English racegoers will flock to Leopardstown for the Dublin Racing Festival in their droves next month, says Willie Mullins.
The champion trainer was speaking at its launch at his Muine Bheag stables by the Carlow-Kilkenny border and hopes that the initiative – run on February 3 and 4 – will be a major success. It owes its realisation to the success of the 'Irish Champions Weekend' on the Flat, in which Mullins has been notably successful too.
However, he primarily trains jumps horses, winning the champion trainers' gong in Ireland for ten years in succession, and told Balls.ie that the Dublin Racing Festival could grow over time into something "very big". The two-day extravaganza features an incredible seven Grade One races, with a total of €1.5m in prize-money.
He said: "There are great possibilities for it to become a big sporting weekend in Dublin. Those who visit are going to see all the good horses over two days and there are going to be some very interesting clashes.
"For people who are not really racing people, it is going to be a really exciting two days' racing at a great track. It is win-win for everyone, for the sport, for the fans.
"For me, there is great apprehension and stress, but to have a winner or two is fantastic as a trainer. The racegoers need not worry about that!
"They will see the best horses in Ireland running in graded racing – the top level – on a track built for enjoying a day out, with bars and restaurants for all, and cover if the day isn't good.
"I think it has potential to be fantastic. Irish racing is buying into it, whether English horses come over or not."
Mullins, who has become a major obstacle to British trainers winning races at the iconic Cheltenham festival in recent years, believes the initiative will prove popular with British racing fans – partly because Irish venues offer a friendlier, less security-heavy experience to the paying customer.
Mullins can count on some high-profile English owners, including Graham Wylie, who owns among others Yorkhill, and Tony Bloom, owner/chairman of Brighton & Hove Albion FC as well as the classy hurdler Penhill.
He said: "With the prize-money package on show, hopefully the two days bring a lot of foreign visitors to Dublin; I can’t see it being anything other than a success.
"I am expecting a lot of English punters. There's a different feel to racing in Ireland than in England. I’ve a lot of English owners and they enjoy coming over here.
"It's a different vibe racing in Ireland. English punters tell me they are fascinated when they go to a meeting over here how friendly the people are, how passionate they are about their racing and the access you have to racing people. In England you don't get that: it’s much more a closed shop. It’s a friendlier atmosphere over here.
"The fantastic job Horse Racing Ireland has done with prize-money and the programme means we have better horses here, English owners with horses here also."