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Dublin: 11 °C Friday 28 February, 2020

Johnny Ward: Developer unveils grand plans to build new €100m racetrack in Palmerstown

Luke Comer proposes to build the Belmont-style track and lease it back to Horse Racing Ireland, writes Johnny Ward.

Vision: Comer's plans for the Palmerstown track.
Vision: Comer's plans for the Palmerstown track.

LUKE COMER HAS revealed plans to build a €100 million racetrack in Ireland to mimic Belmont Park in New York and argues that if Coolmore had any sense it would back him.

The County Galway-born developer is prepared to make a piece of land available at Palmerstown, on the Kildare side of the Dublin border. He would build the track and lease it back to Horse Racing Ireland.

HRI has sought expressions of interest for a second all-weather track to complement Dundalk’s, which is under a cloud due to issues with its surface – but has decided to stick with the existing polytrack over Tapeta.

Comer, a registered trainer, owner and sponsor of races, has striking plans for both a turf and all-weather track, telling The42 that he would build a “big, massive hotel” on the Palmerstown site.

The magnificent house and golf resort was owned by Jim Mansfield before being snapped up during the recession by Comer and his brother, Brian.

Whilst it is thought that Naas could also win the battle to get an all-weather track, the talk among racing circles is that Tipperary racecourse – situated near the yard of Coolmore’s main trainer, Aidan O’Brien – will get the nod.

“We want to build an American-type grass and all-weather track, exactly the same as Belmont Park, which would serve as a preparation for all Irish horses to go to the Breeders’ Cup,” Comer said, in reference to the iconic yearly meet that takes place in the US and attracts large numbers of European runners.

“We’re talking 200 acres. We’d have our big, massive hotel there. You’d have proper hospitality. Having an all-weather track in Tipperary would be neither here nor there.

“The Curragh cost nearly €100 million to redevelop but we’d get it all done for €100 million. We’d have public gallops and anyone could use them. We’d like to build a six- or seven-furlong straight that would make it unique in Ireland.”

Comer said he knew Coolmore supremo John Magnier “to say hello to; not to have a pint with”. He added: “I think if the lads in Coolmore were really thinking long-term and had any sense, and they do have sense – you can’t accuse them of not having sense – they would back this plan.”

palmerstown3 Plans to build a six- or seven-furlong straight that would be 'unique in Ireland'. Source: Comer Racing

palmerstown2 Comer proposes to lease the track back to HRI on completion. Source: Comer Racing

The evaluation process for a second all-weather track “has commenced with a view to making a recommendation to the HRI board meeting in September,” said its director of racing, Jason Morris.

Where this goes from here is up in the air, even if the Palmerstown House plan would not be nearly favourite if a bookmaker offered betting on a second all-weather venue. Comer is not afraid to talk big but apt to put his money with his mouth, too, contributing huge money in recent years to Galway United FC.

Whether or not Ireland needs another all-weather track is the bigger question. In April, the body representing Ireland’s racehorse trainers said the “vast majority” of its members had lost confidence in the circuit at Dundalk.

Dundalk’s board met last night and has reached a decision on its new surface. It is sticking with polytrack, though it has not announced this yet.

In the mean time, refurbishments are being made there with a view to its fixtures later this year, the new track to be laid next year.

Dundalk is understood to have gone with the most expensive option of the two. Wolverhampton and Newcastle have advertised the quality of Tapeta, but the Dundalk board reckoned it had a simple enough choice to make.

Likely the new all-weather track in Ireland will be in Tipperary, suitable for many trainers but hardly the public. At least Naas and Palmerstown House would have the credentials to attract people for a night out. If Tipperary gets the track, it is hard to see it having any social role.

Indeed, it is understood that the location of Tipperary was deemed a negative when it was a possible alternative to Dundalk as an all-weather track (opened in 2007).

Coolmore supremo Magnier – despite not having regular pints with Comer – is already in the news this weekend for declaring Il Paradiso for the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby, ostensibly to guarantee a field of eight on Saturday.

“It was the plan to run four in the race – Anthony Van Dyck, Broome, Sovereign and Norway – but the boss decided for the sake of the race we would also declare Il Paradiso so there would be eight runners and therefore each-way betting,” said Aidan O’Brien to the Racing Post.

This seems pretty bizarre in one of the biggest races of the year, though I do recall Magnier expressing his regret for those who backed Horatio Nelson moments after he suffered a fatal injury in the Epsom Derby in 2006.

The Comer Group International Curragh Cup illustrates the family’s sponsorship commitments today. Tomorrow, Ger Lyons can take the Gain Railway Stakes with Siskin (4.40), while Willie Mullins – making good progress after a recent operation – can take the Dubai Duty Free Jumeirah Creekside Irish EBF Handicap (6.00) with Legal Spin.

In between those races, the vast majority of us will be cheering on Madhmoon in the Derby for veteran trainer Kevin Prendergast.

Prendergast will surely be around long enough to saddle winners at a second all-weather track in Ireland. Could it be one that looks like Belmont Park?

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Johnny Ward

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