Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Back to the Curragh

It’s a long time since I visited the Curragh – a racecourse I first encountered when my mother took me to Chamier’s eventful Irish Derby back in the mists of time. It was Oaks Day and I had a horsey friend visiting from the USA so off we went . No one had told me it was under renovation. The main stand, which overlooks the final furlong, was completely blocked off and the viewing area confined to a narrow strip along the rails that could fit only a couple of hundred. The alternative, temporary stand was set at an angle to the rails opposite the run off area – well beyond the winning post. Neither option, rails or stand, allowed you to follow the progress of the race until the final furlong or so. To do that you had to watch the big screen (a TV experience). It’s farcical that they ran an important race like the Oaks in such a ramshackle venue. It should have been switched to Leopardstown. In the UK they regularly switch venues for important races to facilitate renovation.

However, we made the best of it and my mood was certainly improved by getting a few decent priced winners. Also, a friend got us into the parade ring where we rubbed shoulders with all the players. We shamelessly sidled up to Aidan O’Brien’s huddle as he gave instructions to his three jockeys before the Oaks. A lot of good it did them as it transpired. Mainly it was good to get up close to the gorgeous horses, the lithe young fillies and the burly old sprinters. The usual personalities were around. Tracey Piggot is a dire presenter but I was impressed with her energy and enthusiasm as she dashed about. She’s certainly aging gracefully. Not so alas Ted Walsh and Robert Hall. Walsh’s atrophied shtick has grown wearisome. Check out the way he refers to jockeys by their first names, a familiarity those listening may not enjoy. Neither have the personality to front a show and their cosy insider demeanour lacks bite and insight. They should be put out to pasture - there’ll be no need to geld them. But getting out of RTÉ is far more difficult than getting into it so I suspect we’re lumbered with the old bores ‘til they’re hauled off to the knacker’s yard.

I also saw Pat Smullen in the parade ring. He was looking fine after his recent bout of cancer. His erstwhile boss Dermot Weld was also around – seemingly ageless apart from the dodgily-dyed black hair. A good egg. The main event was an exciting race. I fancied O’Brien’s Forever Together, in part because she had done me a favor in the English Oaks, but also because she had form over the O’Brien’s other runner, the favourite Magic Wand. Things worked out according to plan until about just before the line where my girl was grabbed by the William Haggas trained Sea of Class. Painful.