Mike Quigley

Irish horse racing, betting and other stuff

   Home      Early trips
Wexford, Gowran and Leopardstown March 2000
 
Following a massively profitable Cheltenham (thanks partly to Alan Potts for the Preview advice to back Edredon Bleu (8/1) and Honeymount (10/1)!), it was time for another racing weekend in Ireland. We had chosen to visit Wexford on St Patrick's Day, the day after the Cheltenham Gold Cup. A ninety-mile drive south of Dublin. The course was packed, as it was a Bank Holiday. Bit of a gaff track though and only worth visiting to cross off the list. Just six tracks left now. The only thing I liked about it was the venue name-Bettyville Park. No horses worth a mention.

We left the track early to check out our hotel -White's - in the centre of town. The bar was full of revellers at 5.00pm, already out of their heads. The Hotel Leisure Centre was closed- because it was a Bank Holiday! Good job they don't have that attitude at the racetrack. We took the Hotel Manager to task over the lack of facilities and the noise in the corridors during the night. Surprisingly he halves our bills on departure.

A bright spring Saturday morning and we drive up the Kilkenny road to Gowran Park to tackle the eight-race card. Feature is an Irish Grand National Trial, a sixteen-runner handicap. In contrast to Wexford, this is one of our favourite tracks with superb viewing and decent facilities for a rural racecourse. We back three outsiders in the race including the winner Northern Sound at 16/1. The latter was only 5th two out and stayed on really well over this 3-mile trip. Might have a squeak at Fairyhouse if she gets good ground (on Easter Monday) and is not too far out the handicap. After a long absence, the top weight Lucky Town also stayed on well to finish 8th and is Aintree bound. The only other winner of note was Sackville in the Novice Hurdle, who could run up a sequence. We leave after the 7th and head up to Dublin.
Two nights in the Stakis Hotel now owned by Hilton of course. I think it was better managed under Stakis, but as long as the prices don't go up it will remain good value. For a Saturday night the City is the quietest I've ever experienced.Everyone is zonked out from St Patrick's. Not Bob Geldof though, who strolls into Doheny & Nesbitt's while we're enjoying a pint of Guinness. Dinner at La Mere Zou - King Scallops and SA Chardonnay - before we head on down to the Porterhouse for some Oyster Ale and fabulous live music.

Another sunny day and Leopardstown looks beautifully turned out. Sitting in Fillies Café Bar overlooking the Parade Ring before the 1st of eight races, a sense of optimism prevails after a winning day at Gowran Park. However we spend the afternoon punting the tote "fruit machines" with very little success.

The race everyone is interested in is the 2.5-mile Harcourt Handicap Hurdle, which strangely is the warm up race for three Grand National entries. Papillion (3rd) may go to Fairyhouse. Bobbyjo (5th) & Merry People (6th) have Aintree commitments. We ignore the warm up horses and manage to land the dual forecast- one of few winning bets of the day. We fail to latch on to the chances of Enterprising in the Bumper, an impressive winner for Jessica Harrington. His last Bumper run, albeit back in June, was second to Cheltenham winner Joe Cullen at Tralee!

We retire to the Icon Bar mentally exhausted from three days punting- a losing weekend but only a small dent in the Cheltenham returns. What a terrific week's entertainment.
 
Sligo August 1999
 
With so many trips to Ireland over the last five years it has suddenly occurred to us that we could end up visiting all the ROI tracks. In my case I was already up to fifteen (sixteen if you include Phoenix Park) which left ten to go. We had planned a week's racing that could in theory take in a possible four new tracks. The feature of the week was to be the two day fixture at Sligo- right over on the west coast. We flew to Dublin early on Tuesday 8 August and drove towards Roscommon, stopping at Athlone right in the centre of the country. Sean's Bar was the place for the first pint of Guinness on Irish soil. Situated on the Shannon the pub dates from at least 1630, the oldest in Ireland. We visit the local betting shop after lunch and make a case for M.Channon's Otime in the Bath 2pm. Unbelievably it just gets home at 14/1 - 5% tax too!! The locals think we are some sort of professional outfit and ask us what's going to win the next but we don't have the time to tell them.

We press on to Roscommon for the evening meeting. Not a very inspiring track. Similar to Thurles and Clonmel. Steeped in history though as NH racing has been here since 1837. However we are impressed by the improvements made in the Tote system, introduced a few months ago. All tracks now have tickets which show the name of the horse backed. In addition there are betting terminals for credit clients so you don't have to queue. The only problem with these is it's a bit easy to get carried away -Vegas style- as you don't have to hand over any cash!

Racing is marred by Charlie Swan's bad fall in the first. Favourites win the 2nd, 3rd ,4th so not a lot of scope for our against the crowd theories. Some joy in the 5th with a winning forecast that nearly pays for the evening.
Onwards to the Sligo Park Hotel where we will be staying for the next three nights. 
 
A decent hotel with tennis courts and a swimming pool  but no strangely newspaper service. This proves to be a nightmare as the next three mornings we have to play hunt the Racing Post all over Sligo.The pubs in Sligo are for the main totally unspoilt. Hargadon's is a bit special looking much as it did in 1868 when it opened. Harry's Bar is also worth a look. Soup and toasted sandwich IR£1.35!

