THE annual point-to-point race meetings which take place in 70 locations across Ireland contribute significantly to many rural communities.
They are important dates in the calendar in each area, social events passionately supported by parishes across the country, though in the latest update of Covid restrictions they were put on hold this winter.
“The point-to-points were always a notable date in venues around the countryside,” says Killeagh dairy farmer and horse breeder, Frank Motherway, who lives at Yellowford Farm nestled in the lush green fields near Killeagh.
“The races are a community event and a popular social event that people of all ages look forward to. Racing fans always look forward to meeting up at the point-to-points."
Point-to-points are part of Irish life.
“The local involvement is tremendous, with willing volunteers fencing off the racecourse and getting the ground prepared for the vehicles, horseboxes, food vendors, and so on.”
The point-to-points are like a mini-festival.
“The local point-to-points are embedded in rural communities. There is always a great buzz around the event.
“People make a living from the races, the rental of tents, the people who provide fencing and the farmers who give the use of their land all benefit from the event."
Now, because Covid has played havoc with events everywhere, the point-to-points are stopped in its tracks impacting horse-breeders, prospective buyers, jockeys, punters and local volunteers who all muck in to make every meeting a success.
“National hunt meetings, like Leopardstown, are continuing behind closed doors amid the latest restrictions,” says Frank, 67, who has over 40 years of wheeling and dealing in horses behind him.
Frank travelled up to Ballsbridge in 1972 where Goffs sales company operated from at the time where he purchased a filly for 690 guineas, Raise You Ten, to go point-to-point racing with as a pastime.
“Point-to-point racing officials pressed pause on the 2020-2021 season due to the third National lockdown and rising coronavirus numbers.
“Hopefully the point-to-points can crack on again after March 5 when the Government reviews the situation. We can get going again in the summer in a safe secure manner with social distancing in place.”
The big wide open spaces lend themselves to people converging for a good day out in a safely distanced environment.
Point-to-points are the lifelood of the racing industry in Ireland and it is where the jockeys of note rode their way to the winning posts when they were amateurs. Paul Carberry, Ruby Walsh, Davy Russell and Adrian Maguire began their careers at local point-to-points. It is where the talent is spotted.
“The point-to-points offer an opportunity for prospective horse buyers who are looking for top-class pedigree and high-class performance,” says Frank, who commanded €100,000 for April-born colt foal, Walk In The Park at Tattersalls November National Hunt sale.
“The point-to-points are effectively a shop window for buyers looking for good pedigree horses. We constantly strive to improve the quality of our mares and our horses we sell and hope the people who buy them will be lucky.
Many horses start their careers at the point-to-points and then graduate to higher levels in Ireland and the UK.”
Small breeders are the backbone of the community. There are 30 horse breeders in east Cork and when the hammer comes down; it is like being first past the winning post for the owner.
“If there is no racing, then there is no buying and selling happening. The impact of that on both buyers and sellers is huge. There are a number of people involved in the whole process.
“The process works like a conveyor belt and now it has been halted. The movement of stock is crucial, especially when the animal is performing well.”
The green pastures of Yellowford Farm never saw a horse or a foal frolicking in the fields until Frank yielded to the pang to have an involvement in the east Cork point-to-point scene.
“I began tipping away,” says Frank, who is established as a well-known horse trader and has a thriving family business in east Cork.
Did he know anything about the equine trade?
“It was natural enough for us. Calving cows and calving foals are not so different. You realise that you can’t get everything right, but you learn as you go along as things evolve.
“It was a step-by-step process.”
It is a family affair.
“My wife, Liz, and our children Deirdre, Paul, Colin, and Marie are all involved. Deirdre’s husband Conor Cashman, who is a vet, and Paul’s wife, Michelle, are all part of the team.”
Horse breeding and horse training is in the Motherway blood.
“The next generation is coming through.
“The continuity is a good thing because I won’t be around forever! The show will go on.
I’ve a couple of grandchildren and they seem very keen for the game. Cal Cashman is 12 now and he seems to know more about pedigrees than I do at this stage!
“His brother Joe is getting involved too and they enjoy coming to the horse sales with us.”
Connections and friends are made at the horse sales.
“We’ve made great friends over the years. And we are dealing with the same families for a very long time.”
The industry is centred on ancestry. Stock is ultimately judged on how they fare on the track. Often, the buyer will purchase a foal or a filly based on who they are related to.
Among those bred by Yellowford include Lemista, a Group 2 winner on the flat last year for Ger Lyons.
The star of the show, though, is Bellshill, who won 11 of 27 races since arriving into the tranquil surroundings of Yellowford Farm.
Is Frank a regular Cheltenham punter where the luck of the Irish is always to the fore?
“I don’t go regularly to the Cheltenham race meeting.
“But I always watch the races on TV and I have a big interest.
For a small country, we have really made our mark in the world of horse racing. And we have the top people.”
Irish-bred horses consistently celebrate international success and as a result bloodstock exports continue to thrive each year.
“We are the largest producer of thoroughbreds in Europe and the third-largest in the world after Australia and the USA. That is massive.”
Is he a betting man?
“I’m the worst man for betting you could meet! I rarely have a bet.”
So where does he gain?
“The business is very satisfying and it is very rewarding. All the family get great enjoyment and satisfaction from their involvement. It is nice to see.”
There are 40 mares being bred under the Yellowford banner and the majority of stock are sold as foals.
“We consider keeping some of the best fillies to breed or lease to race in the hope of boosting the pedigree and good form."
Frank, who began ‘tipping about’ over 40 years ago is living the dream.
“It is every breeder’s dream to breed a good horse. When it works; it is great.”