By Geoffrey Riddle
Kim Bailey believes that the Dublin Racing Festival will in time lure British trainers over to Ireland and will be a key focus for soft ground horses in place of the Cheltenham Festival.
The inaugural two-day Dublin Racing Festival opens on Saturday week and features seven Grade One races and boasts €1.5million in prize-money.
The BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle opens the first day, while the Unibet Irish Gold Cup is the cornerstone of the second day and none of the races across the meeting will be run for less than £75,000. A bonus for punters is that all 15 races are 48-hour declarations.
Despite the money and prestige on offer the meeting has seen little uptake with British trainers.
There are just eight British entries and reigning Champion Hurdler Buveur D’Air has the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown as a more likely option.
The going at the Cheltenham Festival is rarely soft or heavy, however, and Bailey sees the new Festival as a perfect target for horses who relish soft ground such as his First Flow, who successfully ploughed through the Haydock mud on Saturday.
“It is the timing, it is new. Trainers have their pattern where they run their good horses and they need to break that pattern," Bailey told Racing UK’s Luck On Sunday programme.
"It comes in February, a month before the Festival so if you have a hard race you have to travel back and forwards.
“I think you will end up coming to this Festival in years to come trained for it, rather than going to Cheltenham.
“I think you’ll find horses that like soft ground will be trained to go to Ireland for this meeting.
“You take that horse of mine yesterday – in a year’s time he will be going there rather than Cheltenham. When was the last time it was very heavy ground at Cheltenham?"
He added: "This will always be a difficult year for them [Leopardstown]. I think in a year's time when people have seen what the races looks like, how the two days come out, what wins it and how those horses go on for the rest of the season - I think that will make a big difference.
“It is an opportunity for those horses to go somewhere specific with a big prize and I think that will work for them but it won’t happen in the first year.”
Pat Keogh, the CEO of Leopardstown, agreed that it will take time for the fledgling meeting to bed down, much as the visionary Irish Champions Weekend which is now a key date in the Flat calendar, has done.
He pointed out that the current strength of Irish racing is another factor, and with 19 of the 28 Cheltenham Festival races featuring an Irish favourite or joint favourite it is easy to agree with him.
“I have spoken to all the top trainers and we have communicated with all the trainers at the Festival,” he said. “They all welcomed it and were all delighted at the level of prize-money.
“It takes time for trainers to change their patterns – they have their own meetings that they are used to aiming at year after year and when a new one comes along it takes a little bit of time for them to change.
"At the moment is Irish racing is really very strong.
"The English trainers have said that they need a really good hors to come over to compete. They are saying they will wait to take the Irish on at Cheltenham.
"These things come in cycles. For quite a number of years there were, relatively speaking, stronger horses in England than in Ireland and the English trainers were coming over here and winning all the big races. At the moment we have the upper hand.
“I have absolutely in no doubt that in time this will be a festival that will be supported by the English trainers.
“Of course I would like to have seen more - there is nothing better than seeing the English and Irish go head-to-head as it adds an extra dimension to it.”
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