Sligo and its environs is known as "Yeats Country" , because of its association with W.B.Yeats. But the place for me was the Yeats Gallery which contains a large collection of the works of Jack B.Yeats - W.B.'s brother and Ireland's most famous
painter. Those of you familiar with his work will know that the horse figures in a number of his paintings. (There are more in the National Gallery in Dublin.) On day one racing is in the evening. Another unimpressive track but a marvellous setting against the mountains. There are a number of big upsets and we are struggling to find a winner. But we have an absolute nightmare at Kempton. We make a strong case for Endymion in the nursery at 13/2. We also play forecasts and tricasts with this one bankered. Inside the final furlong it's a length clear when the saddle slips and the jockey falls off! Unbelievable! We are in shock for the rest of the evening.

Day two at Sligo races is in the afternoon and the rain has arrived. The jackpot has been carried forward from the previous day. We stake a very big perm but go down in the first! Our one winner is Reve De Nuit in the fourth and a large bet is required to make a dent in the jackpot loss. After racing food is needed to improve the mood so we drive out to Drumcliffe (past WBY's grave ) to the Yeats Tavern, which is a bit touristy but the seafood proves magnificent. Another village to look out for is Rosses Point. Go to Austie's or The Moorings if you are interested in sailing.

Friday morning and we have to leave "The Land of Heart's Desire" and roar across the country to Kilbeggan in time for the evening fixture. By now the rain has reached monsoon proportions and it's a pretty grotty drive. This is the third first time track for me and my score moves up to nineteen. Kilbeggan is the only all NH track in the country. There is a huge crowd and a brand new grandstand. The place is mobbed. The card proves mightily difficult and we do our brains.

It's on to our beloved Dublin and accommodation at Trinity College, right in the centre of the city. We are so tired on Saturday we can't face the drive down to Wexford. This one will have to wait for another day. We relax in town over a few drinks and end up at Mange Tout for supper. A bottle each of Chilean Chardonnay sees us off for the night.
Next day more rain and the crowd at Leopardstown for the Heinz 57 is very disappointing. On the way in a programme seller tries to charge Adrian £2 for a £1 racecard. He objects to the price and she retorts "you obviously haven't been racing recently." "Only four times this week " he retaliates!!

The feature race sees Fasliyev three on. O'Brien saddles half the field. After swerving all over the course the favourite runs on strongly to win and later become market leader for the 2000 Guineas. Trouble is he has so many to choose from.
We manage to back a couple of decent winners, looking for those that go in the ground. We finish the afternoon by discovering this amazing new bar at the track which is sponsored by Baileys. We are just too late for the light show but this is the place for a seafood platter next time. There are complementary oysters for the drinkers. Very impressive.
 
On the way back to England the next day we discuss how we are going to visit the remaining seven tracks......
 
Curragh - May 1999
 
Back to the Curragh again for the Guineas meetings. I don't think we've missed one in the last six years. Certainly I still have memories of Turtle Island going ten lengths clear in the mud in 1994. A new hotel to try out - the Stakis - soon to become a Hilton of course, situated a ten minute walk south of St Steven's Green, right on the canal. Adrian had arranged for us to meet a chap called Richard Clark on the Friday night. Readers who are into 2-y-o pedigrees will know who he is. He is the author of a critically acclaimed book on the subject of betting 2-y-o debutantes. 
Adrian is well versed in this and had started this flat season in very good form as a result of the book. Richard reminded me a bit of Alan Potts. Like Alan he had taken a redundancy package and set himself up to become a successful professional punter. We met in the Shelbourne's Horseshoe bar for a couple pints of Guinness. Richard was now resident in Dublin - partly for tax reasons- but was planning to move to Australia in the near future. He had been researching 3-y-o debutantes on a similar basis( trainer/pedigree) but the punting opportunities looked limited. 
We continued our discussions over a meal in La Mere Zou, a short walk from the Shelbourne. Having consumed two bottles of South African Sauvignon Blanc we left the restaurant feeling very jolly- and it wasn't yet eight 'o'clock!
I don't think there will be enough data for the 3-y-o research to be published so I'm sure Richard won't mind me telling you to watch out for debutantes trained by eitherH.Cecil or Chappel-Hyam sired by either Nureyev or Rainbow Quest.

Incredibly Adrian had double booked this weekend with his daughter's wedding so flew back to Birmingham in the morning, returning to Dublin late afternoon. Meanwhile yours truly was down at Heuston station waiting for the Kildare train which would call at the Curragh. Time for the first Guinness of the day though, atRyan's of Parkgate Street just across the bridge- this is one of the finest examples of a Victorian Dublin pub with a very well regarded restaurant upstairs.

The train is packed and I'm lucky to get a seat. Arriving at the track I grab someone to make use of a two for one ticket that Richard gave me, so it costs just £6 to get in - a bit different to Newmarket prices!

The first race is a seventeen runner handicap, ideal for tote comparisons with the ring. I back two horse on the tote- Sandholes ad Star Detector. I can't believe it as the latter comes to take it up close home, £31.70 on the tote and returns 12/1. The next is a 4/9 gimme for the O'Brien 2-y-o Fasliyev so no bet. Confidence high Istick on Bianconi in the next, heavily supported in the ring to evens but holding up at 2/1 on the tote. Fourth. And my jackpot's down at the first leg. Funny old game isn't it?

