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Naas – Chapter 9 – The 1990s

Margaret McGuinness, manager of Naas Racecourse, presented Charlie Swan with a trophy after he won his 100th race, at Naas, in 1994.

From ‘The Centenary of Naas Racecourse (1924-2024) – Nursery of Champions’ by Turtle Bunbury.

 

Back to Naas 100 Contents

Family Day

 

On 1 April 1990, Naas hosted a Family Day Meeting in conjunction with Goffs. Margaret McGuinness and Billy Brophy had spent several days in Dublin promoting the event, which came hot on the heels of a Sunday race meeting and the South County Dublin point-to-point. There were also bouncy castles, magic shows and the Lambert Puppet Theatre to keep the children entertained. Fine weather helped make for a tremendous day, drawing a record-breaking crowd of 9,000 people. Family Fun Day has been a permanent fixture at Naas ever since. [1]

 

New Sponsors

 

With the shock closure of the Phoenix Park Racecourse in late 1990, Naas was given four extra meetings, bringing its total up to 15. ‘There is no doubt Naas needed a facelift,’ opined the Evening Herald, ‘but it has always been a progressive track, and it could benefit enormously from those extra meetings.’[2]

Led by Billy Brophy and Margaret McGuinness, Naas Race Company scrambled to ensure its racecourse did not suffer the same fate as the Dublin one. Fortunately it also had some useful patrons. Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum’s Derrinstown Stud stepped in to sponsor the £40,000 Birdcatcher Nursery.

Coughlan and Company, a local Naas and Newbridge solicitors, also came on board to sponsor the £6,000 Coughlan Handicap Hurdle. [3] David Nagle’s Barronstown Stud in Grangecon, County Wicklow, was also an important supporter at this time.

Another new sponsor was the Persian philanthropist Fereidoun Soudavar (1908-1997) and his wife Shamsi who established the Ali-Retza and Mamadi Soudavar Garnet Stakes in memory of their two sons. [4]

Meanwhile, Irish Life continued its sponsorship of the Cheltenham Trials Day at Naas, started in 1988, which gave racegoers a chance to see Irish horses in action shortly before they headed to Cheltenham.

As the Irish Independent remarked, Naas represented National Hunt meetings ‘in their purest form – Irish racing at its best: exciting, atmospheric and superbly enjoyable.’ [5]

 

Bolger’s Birdcatchers

 

When Bertinelli won the 1990 Birdcatcher Nursery, it was to be the start of a glorious era for the Wexford-born Jim Bolger. Two years later, he won the same race with Nordic Fox. He also saddled the winner in 1993 in the form of Zavaleta, under local apprentice Seamie Heffernan whose grandmother had been part of Mrs Lawlor’s catering team.

A win for Wild Bluebell in 1994 made it three in a row for the Bolger stable, while Mosconi’s 1996 triumph made it five from seven. The last two were ridden by Kevin Manning, who became Jim Bolger’s first choice after Christy Roche joined Ballydoyle in 1993. Kevin had married Jim Bolger’s daughter Úna in 1991.

 

Kiely Family Fortune

 

In November 1990, 53-year-old John Kiely, an amateur rider from Dungarvan, stole the limelight at a new-look Naas when he brought Shuil Ar Aghaidh home in front of 22 rivals to win the Kildangan Flat Race. ‘That is my first ride this year, so perhaps I should not take another mount so as to preserve my unbeaten record this year,’ remarked John, who rode his first winner at Naas back in 1960.

Shuil Ar Aghaidh was bred by John’s brother Matthew, trained by his brother Paddy in Waterford and ran in the colours of Paddy’s wife, Marie. The mare raced at Naas seven times during her career, winning the Celbridge Handicap Hurdle and the Equip Handicap Hurdle in 1992. Charlie Swan, who rode her for both those wins, was again on board when she went to Cheltenham in 1993 and won the Stayers Hurdle. [6]

Charlie’s win on Shuil Ar Aghaidh in the 1992 Celbridge Handicap Hurdle was part of a ‘well executed’ double for him at Naas that day. His other was on board course specialist Mass Appeal, who raced at Naas nine times between 1989 and 1993, winning three times. [7]

 

The Naas Supporters’ Hurdle

 

