Curragh looks ahead to 150th anniversary next year as Derby Festival kicks off

Kevin Manning on Trading Leather wins the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby 2013
The 149th running of the richest and most prestigious flat race in Ireland, the Irish Derby, will take place at the Curragh Racecourse this Saturday.

The 149th running of the richest and most prestigious flat race in Ireland, the Irish Derby, will take place at the Curragh Racecourse this Saturday.

Celebrities, both four- and two-legged, seasoned punters and occasional race-goers will be among the tens of thousands who flock to Irish flat racing’s headquarters this weekend.

The three-day festival will kick off with the Done Deal Derby Hoedown on Friday, with a concert by rising superstar Nathan Carter afterwards to keep the punters at the track.

The main business of the weekend takes place on Saturday, Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby Day. Epsom Derby hero Australia, trained by Aidan O’Brien and piloted by his son Joseph, looks on track to attempt to become the 17th horse to successfully complete the English and Irish Derby doubles.

The Curragh-trained duo of Dermot Weld’s Fascinating Rock and John Oxx’s Ponfeigh also look likely to feature, while the overseas challenge will be headed up by the Roger Varian Epsom Derby runner up Kingston Hill.

There will be plenty of action off the track, too, with reality television star Millie Mackintosh judging the Most Stylish Lady competition on Saturday.

Other well-known faces expected to be spotted around the course include former RTE newscaster Anne Doyle, movie director Jim Sheridan, Gay Byrne and his wife Kathleen, TV3’s Alan Hughes, Lester Piggott, Bernard Dunne, rugby pundit Brent Pope and Louis Walsh’s new boyband Hometown.

Attendance on Derby Day alone last year was over 23,000, and the organisers are hoping to break this figure if the fine weather holds up this weekend.

Sunday is Family Day at the racecourse, and if the previous day’s hi-jinks weren’t enough, the meeting will feature a special Cossack stunt riding display and some Disney entertainment.

And once this weekend’s festival is over, thoughts will turn to next year’s festival, which will mark the historic 150th running of the Derby on the Curragh on June 27, 2015.

“The plan is to launch the 150th Irish Derby at this year’s event, to get people thinking about it and excited about it,” said Curragh Racecourse commercial manager Evan Arkwright.

“Next year will be a really big year for us, and we’ll be looking forward to a number of different things over the next 12 months.”

A book is due to be released on the history of the Irish Derby in advance of the festival next June.

Other possible ideas include a pageant to mark the historic 150th running of the race. It has also been mooted that there will be a special bonus and presentation for the winner of the 150th Derby.

There are also plans afoot to look at the history of all the ancillary events that have grown up around the horse racing, such as racing fashion and Best Dressed Lady competitions, Derby entertainment and food.

“We also plan to celebrate some of the great characters of the history of the race,” said Mr Arkwright.

A major redevelopment of the Curragh Racecourse was first proposed in 2005, but those plans ground to a halt in 2008 when the Turf Club postponed it due to the economic downturn.

However, redevelopment plans have been revived and it was announced last February that a €55 million revamp is due to start at the end of the 2015 season. The project, which is subject to planning permission, will be financed by grant aid from Horse Racing Ireland, industry donations, bank borrowings and the Turf Club’s own resources.

2015 is also the last year Dubai Duty Free’s current sponsorship agreement for the Derby. “We would be very hopeful they will continue to support the event and the race,” said Mr Arkwright.