The next is the 2000 Guineas and the bizarre spectacle of 9 of the 10 runners wearing blue colours. No it's not an Irish version of the Blue Square Shergar Cup. 
We've gotfour saddled by A.P O'Brien, all in Magnier full or part ownership; two Hamdan Al Maktoum and a Godolphin runner amongst the other blue ones. The exception is the one I've supported, Access All Areas, easy to spot in bright red but not as theyapproach the winning post as it trails in sixth. Enrique and the well backed Orpen battle on the far side but Saffron Waldon (now Walden), a huge drifter in the market, steals the show down the middle of the track.

No joy in the next two races but back Mudaa-eb in the last at 3/1 against the O'Brien weak favourite Gengis Khan. Have to survive a Stewards before running to catch the5.45pm back to Dublin.

We have the luxury of the hire car on Sunday so drive out to Bray for a pint before racing. We discover another Porterhouse pub, not knowing that there is more than one. Lingering over a pint of the excellent Oyster ale we arrive as they are at the post for the first. Another O'Brien 2-y-o- Bernstein( recognise the theme here?)- trots up at 1/3 so no bet.  
The most interesting aspect of the day is the £20,000 carryover jackpot from Saturday. It’s big perm time to try and get it. The first leg produces a very impressive performance from H. Cecil’s Shiva who runs on strongly from last year’s winner Daylami.  Many have bankered on the latter so it’s a good start for us. The next leg of the pot is OK as Corrientes(11/2 from 8/1) is one of ours. 
We have four in the 1000 Guineas but fifth place is the nearest we get. Given yesterday’s observation about the 2000, the winner and runner up (drawn2&1 in a 17 runner field) ran down the middle of the track and warranted closer inspection. It could be that the going was very soft near the far rail and that these Classic winners will get turned over next time.(Saffron Walden and Hula Girl).
One of ours wins the fourth leg and the jackpot pays £4000 - but not for three out of four!
No joy in the last so we drive back to Dublin to make some arrangements for the next trip- a visit to Sligo in August.
 
Leopardstown - February 1999
 
A rugby weekend in Dublin and the city is filling up. All the budget hotels are full so Adrian and I are forced up market to the Shelbourne. We convince ourselves that the profits from the November Fairyhouse trip justify the extra expense. We arrive at midday on Friday along with hundreds of French rugby supporters. Following lunch atDavy Byrne’s we retire to the Shelbourne’s leisure centre for a swim and a sauna.

These are relatively new facilities, much underused and a welcome refuge from the torrential rain outside.
The debate as to where to eat that evening concludes with a booking at “ La Mere Zou” a short distance from the hotel. It’s not our first visit and the food is up to its usual high standards. Later over a few pints in Neary’s we discuss what good value the total bill was, before noticing we’ve been overcharged £10! We pop in for a quiet word on the way back to the hotel. Following an orderly stewards enquiry the owner emerges to inform us that a mistake has been made and as a consequence the total bill is null and void. Unbelievably generous!
Saturday morning and we are on our way to Naas. More rain and the car parks are already quite muddy on arrival. The facilities inside however have improved drastically since our last visit some twelve months ago. The card features several large fields which should suit our tote strategies.
Dermot Weld’s Francis Bay enters the Triumph Hurdle picture, with a convincing eight length win in the opening Maiden hurdle. One to watch if it comes up soft on the day.

The first four races provide no winners and an exit in the first jackpot race when J.P.McManus’ The Gatherer is turned over at 4/9. Change of luck in the fifth as we take two against the field. Liscahill Fort leads all the way over 3m and just hangs on at 8/1. We draw at 15/1 on the tote. The penultimate race is no good to us but in the flat race finale Hot Stuff is supported in the ring from 13/2 to 11/2 and by us on the tote. The silks are covered with mud and the commentator calls outsider Manfromuncle as the leader near the line - until at the last moment we realise it’s Hot Stuff with a £10.30 dividend to end a winning day.
Chaos in the car parks as tractors are hard at work extracting racegoers’ cars - including ours - from the deep mud.
Saturday’s restaurant choice is Purdy’s Kitchen in Monkstown. The seafood is superb.
Sunday morning and we splash out some winnings on the Shelbourne breakfast.
Smoked salmon, Parma ham on the bone and of course the full monty from the grill. Live like a king while you can. A complete change in the weather, a bright sunny day and with the drying ground hopes are high for Boss Doyle in the Hennessey, which we have supported at 16/1.
We are about to set of from the hotel when we notice two young girls enquiring about (non-existent) transport to the races. We offer a lift which is accepted. How often would you see two girls going racing alone in England? Let alone accept a lift from two middle aged men.

Leopardsown is packed with what turns out to be 17,000+ spectators. Punters, but not us , get off to a bright start when Knife Edge stakes his claim as a 10/1 chance in the Triumph. On course support takes him from 4/5 to 4/9. Punters strike again when the next two odds on chances Alexander Banquet and Nick Dundee oblige at 1/2 and 4/6 respectively. The latter looked particularly impressive - a superb economical jumper - and would have a chance in this year's Gold Cup if switched from the Royal & Sun Alliance.

Odds on chances are not for us so we hope for some joy in the fourth. Our two against the field finish second and third to Limestone Lad, yet another winning favourite. The second horse Mykon Gold is just run out of it close home at around 16/1 on the tote.

