A week and a day ago I predicted an action-packed four days in Ireland for the three old boys, writes Tony Stafford. The actuality was far more than that, starting with a quirky night at Newbridge, one of the country’s truly authentic small greyhound tracks, through the delights of Leopardstown, Shelbourne Park (dogs again) and The Curragh, and ending with a photo-call with the peerless Galileo at Coolmore stud.
The easy way to cover it would have been to dwell on Champions Weekend on Ireland’s two principal racecourses – even if The Curragh is still in the to-be-built phase of its multi-million redevelopment – and then the concluding part yesterday at the world’s premier stud farm. In the event other individuals made just as much an impact on me as the established stars.
Women in the media and on television do have a far better chance of success now than even one generation ago, and I predict that someone I’d never met before 9.30 p.m. on Saturday is going to make a major impact on British, never mind Irish, racing television in the coming years.
Step forward Sarah Kinsella, a 29-year-old farmer’s daughter from near Swords in North Co Dublin. She’s single-minded, and from the little I’ve seen and the volumes I’ve heard for the most part as some serious players on the Irish horse scene passed by at The Curragh the following afternoon, she’ll be a player.
“Saw you on RTE 2 last night, you were great!” was an approximation of the general reaction to her first ever broadcast. She was the form expert on the hour and a half live show crafted around the two semi-finals of the Boylesports Irish Greyhound Derby at Shelbourne, just along the road from Lansdowne Road where a little earlier Leinster had completed a 52-14 win against the Dragons.
Sarah’s credentials it seems were manifold. For the past 15 years, as she related to us, after joining as a guest of the ebullient Leon Blanche, BoyleSports PR man and top representative at the track she has been a regular. She was in like-minded company. Harry Taylor and I both had thousands of days at the greyhounds in the era far off when there were more than 20 tracks in London alone.
Alan “Ginger” Newman will have clocked up a good many more as a track bookmaker for well over 50 years. “When Romford gets going properly again I’ll be adding to the numbers”, he says, dismayed but never crushed by the sport’s decline. “At least it seems Corals are finally putting some money into it.”
There was no sign of obvious decline, certainly on semi-finals night, at Shelbourne, where the main sponsors helped boost the overall prize pool to €300,000 and winner’s prize for next Saturday when Sarah will again be behind the mic, to €140,000 – figures that would not be out of place up the road with the horses. The restaurant was buzzing, the food excellent and the crowd reminiscent of those former glories at White City.
Ms Kinsella told us she writes a dog racing column in the Irish Star newspaper. In agreeing she could describe herself as a professional greyhound tipster, she evoked memories of my own role at the Greyhound Express around 1967-69, easily rekindled by the challenge of a page of a dog race line-up – not that I deciphered any on Saturday!
Sarah also works at the races for a bookmaker and on Sunday, though not on duty, she phoned through a €20 winning bet to her boss on Moyglare Stud Stakes winner Skitter Scatter at a best-priced 9-2. Next stage after Saturday night will be a move away from the 50 acres of beef cattle and greyhound rearing for a job with Ben Keith’s Star Sports team in London. In the meantime she’s looking forward to selling – at a thousand a pop she hopes – the ten pups (five boys, five girls) her own classy racing and coursing bitch <name lost in translation> has produced from US import and Cheshire-based stud dog, Pat C Sabbath. She says her pride and joy followed a Friday night win in a €1500 final with victory two days later in an important coursing stake – one that her father (70 last Sunday) tried to win for 30 years without achieving it.
Already the phones are buzzing on both scores and it is not difficult to imagine her bubbly personality enlivening the sometimes pedestrian RPGTV offerings over the coming winter. She assures me she finds the winners, too.
The night before at Newbridge, close to The Curragh, we joined Aidan Walsh as he completed a 43-year continuous sponsorship of the Texacloth Juvenile Derby Open. Walsh was there with wife Caren and it was good to renew acquaintance with them and another York August regular, Charlie McCreevy, former Irish Finance Minister and for more than eight years a director of Ryanair, with which firm, owners of Gigginstown House stud, we flew to our jaunt. I asked whether he thought €7 for a cup of tea and a cut-down bottle of Pepsi Max (presented in reply to a request for a diet coke) was reasonable. I expect him to bring it up at the next board meeting. Go to it Charlie!
