LEINSTER LEADER: THE BIG INTERVIEW

Pat Keogh: no hesitation when Curragh came knocking

Curragh Racecourse CEO talks about his life and times

Tommy Callaghan

Reporter:

Tommy Callaghan

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tommy.callaghan@leinsterleader.ie

Pat Keogh: no hesitation when Curragh came knocking

Pat Keogh

The name, Curragh, comes from the Irish word Cuirreach, meaning “place of the running horse.”
The first recorded race on the plains took place in 1727, although it believed that races took place prior to that.
In 1866 the first Derby was held and two years later the Curragh was officially declared a horse racing and training facility.
And, if you don't mind, it took an act of parliament for that declaration to be made.
So the Curragh is a place steeped in a rich history of horses and is looked upon as one of the greatest tracks in the world of racing (thee best according to Aidan O'Brien and the lads), so much so that those of influence insisted that the Irish Derby remain at the Curragh, during the two year reconstruction period, and despite a vastly reduced attendance allowance.
The new Curragh was officially opened by the then Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, in May 2019 with the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby being run in its usual slot at the end of June 2019, Sovereign caused a huge upset when giving trainer Aidan O'Brien a 13th success at odds of 33/1, ridden by Padraig Beggy.
A few months followed the 2019 Irish Derby a new CEO was appointed to the Curragh.
Pat Keogh, well-know in racing and in business circles, Pat had been CEO at Leopardstown Racecourse for eight years where he had overseen a major refurbishment of the twell-know and popular Dublin track.
Pat is a Dublin native, and as he says himself, a country boy from Rathfarnham.
When Pat was growing up Rathfarnham was far from the place it is today, in fact it was looked upon as being in the country and while Pat attended the renowned Synge Street School in Dublin 8, he was looked upon as a country boy attending one of the best known schools in the Dublin area.
“All my family were racing nuts” he told us recently, adding “to be honest racing was the only sport that was talked in our house.
Pat joined AIB and spent some twenty years there, working for ten abroad, in New York and London, originally as a currency trader.
But after two decades he moved on, taking up the position as Financial Director in Coolmore.
“The time I was in Coolmore was a really interesting time” Pat says, adding “an incredible operation; a world leader in its field fromin Tipperary and it is absolutely extraordinary how that entire project has grown over the years.”
It was a great experience and a great learning experience for myself, he says, when you think of the likes of Giants Causeway, Galileo, Saddlers Wells, who were all starting to happen back then.
“And at that time Aidan O'Brien was really getting established prior to moving to Ballydoyle.”
A different insight into racing, something you probably had never seen before?
“Yes definitely” came the quick reply, adding “you know when you go racing you see a sense of it but when you are working in the likes of Coolmore and what with mares, stallions, foals, yearling, race horses, everything is there, you get a complete understanding of the entire industry, fascinating to say the least.”
We are fortunate in Ireland to have so many similar type operations, adds Pat, “operations such as Moyglare, Godolphin, Derrinstown, Ballylinch and many more, all provide magnificent employment, something that that side of the business often fails to get the credit it deserves.
“Remember most of those jobs are in rural Ireland, unlike most multi-nationals who tend to go to the big cities and highly populated areas, but what we really need to do as a country is to get employment throughout the entire country and not just in the highly populated areas, and that is exactly what the bloodstock industry does; every single town in Ireland you will find horses in training; people breeding horses and that all creates much needed employment.”
After spending eight years in Coolmore Pat changed tack and returned to a company he had previously worked with, Cosgrove Developments: “very old family friends, good mates of mine; another very challenging time as property development was doing really well and then went through some very challenging times but they are a wonderful firm and delighted to say are doing extremely well once again.”
Pat's local track, Leopardstown, then came knocking, fully aware of his business expertise with AIB, with Cosgrove Developers and of course his Coolmore experience.
Leopardstown, a very successful track, but one that the directors felt needed to upgrade and revamp, feeling there was a lot more in it and they were anxious to seek that out and upgrade it, in a hugely populated base with potential that was enormous, so as Pat says “that was all very exciting, especially when it was my very own local track.”
Development at Leopardstown is nearing completion but then late last year Pat was approached to move to the Curragh, and it was an offer he felt he could not ignore.