The Hennessy is next up and the crowd is buzzing with anticipation. Only seven runners but we have 1,2,3 Boss Doyle. The latter looks like an underfed greyhound in the parade ring and our confidence slowly melts away. The grandstand resembles the Cheltenham Festival with no standing room whatsoever. Directly in front of us twenty or so spectators have climbed up a wooden fence to improve their view. As they jump the first they all fall. The spectators that is, as the fence collapses beneath them.
Boss Doyle is immediately in trouble jumping slowly in the early stages. In contrast Florida Pearl jumps well and as he takes the lead at the second last the grandstand erupts. In the end the performance is overvalued at 5/2 for the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

However this is the fifth consecutive winning favourite and the punters are happy. Ladbrokes not so as their on-course shops run completely out of cash. Elegant Lord completes a nightmare for the books at evens in the Hunter Chase. We have also drawn a blank but as Adrian remarks in true ' against the crowd ' style: " When the punters win big you expect to lose. "

Leopardstown has been Irish racing at its best, with top quality performances appreciated by the large crowd. Two or three for Cheltenham too, with Nick Dundee the most interesting prospect in his chosen engagement.
The evening is spent at Johnny Fox's seafood restaurant - oysters, wild smoked salmon, prawns and crab. As fresh as you will ever taste. It's been the farmyard for breakfast and the ocean for supper, to conclude another superb racing weekend.
 
Fairyhouse - Nov 1998
 
It had just turned a quarter past two. It was getting tight for the Hennessy. Eight of us arriving at the Harding Hotel near Dublin's Temple Bar. ( No it wasn't a stag weekend, we're far too old for that !). The flight out of Luton had been delayed by fog- we were nearly two hours late. Only one bedroom ready so we all pile in to watch the Hennessy.

I had not played having missed the ante-post value on Barney Curley's suggestion Teeton Mill. They're down at the start and surprise surprise Teeton is 5/1 from 11/4. There's a rush to the bedroom 'phone. Mick gets through to the Tote and is quoted 9/2 but there's no time to argue. I manage to get on a decent bet. The rest is history as the grey comes home fifteen lengths clear. What a great start to the weekend.

There are a few grumblings about the missing 1/2 point as the S.P. is 5/1. But everyone is pretty happy about the result.   We had not planned to attend the Fairyhouse Saturday fixture- just as well as it was approaching three. It's down to the Palace Bar and a few celebratory  pints of the black stuff.     
The city is particularly full as Ireland are playing South Africa at Lansdowne Road. We watch the second half in the pub. Ireland run the world champions close and the PalaceBar punters add to the atmosphere.

Later that evening the pubs are full of green jerseys- both teams' supporters- and the camaraderie is a pleasure to observe. Next day it's an early start as Fairyhouse offers an eight race card. Plenty of transport laid on and we are at the track by noon. It's a bright sunny day and a welcome contrast to London, which had turned very cold. 
he punting strategy is to find the value on the tote. This is actually quite hard to do as the tote display screens are the worst I've ever seen. Basically you get one 1970s colour tv per several thousand punters and this provides win, place and dual forecast on one carousel. The four race jackpot is worthy of close inspection as Istabraq provides a banker in the third leg. The first race is a thirty runner maiden and we take Bay Magic at tote odds of 17 against the ring price of 7. It finishes ninth.Next race is of more interest as it features Merry Gale under twelve stone. We're on Beakstown at 12 on the tote, 6 in the ring. Jumps poorly and finishes last to Fiftysevenchannels. Things can only get better!

The third race is the hottest Novice Hurdle of the season so far: Cardinal Hill, To Your Honour, Alexander Banquet and Sunset Lodge. It's also the start of the jackpot.Cardinal Hill is projected at 13/8. The owner J.P. is here so it's 8/11 on the boards. In the jackpot we field the other three contenders against the favourite. We back To Your Honour at 5/1 on the strength of his winning times.

Cardinal Hill jumps poorly, nearly coming down at the fifth. In a thrilling finish Ruby Walsh on 'Alexander' gets up to beat the jolly by a head. J.P.'s done his dough but we are still in the jackpot. To Your Honour is not disgraced in third and the first three home are certain to figure at the Cheltenham Festival.
The next race goes well for us. We have two runners in the jackpot but strongly fancy Promalee. Ruby does the business again giving his horse a breather two out before storming clear on the run in. Watch out for this one in his chosen Festival engagement. The next race provides the jackpot banker as the fives on chance Istabraq obliges. 
Despite making a bad mistake at the fourth, the horse wins in a canter to the applause of the stands. The way C.F. Swan eases down to win by a cheeky half length makes you wonder whether the connections are sellers of the winning distance! It's hard to see anything dethroning the Champ at Cheltenham. The next is a tricky thirty runner handicap and the climax of the jackpot. We have nine selections in the pot.

Identifying the tote value proves a bit of a test but we find three singles against the field: Three Rivers 16(6 in the ring), My Heavens 51(7), and Belle Starr 64(10). Turning for home there doesn't seem to be many with a chance. More worryingly our nine jackpot entries don't figure in the first five! Belle Starr is leading three out. Our only chance in the race leads at the last and fights off the challenge of Cheeky Harry. It seems like ages before the tote dividend is declared. Finally, we get the good news as the screen flashes up £64.30! The horse returns 10s but we are paid out at 63/1.

