Champions Weekend Diary

Friday 9th September

The eve of Irish Champions Weekend. The drive home from Ballinrobe is a sweet one. Another day with a massive crowd and remarkable business. After a wretched start to the day, we end the season at the Western track on a really sweet note. The odds on favourite of the Bumper is just pipped in the dying strides by a 14/1 shot. 4 year olds often struggle to carry a penalty in winners bumpers and we took on the jolly for more than our usual. Thankfully we got our result and were very well paid for it. We arrive home just after 11 pm and pack the vehicles for Leopardstown. Once all is sorted for the morning, I head for bed still buzzing from the evening and looking forward to the weekend.

10th September

Alarm goes off at 6am but I am wide awake already. Daylight is slow to break through as winter approaches so it’s getting harder to jump out of the bed! Quick walk around the farm to check the mares and then back home for a wash and put on the suit (reserved for very few days!)

We are on the road for 8.30 am and I’m nervous about the day ahead. The summer series meetings in Leopardstown have been really poorly attended and I’m just hoping it’s a blip rather than a set pattern.

We arrive 3 hours before the first and get our 3 pitches set up. Coffee, small talk and a bit of slagging with some colleagues is the order of the morning. I don’t need to hear information, whispers or tips on a day like this. Everything is trying for it’s life… the beauty of the big days.

Business is solid without being spectacular in the opener. Colin Keane gives Zarinsk a champions ride to get the day off and we do no damage on the race. Slightly frustrating not to show a profit considering we stood the favourite Library for a not insignificant amount.

I’m a gambler wins the second to put us in the green and delivers a first UK trained winner of the weekend but Augustine Rodin undoes any profits soon after by bolting up in the KPMG juvenile stakes. He could be very good, but it’s not form I’ll trust just yet. The others looked a fairly limited bunch. Time will tell.

3 races in and still in the same position as when we started! The day is beautiful and the crowds are beginning to appear, all we need now are a few results.

Duke De Sessa nailed Thunder Kiss on the line in the next. He certainly didn’t go unbacked but he’s a much better outcome than Thunder Kiss.

The betting is solid in the champion stakes initially but just before the off it starts to get really spicy. I can’t help but notice the sheer volume of UK punters that have entered the betting ring. Monkeys, grands etc flying in on the 3 main market principles along with a 750 each way sterling bet on Alenquer at 11/1 made for an interesting book. Vadeni was a stinker. Mishrif, Luxemburg and Alenquer were small takers. Not my finest bit of bookmaking if I’m very honest, looks like I need a miracle.

Soumillon has a nightmare on Vadeni (even the greats can have bad days at the office!) and it’s clear that he’s highly unlikely to win considering the position he ends up in. My focus switches to the others in the race. For a brief second it looks like Onesto is going to give me a result but it’s a familiar feeling as Luxemburg sweeps by to win. I win 200 euro on the race! It’s a real pain in the ass to hold a few quid and not get a slice of the pie….

Frustration gets the better of me and I put 11/4 to Jadoomi. Needless to say I was obliged. They started at 11/4, then took the 5/2 and still clobbered us at 9/4. Wins as he wants. Soumillon masterclass…It’s hard to keep a good man down. Now we are a couple of grand behind after 6 races… days like today are supposed to be where we earn our money…

The Matron Stakes starts with a bang. A monkey each way sterling Lights On at 16/1, cut it to 14/1 and the rails lays a grand win only also in Sterling. Have to have a few quid back in the ring. We simply won’t have the sterling to pay if it wins otherwise. Now the money pours in for Saffron Beach and Homeless Song. The punters have money and they are playing it up. We are motoring now, all 3 pitches are busy and its definitely not time to raise the white flag just yet. Homeless Song is my worst loser of the day, Saffron Beach and Lights On are takers.