Ballydoyle got both St Legers over the weekend, Kew Gardens with an emphatic brushing aside of the expected challenge from the favourite Lah Ti Da at Doncaster and then the equally-convincing success of Flag of Honour, much too good for Joseph’s Irish Derby winner Latrobe in a race where the three-year-olds took centre stage for once.
The home team came out second best in Saturday’s two biggest races but both Alpha Centauri, unable to peg back the tough Laurens in the Coolmore-sponsored Matron Stakes, and Saxon Warrior, denied by Roaring Lion in the Irish Champion Stakes, finished with career-ending injuries. Certainly when Saxon Warrior quickened so dramatically from an already-superior position so close to the finish, it seemed impossible he could have been caught.
The clue came on the head on after he had been caught in the last strides. All the way through the last furlong he was edging into the rail and there was nothing Ryan Moore could do to prevent it. His tendon injury will mean yet another brilliant colt will be going back to Coolmore.
On Sunday, there was no more popular winner than Skitter Scatter, a first Group 1 triumph for Patrick Prendergast, latest representative of the family that, through Paddy from the late 1940’s, provided most competition to Vincent O’Brien. Skitter Scatter was ridden by Ronan Whelan and I managed to get a word with him during his understandably-euphoric progress back to the weigh room.
Ronan, his father Tom, and agent Larry Stratton, clubbed together to pay 42,000gns for Ray Tooth’s foal homebred by Garswood – Lawyers Choice last November, and when I mentioned it to him – after appropriate congratulation – he was quick to say “Sod’s Law <his three-year-old half-brother retained for racing by Ray> won well at Ffos Las on Thursday.”
In reply to my enquiry about how well has he done in the interim, Ronan said “He’s twice the size of today’s winner, anyway” and he is looking forward with some anticipation to Tattersalls Book 2 where he is due to go through the Park Paddocks ring once more.
One further generation will also be there for the foal sale the following month. This year’s offering, a flashy chestnut full-brother to Sod’s Law consigned by Andrew Spalding’s Hedgeholm Stud, will not be harmed if one relative follows up at Ascot in two weeks and another takes the fancy of the bidders later in the month.
Going back to Ireland for the first time in a while, it was impossible not to notice the industry of the two principal television presenters there, Gary O’Brien and Kevin O’Ryan, the latter there on Sunday with agent father Bobby, a one-time Jim Bolger head lad.
Kevin is a major jockeys’ agent with ten Flat and a select couple (Davy Russell and Jack Kennedy) of jump jockeys on his list. He also happens to be a brother-in-law of Aidan O’Brien – both are married to daughters of Joe Crowley.
One of his jockeys is Chris Hayes, firmly in the top flight now and further boosted by the impressive win of Madhmoon in the Group 2 KPMG Champions Juvenile Stakes on Saturday. I’d not really spoken to Chris since the day – as he readily recalled as 2005 – when he came over to Hamilton as a 16-year-old to ride a very modest filly for me.
He came to Brian Ellison’s attention that day and Brian liked what he saw and wanted him for a couple the next week at Beverley. As Chris remembered: “He thought it would help if I rode an outsider of his in an earlier race to get to know the track. He won at 50-1 while the other two disappointed.” Chris, or Chesney as he’s universally known for his one-time ultra-youthful resemblance to one of Coronation Street’s child stars, still rides many of Ellison’s Irish raiders.
The meeting with Galileo in his paddock yesterday was so evocative for me. Neil Magee came out to show him to us and said how remarkable it is that he has matched his late sire Sadler’s Wells’ achievement of producing 73 Group or Grade 1 winners. “Nobody thought it could ever be equalled. Surely he’ll set a properly unbeatable number before he finishes.”