AS general manager of Fairyhouse racecourse, I am very much looking forward to the upcoming Easter Racing Festival.
With crowds set to return to the meeting for the first time in three years, hopes are high that our flagship meeting, which features the BoyleSports Irish Grand National, will once again be a resounding success.
The absence of the public was noticeable last year, particularly given such a popular local triumph. I’m sure whatever horse wins next Monday, it will receive the type of reception that has become synonymous with Fairyhouse.
Growing up in Knock, Roscrea, I have fond memories of the hunter trials that were held on our family farm every Easter Saturday. I started out riding with the Laois Hunt & Pony Club, making many lifelong friends and now my youngest is following that path.
From an early age, I knew that I wanted to work in the racing industry, although initially I expected it to be in a more hands on role. In fifth and sixth year in secondary school, I worked the sales for Timmy Hyde at Camas Park Stud. It was a great experience to be involved with one of the leading and most respected consignors in the business.
After my Leaving Certificate, I went on to study the Equine Science Degree at the University of Limerick.
It was the very first year that the course had been run, so I was also one of the initial graduates of that programme.
As part of my studies, I had two six-month work experience placements over the four years I was in college. I spent my first placement at the famed Ashford Stud in Kentucky, then worked for John Ferguson Bloodstock in Newmarket for a further six months.
Despite the well-balanced education I received on all aspects of the industry, I definitely had a distinct preference for racing. After graduating, I had been due to join John Durkan in Newmarket but he sadly got ill that summer.
Instead, I went to Castle Stables in Arundel, as pupil assistant to John Dunlop. Anyone who knows me will know that I am a big fella; John turned to me at my interview and said “you won’t be riding out too many for me!” I thoroughly enjoyed the year and a half I spent working for him - plenty of hands-on experience dealing with vets, farriers, breakers etc.
An advert for assistant manager at Fairyhouse attracted my attention, so I decided to apply for the position. The economics of training didn’t work for me and by that stage I saw my future in more of an administrative role.
Fortunately, the interview panel of Roy Craigie, Norman Colfer and Frank O’Reilly must have seen potential in me, as I was offered the job. My first Irish National was 1998, the year Bobbyjo beat Papillion. I spent 18 months as assistant manager, before Tim Hyde approached me with a view to becoming manager at Tipperary.
That track was due to close before the Tipperary Racecourse Supporters Group stepped in to save it from extinction. As a Tipperary native, I derived great satisfaction from the 10 years I spent as racecourse manager.
The people down here are passionate about their sport and their horses - it was wonderful to play my small part in keeping the racecourse going.
The quality of racing has always been of a very high standard - I am particularly proud of the fact that the first and second in the 2002 Epsom Derby (High Chaparral and Hawk Wing) both won their maidens at Tipperary.
In 2010, I returned to Fairyhouse; this time as general manager. Initially, the role was just meant to be a six-month contract to cover Caroline Gray, who was out on maternity leave.
I finished up in Tipperary after the Super Sunday meeting, then started at Fairyhouse the following Saturday. I am still here, 12 years on, working with a wonderful bunch of people who make it all seem so easy.
I have always done the daily commute from my home in Tipperary; a 270km round trip. While I have always given 100% to the role in Fairyhouse, I am and will continue to be, a proud Tipperary man.
Aside from the race days, Fairyhouse serves as a focal point for the Ratoath community and further afield. Over the years, we have held a number of concerts and large events at the site, while the Sunday market continues to go from strength to strength.
Pieta House have also held their Darkness Into Light walk at Fairyhouse, while for the past nine months, the HSE had been tenants of ours with a vaccination centre.
Next weekend, racing is once again the main focus for us, with the Easter Festival being a make or break fixture in our season. At the moment, all the signs are very positive that we will have a large attendance similar to that of pre-Covid years.
The Irish Grand National always throws up a great story, so naturally we are hoping for another fairytale next Monday.
Last year, it was the 150/1 shock win of locally-trained, Freewheelin Dylan. In previous years, we had Our Duke winning for the Cooper family and Jessica Harrington and Burrow Saint providing Willie Mullins with a first success in our iconic race.
We also run the Ladies Chase on Easter Saturday, a race that we are particularly proud of. The first and only race of its kind in either Ireland or the UK, the initial running back in 2015 was won by the late Lorna Brooke.
It is a wonderful initiative that has been very well received and both HRI and the IHRB deserve credit for their foresight and support.
Our team here at Fairyhouse is small but very dedicated and hardworking. Gillian Carey looks after operations, Orla Aaron hospitality, Mia Morrissey is covering marketing, Trevor Doonan Facilities and our track foreman Richard Stapleton and his dedicated crew do such a fantastic job - it makes my role as general manager so much easier.
Peter Roe was in conversation with John O’Riordan