The Down Royal Festival has earned a deserved reputation as a form guide to some of the world’s great races.
And this year should be no different with double Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Kauto Star contesting the JNwine.com Champion Chase just weeks before going for a fifth successive King George VI Chase on Boxing Day.
“Kauto Star won the race in 2008 and is over this year for what should be a fascinating JNwine.com Champion Chase, with the ultimate aim of a fifth King George which would make the horse a racing legend,” said Down Royal boss Mike Todd.
“To have a horse of that calibre at Down Royal is phenomenal.
“Our Friday feature race — now upgraded to a Grade Two — was won last year by Voler La Vedette who beat Go Native.
“Go Native then went on to have a fabulous season.
“The Ladbroke was upgraded to a Grade Two and it was a fascinating contest with the Cheltenham Festival Arkle winner Forpadydeplasterer going head to head with Paul Nicholls’ Here Comes The Truth. It’s brilliant that the English champion trainer, who also has Kauto Star, gives us such great support.
“Here Comes The Truth won the race — which wouldn’t have looked out of place at Cheltenham — but Forpadydeplasterer then came second in the Tingle Creek just after that which was a fabulous result.
“At the festival we now have a Grade One, two Grade Twos and a Grade Three. So in the last few years there has been consistent up-grading of our races and we are thrilled about that.
“Those races are up-graded because of the quality of runners they attract. So that’s a real bonus for us. Our prize money over the two days is in the region of £400,000,” added Todd, who is looking forward to again welcoming the Channel 4 cameras to the festival, which takes place on November 5 and 6.
Channel 4 Racing’s Lesley Graham, guest at last week’s Northern Ireland Breeders Awards, says the Down Royal Festival provides a unique opportunity.
“Kauto Star is not going to be racing for that much longer — if he wins another King George he may be retired,” she said.
“So the Down Royal Festival is a great opportunity for people to see one of the greats in action.
“The quality of racing at the Down Royal Festival improves every year. It’s a really nice homely course and yet it gets the best runners. It’s an intimate track where you get up close and personal with some of the biggest stars of racing.
“The races at the festival are a great form guide — the horses that do well at the festival are the ones to watch.
The Down Royal Festival is now very much part of the Channel 4 fixture list which has very much increased awareness of the festival throughout the United Kingdom.”
Down Royal hosts the Victoria Square Raceday tomorrow evening, and Mike Todd is anticipating another big crowd.
“Despite the financial downturn in the last couple of years, we have maintained our attendances,” he said.
And Todd is promising racegoers a festival to remember.
“For the Festival of Racing we will be introducing a little bit of interactive entertainment — watch this space.
“One of our biggest innovations this year is the Down Royal app which shows the runners and prices plus you can bet and see the results. It also has information about the Down Royal facilities.
“There are only a handful of English racecourses that have the app.
“There will be a prize of a £13,500 Zambian safari for two in the festival’s best dressed lady competition, with top model Andrea Roche one of the judges,” he said.
“Of course there is more to Down Royal than the festival. In recent years for example Ulster Derby winner Media Puzzle has gone on to win the Melbourne Cup and last year’s winner Changingoftheguard was due to run in the Melbourne Cup but was lamed on the day of the race.
“Ballyholland won our Galway Plate Trial before going on to win the Galway Plate. So we have a few nice races throughout the year.
“I have had trainers say to me how much they enjoy sending horses to Down Royal — the crowd appreciate good horses. Horses that travel distances always get a warm welcome.”