And they are off..... Limerick Racecourse is all set for the Mr Binman sponsored Christmas Festival
THE Mr Binman Limerick Christmas Racing Festival - the biggest National Hunt meeting in Munster - is expected to break the 40,000 attendance barrier again this year.
The four day horse racing bonanza, which runs from St Stephen's Day until Saturday, December 29, inclusive, at Greenmount Park, Patrickswell, will boast €550,000 in prize money, a 14% increase on 2017 levels.
The event is one of the biggest highlights of the local sporting and social calendar and provides a multimillion euro bonanza for the local economy, through racecourse direct sales, service contractors, bookmakers, hotels, restaurants, transport providers and employment provided. All 28 races over the four days of the Festival are sponsored, while pre-sales of tickets and hospitality packages at Limerick Racecourse indicate that 2018 is going to be one of the biggest yet.
Several horses which have won at Limerick at Christmas have gone on to enjoy hugely successful National Hunt seasons in both Ireland and the UK, with the likes of Penhill, Faugheen, Martello Tower and Weapons Amnesty all going on to win at the Cheltenham Festival the following March.
Limerick Racecourse general manager, Patrick O'Callaghan said: “We are all really looking forward to the Mr Binman Christmas Racing Festival getting underway. A lot of hard work has gone in to get the festival to this point. The initial planning would have started here in June.
“Our ground is in great nick, I don't ever remember the track being in such good condition at this time of the year. We are delighted with the way things are shaping up.
“We will have lovely ground for the festival and at this point in time I can’t see it being 'heavy'. At the moment, you would say that the chase track is 'yielding’, and the hurdle track is ‘yielding, yielding to soft in places'.
“These four days at Christmas are our All-Ireland final, our harvest, our 'saving hay while the sun shines' moment. It is the whole lot rolled into one. This is what determines whether your year has been a success or not. The year hinges on Christmas for us.
“It is a time of the year when people are off work, the mobile phones and the e-mails are turned off, people get to sit back and maybe relax a little bit. If you know very little or nothing about horse racing, you can still come and enjoy yourself. It is a fun day out.
“AT this point our pre-bookings are much stronger than where we finished up last year. St Stephen’s Day is the busiest day of the year for us. The private suites for example, have been booked out since mid-October.
“The restaurant, which can accommodate 550 patrons is sold out, as of Tuesday afternoon.
“The Reserved Enclosure is fully booked for St. Stephen’s Day. People can book punter package tickets online at €30pp and general admission is available online also. Patrons can also pay on the turnstile on the day.
“We still have availability for December 27th, 28th and 29th, but it is getting limited at this stage. We are seeing a lot of group bookings these year, sports clubs get together to enjoy a group day out and racing is a good fit.
“You find a lot of repeat bookings, so if people come on one of the four days, then that is usually their day every year, they bring their group and that's their day out.
“What was very noticeable last Christmas, I thought, was the number of young people in attendance. It seemed to be much higher than in previous few years.
“We are always looking for more people to come through the turnstiles. The 40,000 we got through the gates last year is a big target to hit again. look, something as simple as one bad morning with heavy rain could see our gate get a pinch.
“Last year the weather on the four mornings was very good. That was a major help.
“We have worked very closely with Mr Binman, our new title sponsor, over the past good number of weeks. They are very, very good to work with. Look, they are very good supporters of sport in Limerick and are in the heart of the community.
“They are involved in Team Limerick Clean-Up and Munster Rugby and ourselves. They give a lot back. It has been very exciting and they have added a lot to us.”
St Stephen's Day
ST Stephen's Day is traditionally the busiest day of the Festival with the first race due off at 12.20pm.
History will be made at Greenmount Park on St Stephen's Day when the track hosts its first ever Grade 1 contest and the only Grade 1 race to be run in Munster, the €100,000 Matchbook Betting Exchange Novice Chase.
The race, over a distance of two miles and three and-a-half furlongs is being run with a significantly increased value of €100,000 this year. The exciting contest will be televised live on RTE, as will the feature race on all four days at the Festival.
Patrick O'Callaghan said: “We are delighted with our entries for our Grade 1. When they came out we had 47 entered. That is the same amount of entries as the last three years combined.
“There are some very highly rated horses there. I think Willie Mullins was quoted as saying his recent Punchestown winner Getabird would be coming here. That is what you want, we want the superstars coming. A lot of credit has to go to Matchbook too.
“Great credit has to go to the Chairman and the Board of Directors who had the foresight and ambition to build a new Grade 1 Racecourse from a green filed site less than 20 years ago and now we have a Grade 1 race to match our facilities.
“On December 27, when the opening race is off at 12.25pm, the feature race is the Tim Duggan Memorial Handicap Steeplechase, a Grade B race with a €50,000 pot. The Duggan family are great supporters of ours through the generations.
“Then, on December 28, the feature is the Irish Independent Hurdle, a Grade 3 race with a €34,000 pot up for it. We are aspiring to get that race up to Grade 2 status. Our first race that day is due off at 12.30pm.
“WE have a special lunch package available in the restaurant called the Liam MacCarthy lunch special which costs €45pp and includes admission, race card, reserved seating, 3 course lunch, waiter service and a table overlooking the track.
“Also on that day, we have the Sunway Holidays Most Stylish lady competition, a firm favourite on the social calendar, with some very good prizes up for grabs there.
“Our final day of the Festival, December 29 gets underway on the track at 12.25pm, while our big race will be The Sky Sports Racing Launching January 1 Grade 2 Novice Hurdle which has gone from a €44,500 race to a €50,000.
“It is one of the most highly valued Grade 2s out there. We have aspirations in time of getting another Grade 1. We will have to work on it and earn it.
FAMILY FUN DAY
“COME December 29, some parents with small kids might be getting a small bit of cabin fever.
“We are doing a special on-line offer for the last day of two adults for €20, kids U-12 are free, so it is not a very expensive day out at all.
“We have live music with Tiny Giants on both December 26 and 27, while a live DJ will be in the Munster Suite after racing on both December 28 and 29.
“Having the feature race on RTE live each day is a good endorsement of what we are doing here.
“The team have worked incredibly hard all year. There is a lot of pulling together with an event this size. The team have put in a huge shift.
“The four days at Christmas fly by when you are here. It is about following through with our plans. We are really really looking forward to it.”
U-12s can attend the Festival for free on all four days when accompanied by an adult.
General admission is priced at €20 for both St Stephen's Day and December 27, with €15 concessions for seniors and students, while general admission is €15 for both December 28 and 29, with €10 concessions for seniors and students.
Tickets for the event, including hospitality packages, can be booked on www.limerickraces.ie or by calling 061-320000 or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org
See the Limerick Leader for comprehensive coverage of the Limerick Christmas races, both on-line at www.limerickleader.ie and in our print editions.
The Limerick Leader will have a paper again on December 27 and another on January 2.
Happy Christmas to all our readers. #LLSport