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Biting Back: Down Royal is not getting its fair share

By Jim Gracey

Down Royal racecourse isn't being given a fair crack of the whip.

All connected with the venue should be basking today in the warm afterglow of a job well done after two superb days of Festival racing. Over 12,000 punters were welcomed through the gates on Friday and Saturday and another 1.5 million watched some thrilling duels over the hurdles, live on At The Races.

Everything that is good about Northern Ireland was on show in all its finery from the best dressed ladies to the future champion horses and superb facilities. Down Royal has become our great melting pot where the regulars of the Royal Bar in Sandy Row rub shoulders with landed gentry in the common cause of picking a winner. They come from all over, north, south and abroad, all classes and creeds, making Down Royal much more than a grand social and sporting occasion.

It's benefits to the economy now make the course an important revenue generator for Northern Ireland plc, through the horse racing and hospitality industries.

Nearly half a million in prize money was paid out over the weekend; the incentive attracting top trainers and their horses, in turn, bringing in the punters and TV exposure. And it is all self-financing with not a penny in Government funding coming their way and every penny made going back into improving the race day experience.

Other sports here aren't begrudged their funding, the polite Down Royal folk would be at pains to point out. Times are hard and all that. But taking into account Down Royal's enormous contribution to the economy and as a model of the shared future our politicians supposedly signed up to, is it not time this great leveller was itself treated as an equal?

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