THE Irish Cesarewitch could offer €1 million in prize money in just a few years, according to former Horse Racing Ireland chairman Joe Keeling.

Last year’s edition of the two-mile handicap was worth just €80,000 but news this week that the race purse has been raised to a massive €600,000 has generated headlines far and wide. Boosted by the Curragh, HRI and ‘Friends of the Curragh’ the race has been moved from October to late September when it will share weekend billing with the Goffs Million.

Billed as the Friends of the Curragh Irish Cesarewitch, the race is described as the brainchild of Keeling who told The Irish Field yesterday: “The reaction to the news has been fantastic. I definitely think it can grow into a €1 million race.”

Explaining the background to the race’s overhaul, Keeling said: “I was involved in the Curragh redevelopment when some big investors generously put money into the racecourse. Those people have not been asked to contribute to this race – it is being supported by other individuals who want to help the Curragh. We are getting a lot of interest from people who want to help.”

The ‘Friends of the Curragh’ have guaranteed their support for the next three runnings of the Cesarewitch.

“It could go beyond three years but if the race proves a success then there is more of a likelihood of a commercial sponsor taking over,” Keeling added.

Keeling also believes the revamped race will bring more racegoers to the Curragh, a track which has traditionally struggled to match National Hunt venues in terms of popular appeal. “Some people say the Curragh is not a success but that is not determined solely by the numbers that come,” Keeling said.

“The new Curragh is an icon. It shows the world that Irish racing is a serious business and we needed it badly. We were lucky to get it built when we did.”

The race will start from starting stalls and will be open to three-year-olds and older horses rated 0–110, with the intention of attracting a mix of flat stayers and high-class National Hunt entries. Up to 30 runners will be permitted. The winners of several premier handicaps run at a distance of more than 12 furlongs through the year will get exemption from ballot should they remain in the race at the final forfeit stage.

Brian Kavanagh commented: “Joe’s passion for and commitment to the Curragh is palpable and he is the driving force behind the creation of this race. We hope that trainers and owners from Ireland and overseas will target this race.”

Jason Morris, head of strategic projects and racing at HRI, said: “HRI are hugely appreciative of the significant sponsorship that has enabled the development of this high value staying handicap. Coming two weeks after the Irish St Leger, it means that Ireland will offer a range of valuable late season targets for quality staying horses.”

Ballot protection is likely to be given to the winners of premier handicaps such as the Ulster Derby, the amateur handicap at Galway, Killarney’s Kingdom Handicap and the Petingo Handicap on Irish Champions Weekend.

Closing in late July, the full entry fee will be 1% of the prize fund and prize money will be paid down to 10th place. If the race attracts sufficient entries a €100,000 consolation race will be considered.

Traditionally the Irish Cesarewitch has been started by tape but now the 30 runners will come out of stalls, which promises to be a sight in itself.

Kavanagh added: “This a very welcome and valuable sponsorship. The Autumn Festival (September 24th-25th) already has the Goffs Million, the Beresford Stakes and other blacktype contests. We’re on course to have every race at the Curragh sponsored this year.”