Today’s post comes from Stuart King (juan_the_man21 on twitter) all about Irish racing. I hope you enjoy.
Through this blog I want to review 3 of my visits to the Irish racing shores within 2019. Over the last few years I have begun venturing over to the emerald isle for my hit of pure thoroughbred racing and it has become somewhat of a fixture in my calendar year on year visiting different racecourses and sampling the local cuisine and nightlife. This blog reviews the three I visited last year.
My first visit was to the home of the newly established Dublin racing festival and the only racecourse within county Dublin. A 2 day festival with the quality I think, to rival if not surpass that of Cheltenham week. That said it is much easier to establish quality races within 2 days than it is the current 4 at Cheltenham. 2018 wetted our appetites with stellar performances from Footpad, Min, Supasundae, Samcro and the fairytale that was Edwulf winning the Irish Gold Cup even if it did cost me a nice Trixie.
2019 we saw the likes of Commander of Fleet win the 2m6f novice hurdle, then a performance from Apple’s Jade that had all the hallmarks at the time of a champion hurdles heroine and finally a bumper performance from Envoi Allen that had us all licking our lips for the 2019/20 season. Sir Erec duly followed on the Sunday and I thought we had seen the future stars but sadly Sir Erec was ill fated at Cheltenham when seemingly carrying the substantial wagers of many racing fans. Other top class wins were gained by Klassical Dream, Bellshill and Santa Rossa. This gives you an idea of the quality races Leopardstown offers and for the racing fan there is no better to place to see such quality racing over the course of 2 days.
The transport to the racecourse from the airport is very good indeed. There is a shuttle bus with pick ups throughout Dublin which drops you at the doorstep of the Clayton Hotel (extra bonus if your staying there), there is then a max 10 min walk to the racecourse. Definitely avoid the taxi’s unless you have your gold card ready, we fell for that on our first visit.
For the last 2 years we stayed at the Clayton hotel 2018 & 2019. It has to be said the second year there was much more atmosphere, I think helped by the fact Ireland and England we involved in a 6 nations titanic tussle. I did however notice the prices we on the increase from the first festival in 2017 so we are taking a leap of faith this year and booked an Air B and B in central Dublin.
We also paid a visit to the ‘Lep inn’ again that had good atmosphere and decent food but it was exceptionally busy. Other than the Lep there isn’t much in Leopardstown itself for evening entertainment. The racecourse put a band/ singer on and many people stayed after racing, this is the only element to me that the Dublin racing festival could improve upon, maybe they could take a leaf out of Galway’s book?
To the other side of Ireland and the west coast, when the wind if blowing make sure you have your best Thermal coat because even at the beginning of August you are more likely to come back with Pneumonia than your pockets full! But then again Galway isn’t as much about the racing as Leopardstown but more about the craic and the atmosphere. The reputation of Galway spreads far and wide and we as race goers wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
We landed at Dublin, collected our car from Avis and off we popped, pretty much one direct road from Dublin to Galway but whatever you do, don’t take the wrong exit at the first roundabout we ended up at the docs with the armed Garda. Once on the right road and the three wise men set on the journey this time in the right direction!
A couple of hours drive and we arrived at the apartments, we heard that the place to drink after racing was at the Clayton so we found some cheap apartments right next door to the Clayton. Check in was effortless and the room clean and spacious no need to pay 3 times the price to be in the Clayton. The second time we went we splashed out on the Clayton and I have to say they didn’t cater in the slightest for residents and they had no specific bar to be served at after racing. You can quite easily stay 100yards away for one third of the price and enjoy the vibe at no extra cost.
To the racing we went full of hope and excitement, a mix of flat and jumps, day an evening racing consisting of 7 days of bundles of handicaps and full speed cavalry charges with the odd sprinkling of class, but never discount the market movers. ‘Small’ trainers seem to make hay there, Sheila Lavery and Ado McGuiness I keep a particular eye on. We however can not last the full 7 days, we dropped from 3 days to 2 this year and went for the Monday and Tuesday of the festival. Good times for the O’Briens and Mr Mullins but even better for when Saltonstall won the premier Handicap at SP 9/1. A few Guinness were sunk courtesy of that one. But my fondest memory of all and something I never do is back a name rather than study the form and after the run in with the Garda on route to the festival in 2017, Mr De Bromhead ran a horse called Three Wise Men and these 3 wise men duly emptied the satchels of the bookies and had a night I presume I enjoyed as I can’t remember!
