Mike Quigley

Irish horse racing, betting and other stuff

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Ballinrobe July 2003

Someone asked me the other day if it was a virtual track. Well I can confirm it is very real, located in the heart of Ireland’s Lake District, the thick end of half an hour’s drive from Galway.   

Arts festival

I’d taken an Aer Arann sixty-seater flight direct from Luton to Galway’s tiny airport on the Friday. This allowed me two nights at Jury’s Hotel to enjoy some of Galway’s arts festival events. My highlights were: banjo player Eamonn Coyne at the Roisin Dubh, Emmett Tinley ex-lead singer of Ireland’s Prayer Boat and a Colin Read/Stephen Rea collaboration which set original music to extracts from Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman. I’d read the latter but never fully understood it. The musical interpretation didn’t change that but nonetheless it was highly entertaining.   
As for Galway itself, here are my recommendations for a first time visitor: fish and chips from McDonagh’s Seafood Bar, Kenny’s bookshop and Nora Barnacle’s house (wife of James Joyce).  

A Sunday morning drive up to Ballinrobe for the two-day meeting, neatly avoiding that evening’s torrential rain in Galway – the heaviest for forty years. I’d arranged to meet my punting pal Adrian at Neale, a village a couple of miles from the track, where we would stay at Templecarrig House, a fine B & B. He had driven south from Knock airport, to which you can now fly low cost from Birmingham with “My Travel Lite”.  

Ballinrobe only race on seven days of the year – all in the summer months. The Sunday afternoon fixture was very busy with entry priced @ 15 euro to all enclosures.  

Baron Aron stick on  

A difficult looking seven-race card was ahead of us with a mixture of flat and jump races around a tight picturesque track. I drew a blank in the first four races but Adrian was clearly on form selecting the opening winner Twice Royal @7/2 and Warrimoo a head winner of the fourth @12/1.

But then in the fifth race, a 2m 1f beginners’ chase, we had what was to be our best bet of the two-day meeting. The lightly raced Baron Aron was early priced @8/1 but traded around 9/2 in the ring. The Racing Post pointed out that the selection had recently finished third to Grand National winner Monty’s Pass in a charity event in Cork! The racecard notes of “betting best advisor to chance” added confidence. A few minutes to the “off” and it was still projecting 15.00 on the Tote! Major punting material! We plunged.  

Three out and Baron Aron was making relentless ground into fourth place. Our selection moved into second at the last before getting up near the line (where we were standing of course) to beat Greco by a neck. The 5/1 S.P. was somewhat eclipsed by our 13.80 dividend!  

Two more blank races to complete the Ballinrobe card before an inspired (lucky) bet on the “away” card at Tipperary. The closing flat race rewarded us when we were at Tipperary last year for what was a superb day’s racing including the first racecourse appearance of The Great Gatsby. On that occasion we backed Francis Crowley’s two selected in the last and collected a 25.30 Tote return on easy winner Merlyn’s Monty.  

The Ballinrobe “away” bookie chalked up 8/1 about the stable’s representative Harry’s Judgement. It was showing 14.00 on the Tote and we thought it warranted an interest. We watched the SIS screens in amazement as the selection led for the whole of the final circuit and held on grimly in the straight to land the spoils.  

After a very successful day’s punting we ended up in “The Old Forge” a tiny restaurant in Neale. We were so hungry we sat down without consulting the menu. This could have been a mistake, as the menu didn’t look too clever - escalope of turkey, chicken supreme, even toasted sandwiches. Then the waitress revealed the day’s special – monkfish and crab claws! What a saver, washed down with a nicely chilled bottle of Yalumba. The pub next door stayed open until way after midnight so plentiful pints of Guinness were consumed to end a perfect racing day.  

The reserve counts  

Monday’s evening card looked more difficult with much bigger fields. There was a sixteen - runner sprint handicap to start proceedings. We backed three outsiders on the Tote – including the reserve Count Altanne. The silence in the stands was deafening as top apprentice Cathy Gannon steered Count Altanne to a two-length victory. S.P. 12/1, Tote dividend 34.10!  

Losing bets in the next three races, including a ridiculous Jackpot bet (chasing the carryover) in which we bankered an odds-on chance in a sixteen-runner handicap! Will we ever learn? The day was to end profitably however thanks again to the fifth race, this time a mere eight-runner chase over the same distance. Tote Ireland, like the British Tote, recently reduced their deductions on win pools. Unlike Britain however the take-out now varies according to the number of runners. The rate has been reduced by half to 10% in races of ten declared runners or less. Thus we faced a win pool that was competitive with the ring prices on offer.  

Two selections were made with the principal, Load and Lock, out jumping the field to score by five lengths. A big drifter in the ring from 11/2 to 8/1 but a return of 11.10 on the Tote for us.  

Remarkably, given the size of the fields, we had enjoyed two profitable days racing. Winnings covered at least half the cost of the holiday. Another Irish track ticked off – and an excellent one too – with just Tralee in the south to visit. Tralee is under threat of closure so I must get there soon to complete the set.  

July 2003