Mary Moore, wife of Arthur, received the trophy after Deep Heritage’s win in the 1992 Naas Supporters’ Hurdle. She is pictured here with club members Michael Cronin, Tommy Wheeler, Tommy Fletcher, Paddy Glass, Pat Goulding and Eddie O’Loughlin

The Naas Supporters continued to offer vital backing during the 1990s. In January 1990, they offered £2,070 in prize money for the Naas Supporters’ Chase, won by Ebony Star from the Jim Dreaper stable on his debut over fences.[8]

For the opening day of the season in January 1991, there was £6,000 up for grabs in the Naas Supporters’ Handicap Hurdle, as it was now known. The race was won by E. Farrell’s 12/1 shot How’s the Boss, justifying jockey Jason Titley’s long journey from Quin, County Clare. The new Place Pot was also available at that opening day, along with a draw on the card for two tickets to Cheltenham.

In 1992, the race was won by Deep Heritage, representing the in-form partnership of Arthur Moore and Tom Taaffe, who justified favouritism. Joe Crowley’s Bayrouge bounced back to winning form by beating just three opponents to take the race in 1993. The great Klairon Davis made easy work of Court Melody to win it in 1994.

In 1995, the Naas Supporters sponsored not one but two races. The Naas Supporters’ Maiden Hurdle, won by Val O’Brien’s Beat the Second, and the Naas Supporters’ Hurdle, captured after a fine staying performance by Majestic Man under Paul Carberry.

In 1996, the Naas Supporters’ Hurdle was won by Dessie Hughes’s Roundwood. It fell to Francis Flood’s Ciara’s Prince in 1997, Ted Walsh’s Total Success in 1998 and Willie Mullins in 1999 with It’s Time For A Win, under Ruby Walsh.

Known as the Naas Racecourse Business Club since 2019, the support of this important local business community is ongoing with major three races sponsored in 2023 alone, namely the G3 Limestone Lad (29 January), the Handicap Hurdle (26 February) and the Blackwater Premier Handicap (24 April).

 

Cahervillahow

 

Trained by Mouse Morris, Cahervillahow came fourth in his first outing at Naas, the 1989 Johnstown Hurdle. On 6 January 1990, he returned to win the Irish Novice Chase Series under Charlie Swan. A narrow second behind Seagram in the 1991 Ritz Club Handicap Chase at Cheltenham, Cahervillahow appeared to have won that year’s Whitbread Gold Cup but was subsequently disqualified for an alleged interference.

 

Minorettes Girl

 

On 31 January 1990, Minorettes Girl went to Naas and topped a field of 14 to score on her debut race, the Mylerstown I.N.H. Flat Race. Trained by Paddy Mullins and ridden by his daughter Sandra McCarthy, the Deep Gale filly also won her second race at Naas four weeks later. A brilliant hurdler, she went on to win six more races, including the 1991 Newbridge Hurdle at Naas. She was second in the 1991 Sun Alliance Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) at Cheltenham and the 1992 Martell Aintree Hurdle.

 

Kiichi

 

On 14 October 1989, the Smurfits glumly watched their entry Kiichi trail home last of the 18 runners in the J.B. Fogarty Handicap at Naas. With five wins already under his belt, more had been expected but the Dermot Weld-trained Kiichi would bounce back. On 3 March 1990, he returned to Naas and won the Nas Na Ri Chase (Listed). He was beaten by a head in the Arkle Challenge Trophy at Cheltenham ten days later. He also won the 1990 Galway Plate. He returned to Naas twice more, running fourth in the 1990 October Handicap and then winning the 1991 Newlands Handicap. Kiichi was ridden in all five of his National Hunt wins by Brendan Sheridan and by Mick Kinane on his sole win on “the flat”

 

Atone

 

Trained by Bunny Cox, Atone struggled on his debut outing in the Saggart Maiden Hurdle at Naas on 2 March 1991, under Conor O’Dwyer. By the time the versatile gelding returned to the track two years later, he had upped his game and clocked up six wins. He duly won a seventh when he took the Grade 3 Johnstown Hurdle (Listed) at Naas, under Charlie Swan. Horse and jockey also won the 1993 Kildare Novice Chase at Naas, a few months before capturing the Ladbroke Hurdle at Leopardstown under Kevin O’Brien. In 1996, Atone made his last outing at Naas, again under O’Brien, when he came second in the Poplar Square Chase.