This leads me directly on to the reason why Galway is much loved within the racing community, we have done it the cheap way and the more expensive way but we always end up having the same enjoyable time. Yes the racing is a complete minefield but the craic and the atmosphere is the best I’ve ever experienced. Galway centre has pubs and bars aplenty, standing room only and lots of live music to choose from. I must also say that if you ever visit Galway and you have rented a car take a trip to Clarinbridge and visit Paddy Burke’s they have the finest baked Oysters and seafood chowder!
My final visit to Ireland in 2019 was my first ever visit to the Listowel Harvest festival, another 7 day meeting within the Irish racing calendar. This was a rather last minute
decision, no accommodation was available near the racecourse and we ended up staying in Limerick not too far but far enough to be a slight inconvenience at an Air B and B called Willmount on Ennis Rd only a walk across the bridge from the centre, which I have to say for the money was brilliant value and I couldn’t fault it.
The drive to Listowel proved to be shorter than expected as the roads were clear of traffic and the routes connecting Dublin to the likes of Galway and Limerick on the west coast are very easy to drive and are flowing. We took a walk around Listowel itself and we soon realised why there was no accommodation available. We only managed to spot 1 place to stay in the centre. That is not to say there aren’t anymore however if you’re looking to go and want to stay in Listowel you will need to book early. It is a quaint little town with all the amenities but if you’re like us and you like the craic then I can’t imagine it being buzzing in a similar manner to Galway.
Onto the racecourse and after being to Leopardstown and Galway I was expecting something similar and when we walked in it was very similar to that of a Ripon or Catterick somewhere between the 2 is the best way to describe it. However the use of space was very good, plenty of places to get a pint of the black stuff and several food stations with plenty to offer. The parade ring was easily accessible and the viewing very good, however if you want to watch by the rails it does feel as though you are below the track so to speak.
The racing started off fantastic with an EW steal in the first on a horse I have ear marked as one to follow, given a cunning ride from Derrick Fox, For Everyone nipped round the inner and obliged at 14s. He hasn’t run since but he gave weight and beat a horse called A Wave of The Sea whom has since run in a Grade 2, I suggest For Everyoneis is put in more notebooks than mine. Shock in the second Stratum gets turned over but surprisingly then wins the Ceasarewhich! Zola then breezes in at Even money after a massive drift and Wicklow brave shows all his class to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Cabaret Queen then finishes second and goes back to Listowel to win the Munster National.
On the Monday racing reverted back to the flat, oh no was the cry after the first day success. A couple of EW pokes were not enough to stem the flow of cash back to the bookie’s satchels. I somehow managed to miss a Hogan handicap blot and the good thing of the day Lancaster House. Franklin Street for JP O’Brien stemmed the flow with a good performance and the performance of the ill fated Angel’s Amy was a sight to behold routing the opposition by 7L over 8F. The lucky last a statement I have never believed in until the last race on the Monday, a paddock pick John Oxx’s, Clockers Corner looked the part and at 10s the price was too big to pass up. The butcher and I duly rowed in with cash aplenty EW, we didn’t need the EW element he duly hosed up. I do have put a special mention to Tuesday’s flat race as Soviet Pimpernel beat The Little Yank both of whom I think could be good horses over the coming 18 months.
After the success at the races we ventured into Limerick centre buzzing with students this was not the butcher’s scene but a tour round the pubs ensued and many a pint of Guinness was drunk. On our walk back through the city we stumbled into a small bar one for the road, why not, a bottle of Jameson’s later I don’t think we knew what day it was. Cheers to John Oxx! The following days drive back to Dublin Airport I spent cursing Mr Oxx for getting me in that state!
In summary all the trips above were done on a budget and as you all know these can be as expensive as you want to make them but for example the trip to Listowel including car (not petrol) and tickets was done on around £120 each whereas the trip to Galway staying in the Clayton opposite the racecourse was just shy of £300 per person. Some even do Leopardstown in the same day due to the transport links back to Manchester.
For the purist Ireland is most definitely worth a visit and I would recommend it to anyone.
Thank you for reading this post, I really hope you enjoyed it as much as I did when Stuart sent it to me! I will see you all in my next post, which is going to be a horse racing Q&A where I am answering all of your questions. If you have any questions you’d like answered there is a question box on my Instagram story right NOW so make sure you head over there: instagram.com/zoelouisesmithx and ask me any questions you have racing related. See you all the weekend with that post!