Remember the Curragh had just gone through an €81 million make-over.
So was moving to the Curragh a major decision for the Rathfarnham native?
“Not really” he says “the Curragh, the home of flat racing and Kildare the racing capital of the country, it was something I could not refuse; what is on offer here — and not just the race course — is second to none not only in Ireland but throughout the entire reaching world.
“What is on offer here is immense. Remember the place is much more than just a racecourse; its training facilities; the gallops; both for flat and national hunt, without question the best facility, industry-wise in the entire racing world so I was absolutely delighted to get involved with such an operation, and who wouldn't be.”
As to the teething problems that were there at the completion of the massive project Pat confirms “we have addressed most of the problems; the infamous ‘whistling’ noise that every now and again arrives from the new stand is still being investigated by the planners, but that will be rectified, at no cost the Curragh, Pat adds.
“We were really looking forward to 2020 season but then the coronavirus hit us but I can assure you that when the public get back, and hopefully sooner rather than later, they will be delighted to see the changes we have made and they will be delighted with what we have to offer.
“Part of our strategy at the Curragh is to attract local support; we will always attract people from further afield, overseas visitors, but the Curragh always attracted locals from the likes of Newbridge, Kildare, Naas, all the big towns in the locality and we want to build on that and make the people of Kildare proud of the Curragh and what we have to offer.
“Racing people will always come but it is folk that come for the social aspect we really have to attract, and with the facilities we now have here there is no better place to spend and enjoy a day or evening racing than at the Curragh.”
While Pat admits that racing is general has suffered a fall-off in attendances, pre-coronavirus, he says he feels a lot of that had to do with the facilities on offer at a lot of tracks.
“You must remember that one of the reasons there has been a fall in attendances is that for a lot of years there had been no, or very little, investment in racing and its facilities and that has now, thankfully changed, not just in the Curragh but just to look at Kildare, look at Punchestown and Naas, all top class courses with top class facilities and that is what the general public want and expect.”
Pat has a lot of plans and a lot of ideas and one very close to the top of his agenda is to promote the actual horse.
“The beauty of the animal, the colour, the speed, the smell, everything that has brought us all into racing and what goes with that, that has not changed but we have to promote that to get the younger generation into racing, and that is what creates atmosphere.
“People come in and feel the atmosphere and we now have the facilities to go with that, where they can come, whether they want to sit down and enjoy the dining experience; whether they want fast food; want to relax with a glass of wine or simply have a pint, that is all here now; facilities befitting the times we live in, is there for everyone.”
Each one of our 20 meetings this year was given a theme so people would come for different reasons where we would appeal to local community, the parish day, music whatever; that helped us to get in a wider audience; racing such a great sport.”
Apart from the racing, Pat believes that the Curragh and the area, has so much to offer and feels this has not been promoted to anything like it should and it is something he is hoping to improve on big time.
“For 365 days of the year there is training going on here; we have a tour now and intend to promote what we have here, but look around what is also part of that package, Kildare Village, The National Stud, The Japanese Gardens; the Curragh Camp, the Military Museum, a fantastic place to visit, so many tourist attractions, that are simply not promoted enough.
“A visit to the our training ground is always an early morning experience not to be forgotten; looking at all the various trainers putting their charges through their routines.
“There are all of seventy trainers operating here, they pay a quarterly fee for the use of the facilities, and the entire operation is overseen by Pat Keogh and Pat Kelly and a team of experts.
“Outside trainers pay a daily rate and they also come in big numbers from the likes of Aidan O'Brien and all the many others who train away from the Curragh but all of whom use the facilities, let it be for flat or national hunt trainers.
There is really so much going on it is incredible and fascinating to see, a tour is something for both the racing fans and indeed the non-racing person but one that will be remembered.
As Pat Keogh says “Great team of professionals working in the Curragh and we can't wait to see the public back here again; hopefully come 2021 everything will back u p and running, the virus will be gone, or at least under control, and we can show-
case what we have to offer the racing public and every-
one else what we have here.