Feathered Gale, who came fourth behind Atone in the 1993 Kildare Novice Chase, went on to defeat Jodami and win the Irish Grand National in 1996 for Arthur Moore.

 

The Destriero Gamble

 

Naas Race Company director Dermot Cox was among the winners when legendary gambler Noel Furlong landed a million-pound win with Destriero in the 1991 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.[9] Dermot, a son of the past company chairman Paddy Cox, owned the Cash and Carry in Newbridge and, later, Thurles.

In 1993, Dermot and his wife Ann moved to Rosetown Stud, Athgarvan, Newbridge, where they developed their love for National Hunt.[10] In 2003, their horse Back In Front won the Supreme Novice’s Hurdle at Cheltenham. Three years later, they bought Baroda Stud from Philip and Jane Myerscough.

 

November Afternoon, 1991

 

Frank Berry, 10 times National Hunt champion jockey, recorded his first win over obstacles as a trainer when Linvar took the Brown Lad Hurdle at Naas on 16 November 1991.[11] Among those he outpaced was Mouse Morris’s 1990 Stayers’ Hurdle champion, Trapper John. In 1992, Frank saddled Laura’s Beau to finish third in the Aintree Grand National for J.P. McManus. Frank, who rode Naas veteran Glencarrig Lady to victory in the  Cheltenham Gold Cup, has been J.P.’s racing manager since 2001. [12]

On the same day Linvar won, Daring Straight won the Clane Handicap Hurdle, which he had also won two years earlier. Also celebrating that day was Swedish rider Lulu Olivefalk, under whom Coumeenoole Lady captured the Kilwarden Maiden Hurdle for trainer Donald Swan. Tom Taaffe extended his lead at the top of the jockeys’ table when the Arthur Moore-trained Flashy Buck put up a good performance to take the Novice Chase. [13]

 

The Weld-Kinane Partnership

 

The flat scene in the early 1990s was dominated by the partnership of Dermot Weld and Mick Kinane who had won that famous Naas treble in 1989. In 1991, they scored another treble on the track, justifying a headline: ‘Stick with Weld and Kinane for double profit at Naas.’

Mick, who won the first of his 13 Irish jockey championships in the very year he joined Weld, would remain his jockey for 15 years. [14] Dermot also pioneered the notion of Irish horses racing around the world. Many of these horses were Naas veterans such as Additional Risk, winner of the Two Mile House Handicap in 1991. At the end of that year, Mick rode Additional Risk to victory in the inaugural Hong Kong Mile (then known as the Invitation Bowl) at Sha Tin. [15] Mick was duly invited to stay in Hong Kong.

In 1990, Mick rode Go And Go to win the Belmont Stakes, the first and only European horse to have won an American classic. In 1993, the duo captured the Tifrums Maiden Race for fillies at Naas when Bawader carried the colours of Hamdan Al Maktoum to a clever victory. Welcoming Bawader into the winner’s enclosure, Dermot Weld reported that Vintage Crop, owned by Dr Smurfit, had arrived safely in Australia to contest the 1993 Melbourne Cup. Mick Kinane flew over to ride him and Vintage Crop duly became the first overseas horse to win the Melbourne Cup.[16]

The purple patch would continue until Ballydoyle rediscovered itself under young Aidan O’Brien.

 

Pat Smullen’s Early Days

 

A young Pat Smullen had his second-ever race in the Maudlins Nursery Extended Handicap at Naas on board Fairydel, bred and trained by Tommy Lacy. ‘It was at the back end of the 1992 Flat season, on the last day of October,’ his memoir recounts. ‘If you thought that it all happened quickly in a 10-fulong race at Listowel, it all happened twice as quickly in a five-furlong race at Naas.’ He finished fifth and was delighted – ‘I came back in beaming.’

The following season, six days after he won his first-ever race on Vicosa, Pat rode ‘my old friend Fairydel’ again in the Derrinstown Apprentice Series race at Naas. ‘It was a hands-and-heel race – that is, riding without using a whip – so I had to ride with my legs and body. I tucked my stirrups up a little … and that was the horse’s first win.’ [17]

 

Tiananmen Square

 

On 4 January 1992, Noel Meade’s Tiananmen Square, ridden by Tim Hyde, won his debut race at Naas. Two months later, the Magnier-owned gelding came second to Montelado in the new Bumper race at Cheltenham.

