NAVAN Racecourse stages a routine flat card this afternoon (Saturday) but many racing fans will be surprised to note that the track’s first National Hunt fixture of the new season is just two weeks away.

Aidan McGarry is the general manager of Navan, having been appointed to the role in March 2021. The Kildare man got into racing through going to racemeetings when he was younger.

“Being from Naas town, I would have regularly been going to Naas Racecourse as I kid,” he explained. “As I got older I would have headed out with a group of friends to Punchestown, which was a tradition back in the day. The schools used to close for the week of the Punchestown Festival. There was always a chance you would get an interest of some shape in racing.”

McGarry is a sports fanatic and always had the desire to work in sports. Racing was seen as a great chance to work in an industry he was passionate about.

“I went on to complete my degree in equine science at the University of Limerick, with the intention of working in the industry in some form,” he recalls.

Tote experience

“Michelle O’Kelly was head of marketing in Tote Ireland at that time. I had my college placement at the Tote. As the Tote is a subsidiary of Horse Racing Ireland that gave me the opportunity to meet lots of people and work with various parts of the organisation. I was fortunate that when I finished college, I started working in Horse Racing Ireland.”

The pandemic was in full force when McGarry took over the reins at Navan, succeeding Peter Killeen, who had held the position for seven years. It was a strange time to be in charge of a racecourse.

“Racecourses were closed to the public so, while I was excited to get started and get stuck in, it had that strange feel to it. Racedays were like schooling days in terms of being ‘industry only’, but I was joining a great team.

“It gave me a chance to get my feet under the table initially and to get to know how the actual raceday mechanics worked in Navan. I was lucky that Peter was able to assist with queries.”

Attendance figures have been a big talking point this year, with the bigger metropolitan tracks arguably finding it harder to attract crowds than the more provincial ‘summer’ courses.

McGarry reported: “The third and fourth quarters are our busiest times of the year but, in general, the figures are holding up and are comparable from 2019 to 2022.

“At the start of the year, things would have been slower in terms of membership subscriptions. Our early January fixture was difficult due to what the country was like at the start of the year. Then we lost our flagship spring meeting, the Boyne Hurdle, due to the weather.”


Hospitality bookings have been strong, McGarry says. “It could be people catching up on events and celebrations that they have missed out on in the last couple of years, but hospitality has been busy and there has been a big sway towards purchasing a ticket in advance, which we see as a positive because it gives us the opportunity to plan for the day better in terms of numbers.”

Last year Navan celebrated its 100th anniversary. “The celebrations were all geared towards Troytown day, given the restrictions, but we did have that window in 2021 and we had great crowds and an atmosphere. It was the first time I had seen the racecourse back buzzing [since 2019] and it gives us a taste of what is to come with the winter ahead.”

McGarry has clear views on how tracks can bring more racegoers through the turnstiles.

“Particularly in the current climate that value for money element is important for families and racegoers alike. We try and have lots of activities, whether it is the family fun elements that will include puppet shows, clowns and balloon modelling, and everything like that. It is crucial that when racegoers come that they enjoy the day, and they feel that they can get a full day out of it.

“Over the next 12 to 18 months we also want to really connect with the local community through sports clubs.

“We are lucky that it is a real racing crowd that comes to Navan. Even the big social events like Fortria day and the Troytown still attract the hardcore racing fan.”

Flat racing is a harder sell for Navan, as it is for many Irish tracks.

“There is a real love for National Hunt racing in Ireland, but we are blessed in this country that we have some of the best bloodstock and the best trainers from a flat perspective anywhere in the world.

“You saw Ado McGuinness winning a valuable race on Dubai World Cup night with an inexpensive purchase. The flat has become more competitive in recent years in terms of the number of trainers, jockeys and owners who are doing very well.

“The flat is coming from a lower base in terms of popularity but our Vintage Crop raceday had a lovely crowd.”

Navan’s racing surface is a big plus and it is well regarded by jump jockeys in particular.

McGarry says: “It is a good galloping track and a fair track. Year in, year out, you can see a lot of the top young horses will have won their maiden hurdles or beginner chases at Navan. Success follows success.”