Pearls Galore bounces out and takes the lead , she looks really comfortable and is getting it totally uncontested, is this the result we have needed all day? I let out a roar at the 2 pole ‘get stuck into her Billy for Gods sake!’ (terribly unprofessional of me) She wins a shade cosily. We get the result we need. All our money is back in the bag… plus a few multiples of what we started with and no matter what happens in the last we wont be going home losing. The beauty of the really big days… if you can hang in there all we need is one result to change the whole day.

We thread water in the lucky last and win a couple of hundred. When you are behind and get infront its important for the head not to give it all back straight away.

Home for 10 pm and re watch the racing. Our turn over holds up compared to Champions Stakes day in 2017,2018 and 2019. A big relief after a slightly concerning summer at the course.

11th September

Wake up and the rain is battering the window. The forecast hasn’t changed. Rain rain and more rain. I phone Dad and between us we decide there’s no point setting up our 3 pitches. Some staff were rather chuffed to be getting the day off , standing in rain for 5 or 6 hours is no fun.

We work one pitch in the grandstand where at least we are guaranteed to stay dry.

We hold 300 euro in the first race and of course the outsider of the field wins at 50/1. Where was that result yesterday when we were holding proper money??? The tone is set for the day.

Above the curve wins but the few euro we are ahead is taken back off us when Highfield Princess destroys the field in the flying 5. We aren’t able to hold money so we don’t do any significant damage. The people just aren’t here unfortunately.

Mediate who I felt could be a doubtful stayer is my lay of the day and the stars have aligned as some of my UK punters from yesterday find me in the stand. A grand at 6/4 and two separate  monkey bets at 5/4 are struck and the next 90 seconds or so will decide my day. Strangely I’m still confident we can get her beat. When these Ballydoyle horses were by Galileo I used to fear taking them on, they just had a will to win that not many could match. No Nay Never is no Galileo , Mediate is outstayed and is comprehensively beaten by Tahiyra but this race may have been an exceptionally strong renewal. 2 good fillies for the future. A few quid ahead and with very little to get excited about I go for a wander around the enclosure as the rain begins to ease off. I’ve been quite critical of the Curragh in the past and continue to be at times but they could really do with catching a break. The weather Gods really haven’t been kind to them again on another big day.

I come back to the pitch a few minutes before the National Stakes and I see we are standing Aesops Fable’s for a good few quid. Dad tells me the English punters have played again. Aesop’s doesn’t show up atall today and is beaten 2 furlongs from home.

Kyprios wins a thrilling St Leger but we do no damage on the race, not because we fancied him but because we held very little…. This day is beginning to drag….

The last 2 races are ran and theres nothing exciting to report, we were there in body but not in spirit.

We come out of the Curragh with a few quid and no equipment rain damaged. A good result all round.

A fantastic two days racing has come to an end and I thoroughly enjoyed the action on the track. Day 1 business was very strong, Day 2 was diabolical. The Curragh unfortunately is in trouble from an attendance point of view. We invested a reasonable sum in a new pitch but it has proven to be a poor decision. We will take it on the chin, that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I held more on the bumper in Ballinrobe on Friday night than any group 1 on Sunday.  Many criticised the old Curragh facilities but the new development has lost all the old charm and magic that the old place created, its lost the locals, the atmosphere, the sense of occasion and its soul. The new facility is like a boxer on the ropes and its sad. Greats should never end up this way and this place was once great. I always believed it would regain its mojo and be back bigger and better than ever before but now even I am beginning to doubt. I would love to attend a forum or meeting with relevant authorities where stake holders and racegoers could give their views on how to get people back to some of these courses in a constructive way. I race over 100 days a year and many of my colleagues do much more, I feel we could have something to offer. We have a vested interest of course but I also love the sport and want to see it thrive and prosper for future generations.

Nobody would love to see the Curragh fight back off the ropes and come out swinging next year more than me. Will it happen? Even the die hard supporters are beginning to think of throwing in the towel. I’ll give it one more round next year and if things don’t improve we will have to consider asking the ref to stop the fight.

See you in Listowel,