How do you explain the success of Listowel’s Harvest Festival? In many ways, it’s illogical.
After seven days of racing last week, the total attendance exceeded 92,000,up from just over 89,000 last year, the first renewal without COVID-19 restrictions.
That flies against the general trend of falling attendances this year and comes in the middle of the current cost of living crisis.
The racing wouldn’t hold a candle to the world-class quality on display on Longines Irish Champions Weekend two weeks ago, yet Listowel’s two biggest attendances during the week both sailed over 25,000. Leopardstown and the Curragh would snap your hand off for anything within 10,000 of that.
Pat Healy, Listowel’s chair and a leading racing photographer, pointed to the community as the main reason and it probably is as simple as that. On-course bookmakers are in a unique position to compare and contrast what each racecourse offers the public around the country and Brian Keenan of that sector said the same thing.
The smaller courses who attract comparatively big crowds are all about community, he said in last Saturday’s The Irish Field.
“You look at the racecourse managers and they’re down on the ground, meeting people, getting to know people,” Keenan said. “The crowds in Ballinrobe this summer have been surreally good. The facilities are always immaculate and it’s never too expensive.”
A few of the bigger racecourses could well do with a week in Listowel. The Guinness Kerry National went to Joseph O’Brien’s Busselton, who was probably a fortunate winner from the Galway Plate hero Hewick, who unseated his rider at the last. Winning rider JJ Slevin dedicated the victory to his grandfather Jimmy, who sadly passed away later in the week.