 

Flashing Steel

 

In February 1992, a horse named Flashing Steel caught the eye of the Naas punters when he won the Irish Life Assurance Johnstown Hurdle at Naas, under Charlie Swan. Owned by Charles Haughey, the former Taoiseach, and trained by his son-in-law John Mulhern, the big gelding also captured the Poplar Square Chase in November 1993. ‘Didn’t he jump well?’ remarked Mr Haughey afterwards.[18] Flashing Steel went on to win the 1995 Irish Grand National.

 

Her Grace’s Winner

 

In April 1992, Anne, Duchess of Westminster, was among the 6,500-strong crowd at Naas who watched her horse Balda Boy win the Paddy Cox Handicap Chase. The duchess was presented with the trophy by Helen Cox, whose son Dermot Cox was also present.

 

Christy’s Suspension

 

On 13 June 1992, Christy Roche, the national champion jockey, mounted a filly named Sophisticator to contest the Clane EBF Maiden race at Naas, won by Shawar. As they reached the four furlong marker, he tried to pass a horse named Freeway Hero on the inside but failed, having to check his mount. He succeeded in passing the horse at the three furlong marker but subsequently faced an enquiry, after which he was suspended for 15 days for allegedly striking Freeway Hero’s rider, the apprentice jockey Robert Skelly. The suspension led to a major showdown between Christy and the Turf Club, not least because it cost him a ride on St Jovite, who won the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at the height of it all. Christy Roche retired in 1998. [19]

 

Danoli’s Debut

 

Seventeen went to post in the bumper, the last race of the day, on 31 October 1992. Among them was a little bay gelding by The Parson making his racing debut for County Carlow farmer-turned-trainer Tom Foley (1946-2021). The horse was Danoli, a hybrid name derived from his co-owners, the Myshall bonesetter Danny O’Neill and his daughter Olive. They were in the crowd at Naas that afternoon when, under the amateur Patrick English, Danoli won the bumper by a length at 16/1.[20] Three months later, he returned to Naas and did it again, outpacing 14 rivals to win the INH Flat Race at 10/1.

In 1994, he started racing over hurdles and quickly began to win the hearts of the racing public as he captured Grade 1 hurdles at Cheltenham and Aintree. His greatest moment was arguably the 1997 Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup where the Irish novice outclassed the brilliant Jodami and Imperial Call in an especially thrilling finale.[21]

In the 32 races he contested, Danoli was unplaced just once, and either fell or unseated his jockey five times. Every other time he was first, second or third.

‘The People’s Champion,’ as he was known, returned to Naas twice more, winning a novice chase in 1996 and, in his fourth and final appearance, coming second to His Song in the £30,000 Newlands Chase in February 2000.

Retired in August 2000, he spent much of his later years grazing alongside Vintage Crop at the Irish National Stud. He died in 2006.

 

Cois na Tine

 

On 3 July 1993, the Owenstown Stud FF Tuthill E.B.F. Race was won by the Jim Bolger-trained Cois na Tine for his owner, the Irish international soccer player Niall Quinn. As Niall confessed in his autobiography, he had bought the horse in secret some months earlier and only admitted the purchase to his wife Gillian, a niece of former champion jockey Johnny Roe, shortly before they both watched him reign supreme at the Curragh. At the time of Cois na Tine’s Naas victory, Niall and Gillian (four months pregnant and feeling unwell) were in a hotel in Barbados that was, as Niall recalled, ‘for some reason, full of jockeys – Steve Smith Eccles, Richard Dunwoody, Graham McCourt.’ [22] The jockeys urged him to ditch the horse – ‘it’ll eat up every penny you have’ but it was the Quinns’ day.

‘Jim’s brother Paddy held a phone up for the commentary to be broadcast down the line to Barbados. The horse won by six or seven lengths. I danced down the stairs like Fred Astaire to tell the lads. Gillian had a celebratory Disprin.’