Two flat races bring a perfect day's racing to a close. With two selections in each race,we are rewarded with Ingonish £9.90 (6/1) and China Tealeaf £7.50 (5/1).It has proved to be a very profitable weekend. We've won enough to pay for this trip as well as the next one.

On the way back to the hotel we celebrate with a couple of pints of Oyster ale at the Porterhouse (off Dame Street). Strongly recommended - award winning porter brewed on the premises.The evening finishes in Oliver St. John Gogarty's with some traditional music and a few more pints.On the way home the discussion centres on whether to come back for 'The Ladbroke ' in January or wait for the Hennessy on February 7th......
 
Bellewstown - July 2000 
 
Driving up the M11 to Stansted the weather prospects looked bleak. Summer had not yet arrived and the driving rain was hindering progress of commuters in the opposite direction. Our first accommodation was the Boyne Valley Hotel and Country Club, near Drogheda, the attraction its Leisure Centre with artificial grass tennis courts. What price a game of tennis?

I met Adrian at Dublin airport and we hired a car to transport ourselves towards Drogheda some twenty-five miles north of Dublin. Although we had been along this route to Dundalk, we were not familiar with the specific area, which includes the spectacular wide beaches of Laytown where they race on the sand in May.

We checked into the hotel around midday and surveyed the leisure facilities. The weather was surprisingly sunny and warm. There was time for a tennis match and a swim before the short drive to the races. We were both feeling fit and optimistic about the battle ahead. The 2000 Bellewstown Festival consisted of three consecutive evening meetings, eight races from 5.30pm to 9.00pm. Remarkably this is the only racing of the year- how can it be economical? 

Bellewstown is on the top of a hill with stunning countryside views on all sides. The racing is a mixed competitive card. We get stuck in from race two with our tote betting strategy. No luck until race four where we have three bets in the race, including Goldenhalo which just holds on @16/1. Tote return? £41.40!

Adrian befriends the person in charge of the owners' viewing stand and we find ourselves standing next to Ted Walsh, with the best views of the course for the remainder of the evening. No further joy on the punting front and the one big price winner ensures a profit on the evening's activities.
Interestingly the jackpot is not won and hence carried forward to the following day. The fields are much larger on Thursday and the jackpot looks a very difficult call.
Those of you who know me well will be aware of my interest in track bias at certain U.K. tracks. Race two, a maiden over a mile provides some clues to the effect of the draw. A twelve-runner race, the first three home are drawn 2,3,4 with the winner making smooth progress on the inner from trap two to win @16/1. The next three races are over exactly the same trip and encouragingly they are handicap races. Do we have an edge? Worryingly the tote dividends for race two are very low, the winner pays 9s and the DF is only £10.70 against the CSF of £78.88. Do we conclude the punters know all about the track bias?

In race three, a fifteen-runner affair, the favourite is well-drawn in 3 and is gambled down to 7/4. Trap 2 is 9/1 in the ring and 20/1 on the tote.  The others to consider are T4 14/1; T1 33/1. Trap two- Rochambelle - is the value and we play on the tote. At the last moment I cover the top 4 in the draw in 6x £2DFs. We have our eyes glued to Rochambelle who gains ground on the inside but just fails to get up by a neck behind Illusions Tom. It takes a while to sink in that the winner is drawn1! They finished in draw order-1, 2, and 3 - the favourite taking third spot. As I walk back to the tote I'm wondering about the number of clued up punters who have the DF - 33/1 &9/1. The DF pool was less than a grand when I last looked so if there are say six tickets I'll be lucky to get a £150 dividend. As I'm thinking this the dividend pops up on the screen. The DF pays £366.30 for £1 unit. I have a return of £732.60 and have probably scooped the pool.
   
The next two races over a mile do not produce a return, despite both being won by trap 4 (fifteen ran, eleven ran). The good run is not over though as we back Lord Grey in the Handicap Hurdle (SP 12/1, tote £37.40). The Jackpot is carried over again.

After the last we head into Drogheda to celebrate. A chap in the hotel's Jacuzzi had recommended McPhails. What a good judge he turns out to be! This is one of the best pubs I've been to in Ireland. The ubiquitous David Gray plays on the front bar jukebox - how Ireland has taken to him - he is huge over here."…. I've been talking drunken gibberish, falling in and out of bars…" Through to the back and an impressive live music arena. The place was really buzzing.

Friday the weather is still holding so it's more tennis before we concentrate on the double rollover jackpot. We were hoping to make our track bias knowledge pay in our perm but there is only one race over the mile. This is the first leg and we banker the 2&3 draw. They finish second and third and we are out of the jackpot. In the end we hope it's not won so we can come back next year to win it, but two lucky winners scoop £18k each. The evening is not without success and the penultimate race throws up a perfect example of the value principle. There are four horses with a chance: Bless Him, 6/1 in the ring 9/4 on the tote; Aboriginal 7/4 R, 11/8 T, Celtic Minstrel 7/2R, 6/1 T; Fraser Carey 13/2 R, 12/1 T. The first two are over bet on the tote because of their connections. The value lies with the latter two and we play accordingly.

They finish first and second. Fraser Carey wins at 13/2 and pays £12.90 on the tote.

That is the end of a perfect festival. Seventy-five bets in twenty races for a profit on turnover of 95% (all bets proofed to the Editor!). We go back to McPhails for the International Samba Festival (yes it's true) and celebrate late into the night. 

