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Emma has huge plans for Down Royal with records to tumble on Boxing Day

 

Big plans: Down Royal Chief Executive Emma Meehan is all set for Boxing Day meeting
Big plans: Down Royal Chief Executive Emma Meehan is all set for Boxing Day meeting

By Steven Beacom

Down Royal Chief Executive Emma Meehan is relishing a record breaking Boxing Day meeting at the racecourse.

The Newry woman took the reins in her new role in January and hasn't let the grass grow under her feet.

Hospitality sales and attendances are up this year and Emma's ambition in the future is to bring more race meetings to the venue at the Maze.

December 26 is always a big date in Northern Ireland's racing calendar and the boss at Down Royal is anticipating a special day.

"It's very much a family day with mums and dads, grans and grandads and kids etc and I'm very much looking forward to experiencing it because it will be my first Boxing Day at Down Royal," says Emma.

"Our gates open at 10.30am with the first of seven races going to post at 12 noon. We have received the entries so we are expecting bumper contenders for those races.

"We have sold out on all hospitality and premium entrance packages so the only thing we can sell now is general admission so it has superseded all our expectations and broken previous records."

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It's a far cry from this time last year when there were concerns about the future of Down Royal.

At the start of 2019, Michael Roden's Merrion Property Group, which has owned the track and nearby golf course since 2006, appointed a new team to run the course. It was led by Meehan who had an impressive track record from her work at Dundalk Stadium as sales and marketing manager.

"When I took over in January we didn't really have any solid foundation," recalls Emma, who sadly at the age of 26 lost her mum Finola.

"We had no sales for 2019 and had no members so it was a matter of moving very quickly within 28 days to try and garner membership for the year which obviously is a great income.

"It was wonderful to have the level of people buying into attending our 12 race meetings. We accomplished that very quickly.

"We didn't inherit any staff bar one, Susan McCartney, who is our hospitality manager, and with every meeting this year it has been a learning curve.

"After each meeting we had to debrief and understand what we didn't do well and what we did in terms of moving forward and improving.

"With every meeting there has been change and adding some innovative flavour has proved to be hugely successful.

"Our hospitality sales are up 70% historically and our attendances should supersede a five per cent growth overall for the year.

"What we learnt very quickly is that Down Royal is a brand and as a racecourse is bigger than its operator and thankfully a lot of our historic sponsorships stayed with us but there were quite significant holes to fill and we have filled them.

"We have had a 100% strike rate so all of our races, which is 84 races in the year, are sponsored and I'm exceptionally proud of the team for their work.

"We have brought in over a quarter of a million in commercial sponsorship revenue which is somewhat unprecedented in other racecourses and we know the value of Down Royal especially for corporate players.

"It's a fantastic place to network and the figures speak for themselves from a standing start."

At present there are 12 meetings each year at the course. Emma had hoped to enhance that figure for 2020. Determined and focused, the mum of two young children, Oliver and Sadie, is now looking to make it a lucky 13 for 2021.

"It was my ambition to raise our meetings to 13 in 2020 but I was just pipped at the post by another racecourse," she explains.

"Even to be in consideration in my first year taking over that bodes well for an additional fixture for Down Royal down the line. I will be fighting very hard to get another fixture for 2021. The grounds can take it and I want to grow our programme.

"We were delighted this year because we had quality fields for our summer festival and our Grade 1 Champion Chase in November and we are keen to maintain that.

"We want to give racegoers at Down Royal an enjoyable experience and myself and my team will continue to work hard to do that."

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