I suppose the background to it is that this is the week of Cheltenham. For anyone interested in National Hunt racing, you need only say the word ‘Cheltenham’ and they’ll know what you mean, you don’t even have to mention ‘racing’. No, this is the zenith, the ultimate goal, the peak of the season for followers of jumping horses.
I’ve never been there, though maybe some day I’ll visit the spot by the Cotswold hills that draws so many thousands of Irish race-goers each March.
Going to Cheltenham is on my ‘bucket list’ alright, but the list seems to lengthen each year!
I have but a passing interest in horses and racing, which is kind of strange because I live in the heart of horse breeding and horse racing countryside. There’s as many owners and breeders around here as you’ll find in any parish in Ireland.
Generally speaking, nowadays my racing involvement stretches little further than directing the traffic on one Sunday each May when we have our local Point to Point race meeting here.
Years back, we’d often go to Listowel for maybe two days during the September Racing Festival in the north Kerry town. For several years we milked the cows in the morning, struck for Listowel, back home about seven or eight o clock, milk the cows again and repeat the procedure again the next day. ’Twas more of a tradition than anything else — I never made much money, to be honest I never tried too hard!
I recall, the year Cork drew with Meath in the All Ireland Football Final, meeting playwright and writer Brian McMahon in Listowel. Anyhow, when the Echo Sports Editor contacted me on Monday to write a ‘Tips’ column for the day’s paper I was kinda surprised. Maybe he thought that I knew more about horses than I know I don’t!
Well, we had horses long ago, working horses, and then for a few years in the 1970s we had a brood mare and a racehorse of sorts. The racehorse was called Stormy something or other, so if I had placed a bet last Tuesday — especially with Storm Gareth on the way — I’d have backed Stormy Ireland who finished second.
Here’s where the ‘random thoughts come in — I tend to look at the runners and riders, like for today at Cheltenham, and it isn’t ‘form’ I’d be looking at.
Now, if you want to know about form and what horse won, where and when then, ask my cousin, Jane Mangan, she’s a dinger at that side of the sport and has a daily tips column for Cheltenham in this very paper.
With Jane, it’s a case of ‘been there and done that’ whereas my “skill” (note the inverted commas!) at punditry comes from absolutely nowhere, only coincidences or names I’d like.
Last Tuesday was a tough auld day for us, full of nostalgia and the like. You see, back in 1981, when we got married, we got a present of a washing machine from my parents in law. For close on four decades, week in, week out, that washing machine was on the go and never gave an ounce of trouble. Last week it finally came to a shuddering halt.
“Well, it owes ye nothing,” was the well used comment of several neighbours who called in over the weekend when the news broke of the demise of the appliance. Ni bheidh a leithéid ann arís and ‘They don’t make ’em like they used to’ were other sayings we heard.
Well, when the man with the van came on Tuesday to take away the old reliable washing machine and install the new one, I thought of my late father-in-law, Jimmy Meade. Like me, he was more interested in hurling than horses but, lo and behold, I got inspiration when looking at today’s card for Cheltenham.
In the second race at 2.10pm, the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle, there’s a horse running called Coole Cody. Well, my father-in-law’s mother was Margaret Murphy from a place called Coole, near Castlelyons, and wasn’t his paternal grandmother’s mother a Cody woman — so there’s Coole Cody. He was second last time out in Sandown on February 2.
In trying to come up with some ‘sure things’ for today and tomorrow in Cheltenham, I noted that while there were four Irish winners on Tuesday — which wasn’t unusual — there were also four horses with French names won. Says I to meself, ’tis a kind of French invasion pre-Brexit and all that, so the French horses with French names might be safe bets — only to see that there are heaps of ’em!
I had picked Defi de Seuiel and Voix du Reve as bankers in the opener today, but I’m not so sure now!
When I told a friend of mine yesterday that I’d got a job as a racing tipster he replied: “John, I thought you’d be better as a storyteller than predicting winners”. I didn’t take any offence as none was meant but, lads, what horse is number 11 in the Ryanair Chase today — yes The Storyteller, ridden by Davy Russell from Youghal, chalk it down.
Looking at the 4.50 race today — the Mares Novice Hurdle but better known as the Dawn Run race, named after the Rathcormac-bred mare who won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1986 — well, my fancy is the aptly named Dawn Shadow. Trained by the Irish Grand National winning trainer of 2013, Dot Love, and ridden by in-form Rachael Blackmore, the 50-1 chance might be worth a few euro each way at least.
Getting back to my father-in-law, his sister was married to Johnny Fitzgerald and Johnny’s brother Paddy was married to a third cousin of Jimmy Meade.
Paddy’s sons, Ned and Dinny, are well known butchers in Fermoy. Great sportsmen, they hurled with St Catherine’s in their younger days and their sons with Castlelyons and Bride Rovers.
Dinny Fitzgerald lives at Lisnagar, Rathcormac, and is a great horsey man — an owner, breeder and trainer. A few years back, he got a French-bred mare Asta Belle from a friend of his. From this and a sire called Oscar was born Lisnagar Oscar in 2013. After winning a point to point race in Liscarroll in March of last year, Dinny sold the gelding across the Irish Sea. Now owned by the Racing For Fun syndicate and trained by Rebecca Curtis, Lisnagar Oscar runs in the Alfred Bartlett Novice Hurdle tomorrow, Friday, at 2.50pm.
It’s a long, long way from Lisnagar to Cheltenham, but a few years back, when Roger Sweeney won the Foxhunters Chase in 2012 and 2013 with his son Colman riding Salsify, there was mighty celebrations in the Bride Valley and maybe ’twill be the same this week.
So there ye have it now, my ‘random thoughts’ for today and tomorrow.