We press on to Dublin on Saturday morning. The intention was to go to Leopardstown but we are too tired and the fields are small. We have to go to a Jack Gamble's shop to collect some ante-post football winnings and this proves to be a big hassle. Some betting shops never seem happy to pay out in my experience. Saturday night it's into town for dinner at La Mere Zou, Turbot and Chablis is the call and well into the second bottle of wine I rashly promise to buy dinner at the Shelbourne if Rafter wins Wimbledon on Sunday.
I'd had a decent bet @ 25/1. Sunday turns out to be a miserable day, Wimbledon is rain interrupted and after leading by a set and 4-1 in the 2nd set tie break Rafter finally loses to Sampras at close to 9pm. No Shelbourne dinner so we end up in the Porterhouse before grabbing a burger takeaway from Abrakebabra (sic). This illustrates the "Diceman " element of the gambler - what a contrast in evening meals thanks to Mr Sampras!   

Monday there is just time for lunchtime theatre at Bewley's in Grafton Street. It's a soliloquy written by Maeve Binchy, who is sat next to us in the audience. Cleverly marketed as " Play with your lunch". Splendid it is too and all for £7.

Only five more tracks to visit now so it's back to London to plan the next trip…
 
Punchestown - Imperial not the call -  Dec 1996 

As usual we caught the "breakfast" flight to Dublin on the Friday morning. Breakfast on the bargain Ryan Air flights (£59 + tax) means a glass of water( still, because fizzy costs 50p). Nevertheless the early departure proved shrewd as afternoon flights were delayed several hours because of the fog.
Yet another trip to Dublin and a chance to try out a new hotel - The Custom House owned by Jurys' Hotels and open just a few months - it's in the Docklands area close to the Financial Centre (near the bus station). It turns out to be excellent value at IR£51 per night (per room -up to three beds ) with easy access to the city centre.

On Saturday morning we opt for the special racecourse bus. This is IR£6 return (44 mile round trip). Presumably because of the attractive card, they manage to fill nearly two coaches. Some of our fellow travellers are actually younger than us. This is a rarity on the race bus. The Dublin tracks in particular have a chronic age profile problem. 
Around half the population of the city is under 25. The core racegoer group is males over 50. The size  of the crowd at Punchestown would graphically illustrate this problem. Despite year on year increases of 8% for racecourse attendance as a whole, less than 4,000 people would attend today's fixture. Enough of the doom and gloom-it's on to the punting!

The first two races provide opportunities for value bets at tote odds. We somehow avoid backing the first winner(8/1 returns £42.20) but collect on the second when Vitus wins at 12/1 (tote returns £22.80). The third race is the start of the jackpot for which we enter a 168@50p perm. The race goes to the well backed Gravity Gate (5/1jtf) in the perm but obviously not our best result. On to the big race of the day and the chance to see Imperial Call on his reappearance.

Both the Gold Cup winner and the Champion Chase winner, Klairon Davis, are very well-backed. We decide to go against the crowd with small investments on RoyalMountbrownie and Merry Gale. Incredibly both the market leaders fall in the race - as they did in the race last year. We consider our wagers extremely lucky as Imperial Call had the race at his mercy at the last. He did not jump particularly fluently throughout the race and told us very little about his chance of retaining the Gold Cup. Good result for the jackpot though.

The next is the Cross Country Chase won by the course specialist Risk Of Thunder in good style. This was his third consecutive win in the event. The last of the jackpotraces throws up a possible for our Grand National. Son Of War, having not won for two years, shouldered 12st 4lbs and stayed on at the finish to beat Second Schedule(11-4) by a length. The 1994 Irish Grand National winner was not far off the pace when blundering and unseating his rider at the Canal Turn in 1996. Keep an eye on the ante-post market.The jackpot pays a respectable £196.90 (for 50p) a profit of £112.90 between us.

In the bumper finale we have the best value bet of the day when Ages Ago opens 9/2 second favourite and shows 25/1 on the tote. We have a significant investment but hecan't beat one - Graphic Equaliser the favourite. Our selection pays £4.80 for a place but we were too greedy!

As we've had such a good day we start to consider the possibility of going to Clonmel on Sunday. We ask about public transport but this appears non existent. Back at the hotel we enquire about a cab. It's 116 miles south of Dublin and the best quote for a round trip is IR£180!

Saturday night we had arranged to meet some friends in a new pub that we had not visited before. This is the "Porterhouse" which brews its own beer in the basement,including three different strengths of porter. We are introduced to an author called Pat Quigley (no relation) who feeds us the idea of hiring a car for the Clonmel trip. We must be completely dumb as this had not occurred to us !

Sunday morning at Hertz and a small Nissan is hired for IR£38. Muggins has to do all the driving as Adrian has left his licence at home. It's a long drive, the roads are not brilliant and we arrive 15 minutes after the first. The card is pretty terrible, huge fields of predominately moderate animals. Not a lot to report on the punting front as we don't get a look in all day losing about 80% of our Punchestown gains. We see one novice chaser who looks promising
however- Jeffell trained by Arthur Moore. Definitely one to watch.
Cold , wet and dark it's soon time to make the long drive back to Dublin.
Sunday night we go for the "CedarTree" a Lebanese restaurant which I would recommend. 
You can drink Guiness with your meal as they will bring it from the restaurant next door, which they also own. Monday and it's time to reflect on the weekend's sport. We learn that Ladbrokes are now 3/1 (from7/2 ) about Imperial Call retaining his title. You'll all be aware that another Irish chaser was the last to do the double - L'Escargot back in 1970/71. But since this feat only five horses have managed to reach the frame in the year following
their success. Also only five horses have won the gold Cup more than once since its inception in 1924. We decide there are better 3/1 shots about.
Leopardstown looks the most likely target for our next visit with several big races staged in January/February. 
Meanwhile it's back to the U.K. with the prospect of televised two and three runner races from Cheltenham, Sandown etc....
 
