End of an era at Leopardstown Racecourse

End of an era at Leopardstown Track Foreperson Willie Gibbons Retires After 38 Years

by Alison O'Hanlon
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Last weekend marked the end of an era for Leopardstown Racecourse, the 2024 QuinnBet National Hunt Finale was the final fixture to be overseen by retiring Track Foreperson Willie Gibbons. 

Willie has been in this role since July 1986 and has rarely missed a raceday in the intervening period.  Taking over the reins from his father John, who had held the position since the late 1940s, this represents almost 80 years of dedicated service to Leopardstown Racecourse from the Gibbons family.

Speaking of Gibbons’ decades of service, Leopardstown CEO Tim Husbands said Willie is going to be greatly missed by the team here at Leopardstown. We congratulate him on all that he has achieved, and of course massively thank Willie for his decades of service to Leopardstown. The Gibbons’ family have contributed greatly to the success of the racecourse over the last eight decades, a massive contribution to the history and legacy of Leopardstown.”

Leopardstown Racing Operations Manager Jane Hedley said “Willie and the wider Gibbons family leave a remarkably legacy and will be forever acknowledged as significant players in the history of not only Leopardstown Racecourse but also Irish racing. We are delighted that Willie has agreed to continue with us part time this summer as he completes the handover to our new Track Foreperson Roy Butler.  It speaks volumes for the regard in which Leopardstown is held that we have attracted an individual of Roy’s calibre to step into the role.”

To mark Willie’s retirement, the racecourse hosted ‘The Willie Gibbons Celebrating 38 Years At Leopardstown Handicap Steeplechase’ on Day One of the QuinnBet National Hunt Finale which was won by Where’s Frankie, trained by Karl Thornton and ridden by Donagh Meyler. Celebrations are also planned for later in the summer to celebrate Willie Gibbons’ years at Leopardstown.

Speaking at Leopardstown, Willie said “It’s been very good, I’ve enjoyed it. It’s a great place to work. I’ve always been blessed by having great staff both with me on the track and in management. Leopardstown has always been blessed by having really great staff everywhere.”

Willie spoke about the changes he has witnessed during his decades at the racecourse, significantly the arrival of the M50 motorway nearby which he describes as only positive, making Leopardstown more accessible.

Of his standout Leopardstown moment, Gibbons recalled a visitor from the early 2000’s;

“To me Best Mate coming here and running at Christmas time, and winning, that was great. We didn’t normally get many Gold Cup winners coming to Leopardstown.”

Willie Gibbons will be succeeded in his role of Track Foreperson by Roy Butler.  Roy has an extensive background in the fields of agronomy and Sportsturf management. Moving on from award-winning Golf courses, he oversaw the development of the racing surface and wider site presentation in Naas Racecourse.  He is also a former Chairman of the Greenkeepers Association, now known as the Association of Turfgrass Professionals Ireland (ATPI).

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