At the recent AGM of the Association of Irish Racecourses (AIR), Emma Meehan, the CEO at Down Royal, was appointed a director. From December 2021 she will work in the best collective interest of their membership, Ireland’s 26 racecourses, for a three-year term.
Speaking of her appointment, Emma said: “I’m looking forward to the opportunity to have real and meaningful influence most of all. Each individual racecourse is its own commercial entity. However, like most sports, we are subscribed to a governing body which shapes our overarching strategies on a national, and indeed global, scale, and I very much look forward to working with my fellow executives and key industry stakeholders to endeavour to shape the future of racing for all our members.”
The Newry native is known for her commercial know-how, empathetic leadership style and unwavering determination. “My goal was to manage a racecourse by the time I was 40, and not only did I do it early, but I also got the one I wanted!
“It was a big goal, as CEO jobs at racecourses don’t come up very often, and there had been plenty of commotion about the track. So I knew whoever got it would have to be up for a bumpy ride.
“I also absolutely knew I could do it, so I put my hand up and took the opportunity. Thankfully I got it. I have embraced the challenges, built a brilliant team around me, and we’ve enjoyed an extraordinarily successful first season together (pre-Covid), and I have never looked back.
“Together with my husband Conor and our two children, Oliver (7) and Sadie (5), our home is just 25 minutes from the racecourse and it has worked out really well for everyone.” she said.
Focus and ambition
Emma is the eldest of three girls and lost her mum at a young age. She was forced to grow up quick. Her focus and ambition came to the fore and, on completion of her primary degree at Queens University, she quickly completed a masters in marketing at Ulster University.
For over 14 years she was the sales and marketing manager at Dundalk Racecourse, where they raced 50 weeks of the year and not just horses, but greyhounds as well. During her time there they moved from being a greyhound only stadium to Ireland’s first all-weather racecourse. Racing weekly, that feeling of ‘Friday Night Lights’ and being a part of a well-oiled machine resonated with Emma.
“It made the team there very close and, from an operations perspective, we were on it. When you compare a dozen fixtures and 84 races in the year here in Down Royal after that, is it any wonder I am looking for more fixtures to fill the gaps in our racing calendar?”
Down Royal is Northern Ireland’s premier racecourse, boasting Grade 1 racing, two big festivals, full sponsorship, and all indications are for growth in attendances once racing resumes. The racecourse recently received designated stadium status in Northern Ireland, another coup for Meehan who has been working behind closed doors, planning strategically for when things reopen.
Short-term goals include growing the brand and business, a plan to sweat the asset, and to bring the public back racing. “We need to get the public back, even if only owners initially. It’d be great.
“Northern Ireland is much further ahead in vaccine rollout. However, due to an all-island approach, it’s looking like we will have to sit tight a little longer. We’re ready though. I have specific facilities earmarked for when we can get back to business, so that it can be done here safely. The sooner the better.”