The horse was ridden by Christy Roche who Niall described as ‘a wonderful athlete who brings more bravery to his trade in an afternoon than a footballer does in a season.’ Between 1994 and 1998, the Quinns owned the Ladytown stud farm between Naas and Newbridge, where they kept 12 mares. [23]

 

Mucklemeg

 

On 25 November 1993, Mucklemeg won the Celbridge Flat Race at Naas under Morgan Kavanagh for trainer Sean Treacy of Borris, Co Carlow. The Kavanaghs sold the horse to J.P. McManus soon afterwards. Transferred to Edward O’Grady’s stable, Mucklemeg won the Cheltenham Festival Bumper in March 1994 under Charlie Swan.

 

Klairon Davis

On 25 November 1993, a French-bred gelding named Klairon Davis made his debut over hurdles when he won the Town Maiden Hurdle at Naas for trainer Arthur Moore. Under Tom Taaffe, riding in his final season, the 12-length win at Naas was part of a seven-race winning streak for the horse. On his next outing at Naas, two months later, he was ridden by amateur jockey Humphrey Murphy and beat Court Melody by eight lengths to take the Naas Supporters’ Hurdle.

Klairon Davis would record his biggest career wins at Cheltenham, winning the 1995 Arkle Challenge Trophy and defeating Viking Flagship in the especially epic 1996 Queen Mother Champion Chase.

He began his final season by running third behind To Your Honour in the Poplar Square Chase at Naas in November 1998. On his third last outing, he finished third to Moscow Express in the Newlands Chase at Naas in February 1999. He died peacefully in 2018 at the age of 29

 

Dorans Pride

 

Dorans Pride, one of the great Irish stars of the 1990s, won the 1994 Celbridge Handicap Hurdle at Naas, ahead of the future Gold Cup star Imperial Call. Trained by Michael Hourigan and known in the yard as Padjo, Dorans Pride went on to win the 1995 Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham. He also came third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup twice to Mister Mulligan in 1997, when still a novice, and to Cool Dawn in 1998.

He returned to Naas twice, coming fifth in the 1998 Boyne Handicap Chase and second behind Limestone Lad in the 2000 Bank Of Ireland Hurdle. The popular gelding was sadly killed when he fell at the second fence during the 2003 Foxhunter Chase at Cheltenham.

 

The Age of Aidan and Charlie

 

The age of Aidan O’Brien had now begun. This remarkable man first took out a trainer’s licence at the beginning of 1993 and promptly won the National Hunt trainers’ title in his first season. On 22 October 1994, he became the first Irish trainer in history to win 100 National Hunt races in a calendar year when Trickle Lad won the Rossmore Novice Hurdle at Naas, under Charlie Swan.[24]  Aidan celebrated his 25th birthday the following day.

Within eight days, Aidan’s 151st winner broke Dermot Weld’s all-time record for a combined total of flat and jumping successes.[25] His wife Ann-Marie (née Crowley) was a champion trainer herself before handing over the licence to Aidan.

Meanwhile, Charlie Swan celebrated his 100th win of the year on 12 November 1994 on no less a racecourse than Naas, winning the E.S.B. WinElectric Novice Chase on Edward O’Grady’s Sound Man.

 

Commercial Artist

 

Victor Bowens’ Commercial Artist ran at Naas six times, winning the 1993 Paddy Cox Handicap Chase and the 1994 Grange Con Handicap Hurdle. Three weeks after the latter win, the eight-year-old won went to Cheltenham to contest the Mackeson Gold Cup, coming home fourth.[26]

 

The Irish Horseracing Authority

 

In June 1994, Joe Walsh, the Minister for Agriculture and Food, made a surprise decision to replace the Racing Board, established in 1945, with the Irish Horseracing Authority (IHA). Chaired by horse breeder and former Kerry Group boss Denis Brosnan and supported by Michael Smurfit, the authority was entrusted with looking after all racecourses in Ireland.[27]

One of the founder members of the IHA was property developer Pierce G. Molony, owner of the Malton Stud near Naas and a major shareholder in Naas Racecourse. He was chairman of the Association of Irish Racecourses (AIR) from 1991 until 1998, and Senior Steward of the Turf Club from 2003 until 2007, when Nick Wachman succeeded. He was also chairman of Tote Ireland and Leopardstown racecourse. [28]

Margaret McGuinness, manager of Naas Racecourse, was among the 16 board members appointed. She continued to serve until 2001 when the IHA became Horse Racing Ireland. [29]

The main challenge for the IHA during its seven year cycle was to persuade the government to make a deeper investment in Irish horse racing, in the face of dramatic crowd reduction on account of televised racing.

