million-euro donation to the Turf Club back in 2003 in order to spark plans for a major redevelopment of the country’s premier racecourse. It may have been a long time coming but, like all good things, it was worth the wait.

More special for those at the heart of the Irish racing industry would have been the fact that His Highness the Aga Khan made a rare public appearance to attend the Curragh opening while his homebred filly Siyarafina (Fr) was winning the G1 Prix Saint-Alary over at another newly refreshed racecourse, ParisLongchamp.

At the Curragh, six different home trainers shared the spoils, though of course the day’s major prizes went the way of that one-man advertisement for Irish excellence, Aidan O’Brien, who unleashed an exciting juvenile prospect for Royal Ascot in Arizona (Ire) and brought Hermosa (Ire) on from her Newmarket triumph to land the Tattersalls Irish 1000 Guineas in front of a number of the country’s leading politicians.

As the Taoiseach pointed to the importance of racing’s near-€2 billion contribution to the Irish economy, not to mention almost 30,000 jobs, he paid tribute to those whose work has contributed to a vibrant new racecourse. It might not, in its infancy, please all of the people all of the time, especially those who cut their teeth at the old course, but it should be given the chance to prove that it can take racing in the sport’s heartland into an important new era.

He said, “The Curragh has gained much more than just a new stand. This is a complete redevelopment and you now have facilities here to match the best in the world. It has always played an important part in the story of our country. This is a sacred place and truly is Ireland’s ancient east. Today it is an acknowledged centre of excellence in every aspect of the Thoroughbred industry, at the heart of Kildare, Ireland’s Thoroughbred county.”

All international sporting venues must welcome victory for foreign challengers to remain truly relevant. Saturday may have belonged to those from overseas, but Sunday was Ireland’s day.

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