 
Listowel - Throw me down something - Sept 1996           

On August 20, 1858 the "Tralee Chronicle" carried the following notice: " There is, we understand, an intention of getting up a first-class race meeting near Listowel. The proposed course is one of the best in the United Kingdom. It is to be over a low lying piece of land called the Island ". Listowel races were run for the first time on October 5 & 6 that same year.

Our first visit to Listowel was to be in September 1996, the first trip to Ireland since the " Guineas " meetings back in May. The prospect of a £34,000 jackpot carryover was just one reason for the visit. Six consecutive days' racing would just be too much,however, and the idea was to take in the first three days of the meeting, which of course encompassed the jackpot carryover.

We took a Ryanair flight to Cork ( only £74 return tax paid) on the Sunday afternoon. Cork is a good starting point for a number of meetings in the south - the festivals at Killarney (mid May and mid July) and Tralee(end August) as well as the newly refurbished Mallow, which I am sure will be allocated additional fixtures in 1997. I will pass on a few hotel/restaurant tips, which might prove helpful should you decide to make a journey yourself to one of the 1997 fixtures.

We stayed for one night in Cork catching the early train to tralee on Monday Hotel tip Jury's Cork Inn (not Jury's Hotel), river view, about £50 per room for 2/3 adults Restaurant tip: Isaacs, MacCurtain Street. The train journey provided the perfect opportunity to calculate the jackpot perms.

Here was the strategy: (1) A large perm hoping for a number of upsets: 4x3x4x7 = 336 bets@50p = £168.00. (2) A small perm on the fancied horses to get our money back should the favourites prevail = 1x3x2x2 = 12 bets @ £2 = £24.00. Total investment £192.00. We arrive at Tralee around lunch time and have to find a hotel and somehow get to Listowel (15 miles) for 2.30pm.
 Our reliable Egon Ronay Guide comes to the rescue with the Brandon Court Hotel (£49.. per twin room , sister hotel across the road has swimming pool and gym which you can use - rooms cost twice as much ). It had to be the bus to the races. Unlike most Irish race tracks the course is situatedright next to the town centre, accessed by the " Island" footbridge. Local children,standing in the river shout " throw me down something " as the crowd flows over the bridge.
 After jackpot race number three we were a big price to get our £192.00 back. The winners so far: 8/11 5/4 and 5/2. Hardly a recipe for a bumper payout. When the tannoy announced the units running on to the last it was clear which horse we would be cheering. " All The Vowels" was 3/1 favourite in the " Racing Post". It starts at 7/1,  wins by five lengths and the jackpot pays £155.90 for 50p. we have it five times :

£779.50!! What a remarkable start to the week.

Back in Tralee it's dinner at Larkin's (Egon Ronay recommended-big on fish). Adrian orders lobster and 'mine host' brings it to the table on a beer tray alive and kicking for his approval. A-E-I-O-YOW !! Tuesday it absolutely pours down so we search out a care hire for the duration. Betting is a washout too- miserable and damp we head out of town for dinner (Tip: The Tankard Restaurant, Fenit).

Wednesday morning we drive down to Inch beach (on the way to Dingle) for the most dramatic sea and sky visuals I've ever experienced. A painter's paradise if you paint, which I don't. The clean air rushes through the blood and hangovers are soon banished. We see a revival of fortunes at the races as I pinpoint the chances of two outsiders on the tote in the one mile handicap. "Toast The Spreece" early 7/1 in the ring returns a dividend of £38.70 He wins by the shortest of shortheads and it take more than five minutes for the judge to call it. The ring makes the other one ( Kinane) 4/7 and for once is proved wrong - and we finish the day ahead. The feature race of the mixed card is the Guinness Kerry National, won by "Bishops Hall". 
The story of the race however is the tragic demise of "Life Of A Lord" who breaks his off- fore leg on the second circuit and is destroyed right in front of the packed stands. This is the worst racing tragedy I'd experienced since the 1990 Breeders' Cup, when a filly finished lame by the winning post and was destroyed- almost exactly as "Life Of A Lord" had been today. The incident certainly puts a damper on proceedings, casting a shadow on an otherwise enjoyable and profitable trip.

