'Our competition isn't other racecourses, it's shopping centres'

Naas Racecourse is pumping €3.5 million into a ’boutique’ redevelopment of the venue.

By Killian Woods Reporter, Fora

BETWEEN ADAPTING TO new betting habits and recovering from the drop in attendances in the recession, those in the racecourse industry are only just getting a chance to catch their breaths.

That’s according to Tom Ryan, who was handed the reins at Naas Racecourse more than a decade ago at the age of 26 and is now leading a multimillion redevelopment of the facility.

The project will see the venue’s main grandstand revamped and a new pavilion built for viewers.

Ryan said the online shift in betting pulled regular customers away from races, while the country’s economic collapse cost tracks the more casual visitors who enjoyed the odd flutter.

“Racecourses in Ireland are trying to catch up on a capital investment perspective given that there was nearly two generations of an inability to do so,” he told Fora.

“If you were to be honest, this meant racecourses were drab, poorly designed and dilapidated – all of them. Life has gone on and people’s expectations have changed and they expect more.”

Figures from Horse Racing Ireland show total on-course betting across local tracks has consistently declined since 2007, dropping nearly 5% again last year to €88.6 million.

Meanwhile, race attendances bottomed out at 1.19 million in 2010 before bouncing back to 1.32 million in 2016.


Naas Racecourse’s €3.5 million redevelopment is being part-bankrolled HRI, which is chipping in €1.3 million, with the remainders coming from retained earnings and short-term borrowing.

The work will involve an overhaul of all the track’s customer-facing facilities, such as eateries and viewing areas.

1983_124 Tom Ryan (left)
Source: Naas Racecourse

Ryan said the investment wasn’t an attempt to take business from other racetracks and rival the likes of Leopardstown and Punchestown. The competition for punters’ money was more likely to be local, from shopping centres.

“People attend our racecourse as a social outing or leisure activity. So when we think of competition, we look at shopping centres like Kildare Village next to us. They have made huge efforts to make it a comfortable place to be.

“We are competing with them for leisure spending, so we have to come up to that very ’boutique’ kind of standard on the customer-facing side. It’s hopefully the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle.”

The business, which is forecast to make around €1.9 million in turnover this year, hopes to boost average attendance by between 15% and 20%.

The demolition phase of the development is complete and the foundations will be laid for the new facilities next week, with work set to be completed within six months, according to Ryan.

He added this investment in customer facilities could help the racecourse command a better price for its service and raise the price points on admissions and the cost of hospitality packages.

Horses racing at Naas Racecourse
Source: Racing Post

Childcare and brunch

The latest overhaul follows a series of work dating back more than a decade, including more than €700,000 spent on a fresh racing surface within the past three years.

The investments are sizeable, especially given that the track’s race schedule mean its business is concentrated on just 17 days of the year.

Ryan said he wants the latest, €3.5 million investment to help the business diversify from being a single-purpose venue and provide for extra services like childcare facilities.

“A racecourse needs to be a halfway house between a golf club or a sporting club and a fully fledged commercial business.

“So one element we’re adding is a full-time creche. We will do a deal with somebody who will operate it on race days and also have a contract to do it during the week.

“There is huge demand in Naas for this sort of thing with all the housing being developed out here.”

Ryan added that he hoped to tempt a food operator to lease a section of the course’s new, ‘feature’ building.

“We have a large footfall in terms of people walking by, so we feel there would be a market for the late-breakfast or early-lunch crowd. But we would like to do a lease agreement with an existing operator in the game, instead of running it ourselves.”

Ryan said that the building itself would have a “unique” design unlike that of any other Irish racetracks.

“We needed to create the ‘wow factor’ and have a type of building that if you saw a photo of it, you would know it was Naas Racecourse. You won’t need a sign or a banner to say where the picture was taken – the building will do that job for us.”