PAT HEALY: Pat looks back at a memorable Listowel Harvest Festival and ahead to the Arc.
A memorable Harvest Festival
Reflecting on last week, I just have to say what a memorable 2023 Listowel Harvest Festival it was. We had over 92,000 people through the gates over the seven days and, while the weather was a bit dicey at times, the fact that everything went well and the crowds turned out was brilliant.
Wednesday was obviously huge, being Guinness Kerry National day and then we had Ladies’ Day on Friday, which has now become a real tradition in the racing calendar, and that was our biggest crowd of the week.
I was delighted everything went smoothly. There were many fantastic stories throughout the week and I think everyone will look back fondly on the Harvest Festival 2023.
Perhaps the highlight was Oisin Murphy’s visit on the Tuesday. Thankfully he rode a winner, which added to it, and I must give Oisin huge thanks for making the effort. There were 27 members of his family at the track, including his Nana, who is in her 80s. It was Oisin’s first time riding in County Kerry, so being a Kerry man in his local county and then to ride a winner, I’m sure it was a memorable day for Oisin.
Patrick Mullins reached a huge milestone in his career by riding his 800th winner during the week. Patrick told us all that his aim now is to ride 1000 winners and please God if he stays fine and healthy, that’ll happen for him. He’s a great ambassador for the sport, he’s Willie reincarnated, with the way he speaks and carries himself. He’s 6-foot, so he’s a tall guy, and he manages to keep his weight to around 11st-3lb, so plenty credit has to go to him. He works hard, even though he’s Willie Mullins’ son, and he deserves every bit of success he gets. We wish him all the best in his quest to ride 1000 winners.
We also had Martin Brassil and Ricky Doyle teaming up to win the highlight of the week, the Guinness Kerry National. Of course, they have both had success in other nationals; Martin won the Irish and the English National with Numbersixvalverde and Ricky won the Irish Grand National in 2021 aboard Freewheelin Dylan. It was a fantastic to see them successful in the feature.
We must also mention local Listowel jockey Gavin Brouder, who rode his first Harvest Festival winner, and young Andrew Jones, son of leading owner Chris Jones, who, on only his fourth ride, rode his first career success at the Harvest Festival.
Thank you to all the Listowel team
I have to give a few thank yous, starting with our secretary Brenda Daly. Brenda is synonymous with the Listowel Harvest Festival, as her dad Brendan was for over 60 years. There’s not a question that you can ask Brenda that she won’t know the answer to, whether it’s ‘how may horses were stabled during the day?’ to ‘how did the safety meeting go this morning?’. Anything like that Brenda is absolutely brilliant, she’s always on the button and she is the spine of the Harvest Festival.
Thanks to the IRHB officials, led by our Clerk of the Course, Paul Moloney. It was Paul’s first Harvest Festival in the role and, with the weather and the rain, it was tricky at times, but he did a fantastic job. Paul was ably assisted by our Groundsman Dan O’Connell and his team. They have the hardest job at any racecourse and I’m always in awe of them. They really know what they’re doing and we’re lucky to have Paul as Clerk of the Course and Dan O’Connell and his team. A huge thank you to them.
John Sheehan, who is our Enclosure Manager, and his team worked tirelessly. We had plenty of seating and there were loads of flowers everywhere. Everyone was very complimentary and people had a really good experience of coming to Listowel, and going racing there. That’s all helped in a big way by John and his team.
Paddy Madden and his team look after the stable yard. Everyone had nice things to say about that area and the canteen, so again huge thanks must go to them.
The first thing with a successful race meeting is that you need the locals there. We know that the locals love the Harvest Festival, they always support it and want it to be a success. Then we have visitors from neighbouring counties, from Cork, Limerick, Tipperary, Clare who are always good to us. We always have plenty of visitors from Dublin and Meath and of course we have a strong Northern Ireland contingent, so we get visitors from all over Ireland. Then we have lots of support from England and people from America and Australia that come home for the races. Without our racegoers, it wouldn’t be a success, so a big thank you must go to all our loyal patrons.
Last but not least, thanks to our own committee. It’s all voluntary, you have to give up your time and we’ve already started planning for next year. We’re lucky in Listowel that everyone puts their shoulder to the wheel and wants it to be a success. The fruits of their labour were clearly visible, and I’d like to thank them all.
Looking ahead to the Arc
The Arc is always a fascinating contest and hopefully all the big horses turn up. Aidan [O’Brien] has declared Continuous after his York (pictured below) and Doncaster exploits and with Hukum and Westover renewing their rivalry from Ascot, and Frankie [Dettori] aboard Free Wind, hopefully we see a brilliant renewal on Sunday.
There’ll be plenty of Irish runners over the two days and we wish them all the best.