WITH the Irish racing scene back up and running, local trainer, Jimmy Mangan, is now counting down the days to the return of his winter horses, and to the start of the point-to-point season.
July 1 will see the Grand National-winning handler’s yard return to some level of normality, after what has been a very trying time.
With his injured stable star, Castlebrook, also on the mend, the Conna trainer is cautiously optimistic about the months ahead.
“We’re keeping going. I’d be hoping to have two horses back shortly. From the first of July on, I’ll be starting [properly then]. The point-to-points are going to start early this year. But I wouldn’t run them [early on] if the ground was fast.
“The last few months have been very challenging. The minute the racing stopped, the whole lot of the stables were empty.
“The stables never got such a cleaning with power washing and painting; just to keep the lads employed more than anything.
“It’s been trying times for everybody really. At least the virus has stayed away from around here; that’s the main thing.
“Just before the racing started up on the television, it was unbearable. You’d nowhere to go and fellas were getting bored out of their mind. At least we have the racing now.
“Please God, the people who are into GAA will have a few games of hurling shortly. Fingers crossed, normality will come back in some little way,” Mangan told The Echo.
Castlebrook is the pick of the string at Mangan’s yard. The Cork/Waterford point-to-point graduate has shown some very promising form, since his impressive point success at Tallow in 2017.
A strapping son of Oscar, he won his beginners’ chase in the autumn of last year, before finishing third, in a conditions race, at Gowran Park. He was last seen running into the money in a grade one contest, when third behind Faugheen, at Limerick, over Christmas.
The seven-year-old gelding is currently recuperating, after suffering a hock injury in the lead up to his intended run in the Thyestes Chase.
Looking towards the future, his trainer is hopeful more than confident, about a potential racecourse return for the yard’s flagbearer, who runs in the famous colours of the Ann and Alan Potts Partnership.
“The vets are very pleased with him. He just rides up the road for a bit of exercise. They did a brilliant job down in Fethard [Equine Centre] with him. They are keeping a close eye on his progress.
“At the moment, he’s sound and everything is going the right way. It’s early days yet and we are still keeping the fingers crossed.”
Mangan admits that, despite racing being forced to a close in March due to the current pandemic, racing between the flags may not have run for the entirety of the season regardless, as a result of the unusually quick ground conditions this year.
“The Covid came for the point-to-points. But the ground got so firm this year — it was the driest March or April nearly in history — so I think the points might have come to a close fast this year anyway with the ground.
“A lot of people had their horses geared up, ready to run. [As well as that] you take the early point-to-points this year, the real good ones, they don’t seem to get the runners now. They are not being supported anymore, which is very disappointing,” he said.
Mangan was among the winners before the shutdown, in March, when Misty Adage triumphed under Seán O’Keeffe, at Clonmel.
The grade one-winning trainer also saddled three winners in the shortened point-to-point season, courtesy of Arvicta (Tallow), Bandon Bridge (Ballindenisk), and Not For Sale (Kinsale).
National Hunt racing resumes on Monday, with a meeting at Limerick.
Mallow racecourse, meanwhile, is set to host its first meetings since lockdown next month, with fixtures scheduled at the local track for July 5, 12, and 24.
The point-to-point season will get under way at the proposed earlier date of September 14, with additional autumn fixtures expected to be added to the programme.