Sport

Column: A National Treasure

Apr 16, 2021 17:04 By Sean McCaffrey
Column: A National Treasure Column: A National Treasure
Rachael Blackmore and Minella Times on their way to winning the Randox Grand National for trainer Henry de Bromhead and owner JP McManus at Aintree on Saturday. Photo: Grossick Racing/Racing Post
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Horses for courses and Jockeys are for backing

If you have any interest in sport, you will always have an eye or ear on all that is happening in the sporting world. Obviously some disciplines will garner more attention for you than others.

In my own case it would be GAA, Motorsport and Soccer in that top three order, mind you conversations/debates/arguments at home would beg to differ from that as it is a regular query as to

What are you watching now? Is there nothing else but sport on? I didn’t know you watched Golf! Seriously there is two rugby matches on today one after the other! please don’t tell me Basketball is your thing now!

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When it is competitive you are sucked in, knowledge of rules, players or teams maybe me minimal, but the interest is always there.

In recent times, horse racing has come onto the radar. Obviously the success of one Rachael Blackmore at Cheltenham followed up by that historic National at Aintree, the craving for some live sport and a chat to a local horse trainer and owner perked the interest. Prior to Covid-19, (seems strange to think there was a time before lockdown) an open day was held at the well known Shabra Stables which were established by the late racing character Oliver Brady (Ballybay for Drinking Tae fame), now run and managed by Anthony McCann, who received his early horse education under the aforementioned Mr Brady.

To see the facilities, care and attention that these horses receive was an eye opener. Prior to our visit a new Horse spa system had been installed alongside a swimming pool.

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To this day I still have an image of the horses coming in from the gallops, going for their cool down in the water before relaxing with a nosebag of oats and a spa treatment. Up close and personal, the horses are elite, lean mean muscular four legged athletes all with their own personalities and traits.

One in particular that perked the interest was Togoville, a grey gelding that gave the impression of been there done that! But still has a bit to offer!

As the lockdown kicked in and sport came to a stop, horse racing was able to make an early return, behind closed doors and obviously with strict conditions. The craving for some live sporting action saw the attention turning towards Shabra Stables and lo and behold there he was; Togoville, making his own little bit of news and history.

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The all-weather track at Dundalk became his domain, while his first win in the Wee County venue came in December 2014, finding his second wind towards the end of 2020 and the early part of 2021; passing the post first, completing a record of 14 wins in 56 runs with eight seconds and five thirds. His status at the venue is now legendary, with one wondering if that sort of record will be matched or broken. His personality as a horse also grabbed your attention, as his wins totalled up, I found myself regularly checking the runners at Dundalk to see if he was going to be there, and then taking it a step further and looking to get coverage, mostly online of the race and urging him on to another victory.

Was there a 50 cent bet on his nose? Maybe; but it was more a case of wanting him to win, set a record and show there is live in the old horse yet.

I’m not sure if 11 is old in horse years.

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His final victory came on the 26th of February, with me urging him on via my phone on the kitchen table, I can only imagine what it must have been like for those that had access to the track. He did run again after that, but one got the impression that he knew he had made his mark and set the record, there was no more to give and this week it was announced that he is set to retire with his record and enjoy his days on grassy paddocks.

May he enjoy it! From Dundalk the attention turned to Cheltenham which was held back at the start of last month.

A festival that is hard to miss or avoid as it does attract major media attention and maybe more so this year due to being behind closed doors and the fact that one Rachael Blackmore was there!

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In total the Tipperary jockey had six winners at the festival with yes the Champion Hurdle among them and her historic exploits ensured the sport got prime time coverage and no doubt won over a host of new followers. The festival was also noted for the success of trainer/owner Henry De Bromhead. Armed with these two names, sure I was a font of knowledge now on the racing game, I made my picks for the Aintree Grand National.

In the short few months of gaining an interest in the sport, I went from knowing about the horse to knowing about the jockey and its trainer/owner.

Another couple of 50 cents were burning a hole in my pocket so there was an each way on Rachael to win the national and then a flick down to the bottom of the runners where Henry also had a 100-1 Balko Des Flos, with my eager punter instinct telling me, it can’t be a bad horse if Henry’s name is alongside it and after all in the National anything can happen.

Again the rest is history, as I galloped around the sitting room urging home Rachael, who has since noted that she could hear the commentator at the race track saying she had a four length lead and at that point she knew she was going to win, I am convinced my whooping and shouting could also have been heard by her and indeed it got louder as Balko Des Flos done the dutiful and took second place.

The 50 cent splash out proved to be a good investment, not a major earner, but the sense of been a winner is still hard to beat.

Having a bet adds to the thrill of the race but it should be noted the dark and difficult world that gambling can become for some, so at all times caution should be exercised  when talking or writing about it. I am not sure if it is a balance that I found where I can watch or listen to a race and be routing for the horse, just for them to make their mark, or go with a pairing that has a vested interest in my 50 cent each way bet and feel the thrill of seeing that investment been a good one or not.

The Champions league has brought back a bit of reality to my sporting life, the World rally championship will continue that reality and with the resumption of the GAA action next month, there is no doubt that horse racing will move down the pecking order.

Operating in the sports reporting field will ensure always to keep a working knowledge of what is happening on the courses, but as the sporting scene hopefully moves back to some level of normality, the inkling to part with the 50 cent will become less and less, the imaginary riding of an Aintree winner around the kitchen table will diminish and the urging on of a little grey horse to make his mark will become a memory.

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