Irish Derby: Dubai Duty Free Extends Sponsorship

By Laura Donnellan, Lecturer in Law, School of Law, University of Limerick

Dubai Duty Free has extended its sponsorship of the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby which will take place on 30 June 2018 at the Curragh Racecourse, County Kildare.

The Irish Derby, which began in 1866, is a race for three-year old thoroughbred colts and fillies, and this year the prize money on offer is €1.5 million, with the winner receiving €870,000 and the remainder being shared among the second to eighth-placed horses (Press Release, “Dubai Duty Free extend Irish Derby sponsorship”, 30 Jan. 2018, http://www.curragh.ie/dubai-duty-free-extend-irish-derby-sponsorship/).

It is a three-day festival (the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby Festival) commencing on 29 June and ending on 1 July.  The Dubai Duty Free Derby is considered the highlight of the three-day event and always takes place on the second day of the festival. The seminal race is 12 furlongs or 2.414 km. In 2017, it was officially named as the number one three-year old race in the world (Press Release, “Dubai Duty Free extend Irish Derby sponsorship”, ibid).

The new sponsorship deal comes at a time when there have been great changes in the governance of Irish racing. Both flat and steeplechase racing falls in Ireland under the auspices of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB), a company limited by guarantee.

The IHRB was established by the Turf Club and Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee (INHSC). It has been in operation since 1 January 2018. The IHRB is the Irish equivalent of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA). Section 10 of the Horse Racing Ireland Act 2016 amended section 36 of the Irish Horseracing Industry Act 1994 to empower the Turf Club and the INHSC to set up limited companies to carry out regulatory functions.

The Curragh has undergone a €65 million redevelopment (http://www.curragh.ie/curragh-redevelopment/). In order to carry out the redevelopment, a limited company was established, Curragh Racecourse Limited. The shareholders include the Turf Club, which owns 33% of the company.  The Turf Club ran the Curragh Racecourse from 1790 to 2015. The Irish state owns one third of Curragh Racecourse Limited and a third is owned by John Magnier’s Coolmore Stud, Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin, Moyglare Stud and JP McManus and the Aga Khan (Brian O’Connor, “Aga Khan’s agent said Curragh should close for building work”, Irish Times, 5 Mar. 2017, https://www.irishtimes.com/sport/racing/aga-khan-s-agent-said-curragh-should-close-for-building-work-1.2998638).

Dubai Duty Free is one of the largest travel retail companies in the world (https://www.dubaidutyfree.com/about/about_ddf). It was established in 1983 and recorded an annual turnover of $20 million its first year. In 2017, its global turnover was $1.93 billion (https://www.dubaidutyfree.com/about/about_ddf). In 2008, Dubai Duty Free succeeded Anheuser-Busch/Budweiser as the official sponsor of the Irish Derby, although its relationship with the Curragh dates back to 2002. To date, there have only been three sponsors of the Irish Derby: Irish Sweepstakes, Anheuser-Busch/Budweiser and Dubai Duty Free. In addition to the seminal event, Dubai Duty Free will sponsor five other races on the Saturday.

Details of the sponsorship deal have not been released, including the duration of the partnership. It seems that the deal has been extended to cover this year’s event. The announcement has been greeted with much enthusiasm on both sides as Colm McLoughlin, executive vice chairman and chief executive of Dubai Duty Free stated:

We are delighted to extend our partnership with the Curragh for 2018 and happy that our association with the Curragh has grown over the years. The Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby is now a weekend festival of quality racing and entertainment and the media exposure generated greatly raises the profile of our brand in Ireland” (“Dubai Duty Free extend Irish Derby sponsorship”, ibid).

Given the mutual benefits and the fact that the race has achieved the accolade of being the best horse race of its kind in the world, the partnership may well extend beyond this year.

Equally, the Curragh Racecourse Limited may well seek more lucrative deals as its status elevates.

Laura Donnellan may be contacted by e-mail at ‘Laura.Donnellan@ul.ie’