THE ‘new’ Curragh just can’t catch a break at the moment.
Every year it seems that day two of Irish Champions Weekend gets the worst of the weather. Never was it more apparent than last weekend. Your correspondent got sunburnt on Saturday at Leopardstown but 24 hours later in Kildare it was another season, another world.
Persistent rain through the morning and early afternoon surely put off a significant number of potential racegoers. And then the unforeseen clash with the St Leger in Doncaster – along with the French racing – gave the couch potatoes another reason to stay home.
Those who did make the journey deserved a medal. Running from the car to the entrance was the worst part. God love the car park attendants and guards directing traffic– they got absolutely soaked.
Inside there was plenty of cover. The betting hall had a quiet hum all afternoon. A bit of live music, racegoers having snacks and the usual hardened punters staring at screens above the Paddy Power shops. It seemed more like a giant waiting room than the beating heart of a leading sports venue.
It was breezy all day in the grandstand but the whistling roof has definitely been silenced. Ignoring the rain, the boys and girls of the Artane Band bravely performed on the steps. They knew they weren’t in Croke Park anymore.
A 50/1 winner of the first didn’t raise too many cheers. Hang on, a belated cheer goes up from the reserved seats as one lad among a group of 10 young men finally realises he backed it.
The rain eventually stopped just before the Flying Five and Highfield Princess gets a decent cheer home. Connections of the winner watched the race standing in amongst the general throng and their celebrations were welcome viewing.
But here is the point where the connection between racegoers and the winners is breaking down at the Curragh. As racegoers are coming down off the stand, they have no real chance of clapping the winner back in to the parade ring.
The winner re-enters the parade ring from a faraway corner and then walks further away from racegoers to the No 1 spot. There is no opportunity to interact with the winner or give them a cheer. It was probably designed to deliberately keep the main thoroughfare clear of horse traffic but it has taken away some atmosphere too.
As has been noted by many commentators, the lack of tiered steps around most of the parade ring makes it difficult for racegoers to get a decent view of the winner. Yes, it is possible to get up close to the No 1 spot but, for some reason, very few people seem to walk that far.
We understand this whole area is going to be reviewed during the winter. It’s not an easy one to rectify but what’s there at the moment just isn’t working.
Meanwhile, in the parade ring Edward O’Grady poses for a photograph with winning trainer John Quinn. “John worked for me for eight years,” Edward says. “I must have given him a good education!”
All the Group 1s produced good stories on Sunday. Tahiyra made a lasting impression in the Moyglare and got a big cheer from the stand, while Moyglare’s own star Kyprios delivered once again in the Irish St Leger.
The Aga Khan and Moyglare Stud have been probably the two biggest supporters of the Curragh in recent decades. Both entities are celebrating significant anniversaries this year, so it was great to see them both winning big races – they don’t win that many.
Winners in the Moyglare and Aga Khan silks bring back memories of a jockey who left us two years ago. There are reminders of him at every turn.
As Princess Zahra Aga Khan was collecting the Moyglare trophy, international show jumpers Cian O’Connor and Max Wachman were in the parade ring with the Aga Khan Cup they won for Ireland in the RDS last month.
A number of racegoers I spoke to were unaware of this visit and might have liked the chance to hold the trophy themselves or have their photo taken with it. It might have made the day special for somebody who would then feel it had been worth braving the elements.
Fiona Craig of Moyglare Stud never stopped walking all weekend (her FitBit will prove this) and she took a break from handing out free chocolate bars to stand in with the Moyglare team for some photos after Kyprios landed the Leger.
“It’s wonderful to win a classic,” Fiona said. “We’re celebrating 60 years of Moyglare Stud and I think the man above would be very happy.” I think she was referring to Walter Haefner but it could well have been Stan Cosgrove too.
“It’s great for Eva-Maria too. She has put so much into the place and now she can see it coming to fruition. But I think the real shout-out has to go to the racegoers who made the effort to come out today. Come racing, you’ll have fun and there’s free chocolate!”
Part-owners of Kyprios, Coolmore Stud and partners have also invested plenty in the Curragh. Not everything went their way on Sunday, however, and it was Joseph O’Brien who took the Goffs Vincent O’Brien Stakes with Al Riffa.
The story here was winning rider Dylan Browne McMonagle, who was riding his first Group 1 winner.
Just three years ago the Donegal youngster was riding winners at Dingle and Glenbeigh. Now he is champion apprentice for the second time and has the world at his feet. Once again we are reminded of those we lost. And we feel embarrassed to be moaning about the weather.