The Secret Racegoer finds everything pretty much champion in Ireland
There was a lot resting on the second day of Irish Champion’s Weekend for the Curragh.
They’d had a bad press after the Irish Derby, not unreasonably so, given long queues at inadequate numbers of bars and toilets.
Both situations could have been avoided if sufficient temporary facilities had been made available.
There would be no excuses if similar mistakes were made when the Curragh hosted day two of Irish racing’s most prestigious Flat meeting. Fortunately, they made giant steps forward to rectify the situation.
The signs were good when there were no less than two buses waiting at Kildare station for trains from Dublin, the south and the west. Indeed, a bus being there at all represented improvement. But two buses, that’s a giant leap in customer awareness.
There was customer awareness in evidence too on arrival at Leopardstown. The Secret Racegoer was all fingers and thumbs trying to loop his badge through a buttonhole so a young lad stepped forward and asked if he could help.
The Secret Racegoer replied all was well but might need such assistance in about 10 years time. “Or in about 20 minutes after you’ve been in the bar” was the cheeky reply.
The Curragh had put up a temporary bar at the far-end of the new Aga Khan Grandstand, called the Nijinsky Club, it occupied an area about the size of a tennis court, with a bar, a couple of bookmakers, the tote, and a stage where a DJ would be spinning discs later in the afternoon. There were also temporary loos.
One complaint though, from the far end of the stand, the Nijinsky Club blocked the view of about three furlongs of the finishing straight.
Supplies of the black stuff had been arranged, and The Nijinsky Club afforded the Secret Racegoer the first pint of Guinness of the day. At €5.60, it was 10 cent dearer than Leopardstown. “We’re more upmarket” said the Curragh barman.
Elsewhere, the totally inadequately sized owners and trainers bar in the grandstand was now open up to general admission racegoers. Owners and trainers were housed elsewhere.
If the Nijinsky Club equated to a tennis court, then the old owners bar was smaller than the size of a squash court. You’d only need a 30-runner handicap, of which the Curragh hosts plenty, and “squash” would have been the operative word.
Much of the Curragh’s pre-race activities took place in the Champions Quarter, including thoughts on the day’s racing from a panel including David Jennings, Joseph O’Brien, Ruby Walsh and Paddy Power’s Paul Billings.
No doubt they mentioned the odd winner, but possibly not Fairyland which was the estimable Doug Campbell’s bet of the day here on The Racing Hub, a winner advised at 16/1.
If racegoers were unaware where the Champions Quarter was, the racecourse presenter informed us that we’d find it “to the left of the parade ring”!
We were also made aware of the “hidden gem” of the Derby Bar. It probably remained hidden for many, as the location was not forthcoming.
If the Derby Bar was a secret location to some at the Curragh, the Secret Racegoer, who has been going to Leopardstown for some 40 years, found two bars he’d never come across at the Dublin track.
An entrance to one of them is just a door. No signage, just a door. One half expected to find Edmund, Lucy, Peter and Susan already there.
It was discovered late in the afternoon and was the resting place to watch the replay of the All-Ireland Football final between Kerry and Dublin, an event which had caused Leopardstown to bring forward the start of the day’s racing.
It was nip-and-tick in the fist half, with honours shared at the interval, but a Dublin goal 15 seconds into the second half momentarily knocked the stuffing out of the Kingdom and, although they re-grouped, they could never close down the Dubs’ lead. It meant a historical fifth consecutive win for boys in the blue.
There was a bit of the battle of the remote control on some of the TVs at Leopardstown, where the screens went from Racing TV to scroll through numerous channels before returning to Racing TV. Then back to the programme guide. This was went on for about 10 minutes before whoever wanted to watch Racing TV won the day.
No such problems at the Curragh, where a truce seemed to have been agreed, with most TVs showing various racing events, but a number were tuned to RTE’s children’s programming.
So to the racing.
Aiden O’Brian was to have six Irish Champions Weekend winners, and he bagged the big one on Saturday when Magical (pictured top and right) was the 2½l winner of the Champions Stakes, completing a treble for Ryan Moore. There would be two further winners for Moore on Sunday.
He must have felt a lot happier than Oisin Murphy, who got a bit tangled up in traffic on the Japanese raider Deidre, the first time the country has had a runner in Ireland, and her blistering finish more than suggested a second place would have been possible if Murphy had navigated a different route.
Whilst the Irish St Leger was Sunday’s feature race, it was Pinatubo (above) who stole the headlines with a totally scintillating win in the Goff’s Vincent O’Brien National Stakes.
The nine-length victory for the Charlie Appelby trained Shamardal colt in the Godolphin blue was as good as anyone has seen in a long time and he’s one to look forward to next year.
It was pleasing, too, that William Buick was on board as he’d missed much of the summer months through a head injury.
In the Irish St Leger Search For A Song gave Dermot Weld his second winner of the afternoon, but Tarnawa, who was his first when taking the Group 2 Blandford Stakes was, as Weld said, “a very progressive filly” and we could see even better if she runs at Ascot next month on Champions Day.
It was a weekend when prize-money ran to hundreds of thousands of euros, but a race which mattered to most was worth €59.10 to the winner. It was the seventh on the Curragh card.
Over one mile, it was for 3yos and upwards who had raced at least three times and had a rating of less than 70. If the horses were a little low-grade, the jockeys were of the highest calibre, but not necessarily race-fit. They were:
Paul Carberry, Ted Durcan, Richard Hughes, Kieron Fallon, A P McCoy, Johnny Murtagh (pictured), Joseph O’Brien, Charlie Swan and Ruby Walsh
The race was The Pat Smullen Champion Race for Cancer Trials Ireland. Pat had hoped to take part himself, but the need to return to treatment for pancreatic cancer meant that couldn’t be the case. But, he said, “that won’t dull the excitement, and I would like to extend the warmest thanks to nine incredible champion jockeys.”
If the jockeys line-up was champion, so too was the sponsor list: Adare Manor, J P McManus, Ballymore Properties, BarOne Racing, Betfair, BetVictor, Ladbrokes, Paddy Power, SkyBet, and the Irish National Professional Bookmakers Association.
Profits from on-course bookmakers on the race would go to the Cancer Trials Ireland trust. Longines would give the winning jockey a watch. Tipperary Crystal provided the trophies. Moyglare Stud gave cash-prizes for best turned out. Racing TV and RTE televised the race. Over 350 owners paid to have their colours published in the racecard. Jockeys toured the paddock with collecting buckets.
Des Cahill came out of retirement to call the race, leaving Jerry Haynes to commentate on just the other 16 races over the two days.
As the runners headed to the start, the crowd cheered and applauded. They cheered when A P McCoy came home first (pictured) on the Sheila Lavery trained Quizical. They cheered the rest of the field as it crossed the line under various styles of urging or, in a couple of cases, lack of urging.
And they cheered AP back into the winners enclosure, but laughed when his flying dismount wasn’t executed quite as stylishly as Frankie’s the day before in the St Leger on Logician.
More than €1.3m was raised, and there’ll be more to come. Racing and racing’s people had done Pat Smullen proud for a champion cause.