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Down Royal November festival will be 'biggest and richest ever'

Festival fever: Down Royal CEO Emma Meehan with jockeys Sean Flanagan (right) and Keith Donoghue at Hillsborough Castle
Festival fever: Down Royal CEO Emma Meehan with jockeys Sean Flanagan (right) and Keith Donoghue at Hillsborough Castle

By Ron McKnight

Down Royal's annual Festival of Racing was launched last night at Hillsborough Castle - with a promise from the course's new management to make their first showpiece the biggest ever.

The two-day fixture, on Friday and Saturday, November 1 and 2, is the highlight of the racing season at Down Royal and has an exceptional roll of honour including top class chasers such as Kauto Star, who twice claimed the big race, Beef Or Salmon, The Listener, Looks Like Trouble, Florida Pearl and Don Cossack all having won the festival feature.

Ladbrokes are the new sponsor of the festival with the first Grade 1 chase of the season, the Ladbrokes Champion Chase, run on day two.

A total prize fund of €450,000 is on offer over the two days and the Friday session will see the richest hurdle race in Northern Ireland - the WKD Hurdle, sponsored by leading local owners Joe and Pat Sloan.

Down Royal chief executive Emma Meehan addressed guests at the event, saying: "The most prestigious of our race meetings, the November Festival, is set to be the biggest yet.

"With attendances at Down Royal up 12 per cent year-on-year, we are anticipating crowds in excess of 10,000 over the two days, and with the venue and the track both in tip top condition, it promises to be a superb occasion for all."

A video, 'A New Era of Down Royal', featuring last year's Grade 1 Champion Chase winning trainer and jockey, Noel Meade and Sean Flanagan, was shown while the recently retired legendary voice of Irish racing Des Cahill interviewed guests.

Top trainer Gordon Elliott, who has won three of the last six renewals of the Champion Chase, will be represented by Delta Work this time and the 'talking horse' of Irish racing will excite many with Elliott intending that Samcro make his debut over fences in the Beginners Chase.

Samcro, despite high expectations, was beaten in his four races over hurdles at the top level last year to the disappointment of his vast number of fans.

British champion trainer Paul Nicholls, who has claimed both big graded chases including the Super Saturday feature three times, has the £140,000 feature chase as his target with advised Clan Des Obeaux.

Shane McLaughlin, Ladbrokes Managing Director, said: "Ladbrokes has a long and proud association with top-class horse racing and we are thrilled to be embarking on this exciting new sponsorship of the November Festival of Racing at Down Royal. We're looking forward to an action-packed weekend of top class racing."

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