Thursday morning 6.30am and the long haul back to London, planning the next Irish adventure.................
.
Dundalk/Curragh - May 1996
 
It was to be just a classic weekend- with the 1000 Guineas on Saturday and the 2000 Guineas on the Sunday. Friday offered the prospect of a visit to Dundalk some 50 miles north of Dublin. My trips to Dublin, loosely based around the racing calendar, have become increasingly common in recent years. In fact this year my Irish racedays currently out number English racecourse visits. I was to meet Adrian at Dublin airport at some ridiculous hour on the Friday morning, planning to make an early start for Dundalk. However by the time we’d sorted the accommodation in Temple Bar, Davy Burns beckoned for a seafood lunch and the first pint of Guinness.
Over lunch I suggested to Adrian that we might make a phone call to establish the train times from Connelly station. No need came the response, it’s the main Belfast line so there’ll be plenty of trains. Later at the station it was 1.15pm and the next train is 3.00pm- waste of an afternoon – but we can still get there for the first at 5.30pm. Just one slight problem. It turned out the last train back to Dublin is 8.00pm!! We decide to press on anyway and see at least four of the six races on offer.
I take great pleasure in a train journey to the races, a wonderful opportunity to contemplate the sport ahead as well as taking in the surrounding countryside. Irish trains are invariably crowded, however, and it proved particularly difficult to get a seat. We settle for the £5 First Class supplement.
Dundalk is a border town and the atmosphere is very different to Dublin. Posters advertise an evening with Martin McGuinness. Crossmaglen  is just a few miles away. The track is typically rural and the card offered difficult looking mixed racing. Our latest punting wheeze is the tote jackpot (four races), particularly if there is a carryover, plus the occasional tote single if the odds are sufficiently different to the Ring prices. The bookmakers bet to such crazy percentages it is rarely worth betting with them. The first two races pass without too much damage and we got stuck into our jackpot perm. The jackpot banker Wood Leopard wins at 4/9 and provided unusually good value on the machine with a generous return of evens.
Bolero Dancer at 7/1 ended our jackpot interest in the next. It’s a very pleasant evening though and we wanted to stay until the last race. There’s chaos later as the fifth race Stewards’ Enquiry resulted in the whole field being disqualified for taking the wrong course. Most people had thrown their tickets away. Everyone was rummaging in the bins and on the ground hoping to claim their- or someone else’s – void stakes.
Tom the gateman offered us a lift back to Dublin in his van and we gratefully accepted. He turned out to be a really nice bloke and the one hour journey passed quickly with pleasant conversation.
 It was very noisy in Temple Bar. Lots of Celtic football shirts about – some testimonial match taking place the next day. We settle for a couple of pints and a relatively early night.
Saturday brought another train ride – this time to the Curragh. The racecourse had a very good promotion - £10 secured you a return rail ticket from Dublin’s Heuston station and entry to the racecourse. For this price you got the equivalent of ‘Tatts’ in the UK  A Classic day at the races, transport included for £10! What would the Newmarket equivalent be? At least three times this I would imagine. It’s not only the entry cost  which was competitive. We decide to take the three course lunch in the Horseshoe Restaurant. No queuing/booking hassles, full waiter service and change from £20 a head drinks included! We’re looking pretty scruffy too in our faded 501s. None of your jacket and tie Ascot rules here – it was all very relaxed. Celebrity spotting we noticed actor John Hurt hosting a table of eight on our right and Joe Mercer and connections to our left. 
There’s no jackpot carryover but  a £10k guarantee. We lodged our perm in the newly refurbished tote betting complex in the bowels of the new grandstand. This was impressive too. Tote betting shop, in addition to the usual tote facilities, all with friendly screen less counters. Unfortunately we were well adrift in the jackpot going out in the first race! The rest of the afternoon was spent fiddling about on the tote enjoying the sunshine and the wide open spaces of the Curragh. Carson’s Classic victory proved ironic – given his much publicised problems – even more ironic when the ‘helmet’ enquiry breaks.
Saturday evening for me is spent with family as my sister had persuaded my mother to fly to Dublin for her eightieth birthday celebrations. Adrian wandered the Dublin pubs in search of late night action.
Sunday and we prepared to do it all again. Peter, my brother in law, joined us for the day. We rendezvous at Ryan’s of Parkgate an excellent pub close to Heuston station. Check it out if you are in the area as it is a superb example of a traditional Irish pub which has a brilliant restaurant on the first floor.
Torrential rain at Heuston and memories came flooding back of two years ago and Turtle Island going clear in the mud. That day we’d covered expenses by taking 9/4 on our English credit accounts on the race morning. We convince d ourselves that Spinning World could provide a repeat and we all stuck on at 2/1 with the Tote UK. 
Everyone was as successful as us in the jackpot yesterday so there was a £11k carryover. We spent the journey considering our perm. Perversely the good thing about the jackpot is the 50p minimum unit stake. It means most punters can’t afford a big perm and a relatively minor shock can result in a brilliant dividend. We staked 192 lines for £32 each.
It turned out to be not as wet as anticipated. What's more there was plenty of 2/1 in the Ring about our French hope in the Guineas. However late money contracts the favourite to 7/4 and Cash had the race won fully two furlongs out sitting quietly with the proverbial double handful.
 
We landed the jackpot too. 
 
No shocks though – not even a minor one – and we collected £107.50 for a profit of £3.83 each! Still a marvellous day’s sport and a brilliant win for the French. 
Sunday evening was spent celebrating our modest wins with another friend co-incidentally in Dublin. He’d come over for a few days to make a pop video of ‘Altan’ a highly successful quasi-traditional Irish band.
We spent the night in various pubs listening to somewhat less successful but nevertheless entertaining musicians. 
Monday it was back to England, already dreaming of future trips. Gowran Park for Bloomsday? Galway again in August? The Listowel festival in September with a £30,000 jackpot carryover….?
 
MDQ