Mike Quigley

Irish horse racing, betting and other stuff

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Fairyhouse December 2000
It was the quality of the racing that had attracted us this time. The prospect of seeing familiar favourites Limestone Lad, Sackville, Youlneverwalkalone and Dorans Pride to name just a few. They keep coming back and so do we. On our last visit to Fairyhouse, exactly two years ago, we had watched Istabraq, Alexander Banquet and Cardinal Hill amongst other Cheltenham hopefuls.

A new hotel to try - The Mespil - following disappointing stays at the Hilton. It turned out to be a good choice. We arrived on Friday afternoon and had a late lunch at Davy Byrne's - why is it the first pint of Guinness tastes so good?

Grafton Street was full of Christmas shoppers being entertained by street singers. We paused to listen to two young lads move competently through a Beatles' medley, speculating that their parents might not have been born when "A Hard Day's Night" was first released. Eerily, as we strolled into HMV the same track played on the in-house system - will we be listening to Westlife in 35 years' time?

Friday night and we took what seemed at the time an extraordinary decision. We drove from Dublin to Drogheda to have a couple of drinks at McPhails, an establishment we had so much enjoyed on our Bellewstown trip in July. We were not disappointed as the (free) live music was brilliant and the bar remained open until 12.30am.

Saturday morning and a very welcome Irish breakfast before driving the short distance to Fairyhouse. We noticed several improvements at the track since our last visit. An upmarket restaurant- similar to the Curragh dining facility, as well as a new office for tote credit clients- to be heavily used by us of course! The Saturday card had looked the better option for our style of betting with decent size fields. Sunday's card had an emphasis on quality rather than quantity.

We got started with the opener, a thirty-runner Maiden Hurdle. Our main hope Forrestfield finished a creditable fourth @7/1, having been near to 30/1 on the tote. Adrian backed it e.w. and is surprised when he picks up a £4.60 dividend. I seldom bet e.w. but was also surprised to learn that the tote pays fourth place in all races of sixteen or more runners.

The second race proved very eventful for me. We decided to back two outsiders against the field. Summer Break and Francies Fancy. As I was processing a win bet on the latter through a tote terminal the power failed. I dashed over to the credit operator and asked for the same bet. Because of the technical problems, he couldn't log into my account and place the bet. By now they'd jumped three and I walked off to the stands to watch the finish praying it wouldn't win.

I could hardly believe my eyes as Connor O'Dwyer got up close home on "Francies" to land the spoils @12/1. The tote paid £32.50! As we make our way back to the tote I was suffering whilst Adrian was telling me how he had twice the bet he meant to have! The tote boys were very apologetic and suggested I completed a claim form. (The tote came good and paid in full ten days later!)

Two losers in the next before another amazing race. An eleven-runner handicap chase full of incident. Again we took two outsiders. Ruby Walsh came storming through on Peggy's Lad at the second last to draw clear of Tyndarius, our best hope, only to fall at the last! Tyndarius ambled home well clear of the six other finishers @12/1. You won't believe the tote return- £54.10! A massive change of fortune for me, following the Francies Fancy farce. We drew blanks in the final three races but finished well up on the day.

Saturday night we ended up at La Mere Zou having tried to get into six other restaurants. The food and service was as reliable as ever - Irish smoked salmon, king scallops, South African chardonnay etc.

The Sunday card did not produce the betting excitement of the Saturday, but the much-increased crowd and the standard of racing gave a different perspective to the day.

Some small losing bets in the first, no bets in the second. Before the third race we decided to take a small interest in the jackpot, as there would not be much win pool value on the tote in the next three races. The jackpot races had 7, 5, 8 and 23 runners respectively. This is strategically a good scenario, as punters tend to have more selections early rather than late. Consequently to play against the crowd you load up your choices in the fourth leg. 
We play 2x2x3x12 for 144 bets.

Youlneverwalkalone strolled home in the Grade 1 hurdle. He looked mighty impressive over this 2 ½ mile test but was subsequently exposed over a shorter trip at Cheltenham. In the next our jackpot selections were Limestone Lad and Sackville. This turned out to be a superb race with Sackville prevailing. Look out for Well Ridden too, beaten just 4 ½ lengths in this his second race over fences. You may recall me talking up Sackville as a promising hurdler at Gowran in March (subsequently an Aintree winner). He should be even better over the larger obstacles and is a live contender for the Royal & SunAlliance Chase. Liss A Paoraigh won a hard fought victory in the Grade 1 Novice to keep our jackpot hopes alive. Nothing special though, as we went into the fourth leg with winners at 5/4, 7/2 & 7/4. 

Twelve were running for us in the handicap hurdle, with jackpot dividend projections between £200 and £1100. Unfortunately the dividend was at the lower end of expectations, as joint-second favourite Geodalus scored at 8/1 and a £278 dividend was declared. Still it was more than double the S.P. return (50p units). No joy in the sixth. Nevertheless a winning weekend, plus the ex-gratia top up from the tote!

We were not looking forward to the 8pm flight back to London so, skipping the last, there was time to spend a couple of hours in Dublin's Porterhouse. Oyster ale, fresh crab salad and the opportunity to talk over the exploits of the last few days. Around 5pm the live music kicked in with a three piece of guitar, pipes and penny whistle. As we were about to leave, around an hour later, the first vocal of the evening started up - "Song For Ireland" popularised by Mary Black. Oyster ale gushing through the veins the lyrics suddenly touched a nerve:

"Dreaming in the night, I saw a land           
where no man had to fight
waking in your dawn
I saw you crying in the morning light
lying where the falcons fly 
they twist and turn in your ever blue sky
living on your western shore
saw summer sunsets, asked for more
I stood by your Atlantic sea
And sang a song for Ireland"

December 2000