 

Beam Me Up

 

The benefits of satellite provided a useful bonus for Naas in February 1995 when racing was cancelled everywhere else in the United Kingdom and Ireland, except Naas. Tom Gingles duly arrived with the SIS (Satellite Information Services) van to beam the afternoon’s racing into betting shops across the islands of Ireland and Britain. The Naas Race Company received £5,000 for the privilege. [30]

 

Cross-Country

 

From 1985 to 1995, part of Naas Racecourse doubled as a training ground for Naas Athletic Club. It also served as a venue for the annual Jack Hartigan cross-country race. On 26 February 1995, RTÉ cameras were on site when Naas hosted an especially successful National Inter-Clubs Cross-Country Championship.

Considered the most prestigious event on the Irish cross-country calendar, the championship was won by the Leevale Men’s Junior Team for a record-breaking sixth successive year.[31] With the proposed construction of new houses in 1995, the cross-country events were no longer possible.[32] Naas Athletic Club ran its last lap with the Jack Hartigan Festival in November 1995.

 

Johneen

 

On 23 November 1995, Johneen won the Rathcoole Handicap Chase at Naas. Trained by Rosemary Rooney, he went on to win the 1996 Ulster National at Downpatrick, providing in-form rider Conor O’Dwyer with his 60th winner of the year and his third win in the Ulster National.[33]

 

Imperial Call

 

Bred in County Wexford, Imperial Call was four years old when he was sent into training with Fergie Sutherland, a feisty Scot who had lost his left leg in the Korean War. From his stables in Cork, Fergie sent the gelding to contest the Celbridge Handicap Hurdle at Naas on 29 January 1994. He finished second by a short head, having carried 10 pounds more than the winner, Dorans Pride.

On 11 March 1995, Imperial Call returned to Naas and won the Nas Na Riogh Novice Chase. Just over a year later, he lined out for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. An Irish-trained horse had not won since Dawn Run’s triumph 10 years earlier. Ridden for the first time by Conor O’Dwyer, Imperial Call led from the start and won by six lengths.

He made a third visit to Naas on 21 November 1998, winning the Heatequip Chase for young trainer Raymond Hurley by 15 lengths, with Opera Hat second. Imperial Call lived out his retirement in West Cork where he died at the age of 25 in 2014.

 

Opera Hat

On 14 November 1992, a four-year-old mare by Strong Gale lined up at Naas to compete in the Kilwarden Maiden Hurdle. Trained by John Fowler, brother of Jessie Harrington, the horse was called Opera Hat. [34] She came fourth that afternoon but there was something about her that convinced Valerie Cooper to buy her in early 1993. She co-owned Opera Hat with Carolyne Anne Christie, the former wife of Roger Waters of Pink Floyd.

Born into the brewing family of Beamish, Valerie was a teenager when she first came to Naas and watched Early Mist win the Grand National on a screen in the car park, with Dermot O’Brien, brother of Vincent. She subsequently married Tom Cooper, founder of the innovative BBA (Ireland) Ltd., a subsidiary of the British Bloodstock Agency.[35] Based in Kill, the agency’s purchases to date include four Epsom Derby winners and two Grand National winners.

Opera Hat would race at Naas an astonishing 18 times over her seven-year career, winning on nine occasions. [36] The surprise winner of Aintree’s Melling Chase (Grade 1) in 1998, she was, as Robert Hall observed, ‘a mare of a lifetime with a heart of the lion’. [37]

Her first victory was the 1993 Naas Handicap Hurdle; her last was the 1998 Newlands Chase. She actually won the prestigious Newlands three times in succession. Her fourth shot at it in 1999 transpired to be her last run at Naas; she came a close second to Papillion, who would win the following year’s Aintree Grand National.

After she retired, Valerie very reluctantly sold Opera Hat to the Sanders family for ‘a lot of money’. On Christmas Day 20**, she went for a walk outside after lunch and saw her daughter walking towards her with a horse that transpired to be Opera Hat. Her son Patrick had bought her back for an undisclosed sum. Shortly afterwards, John Fowler sent a trailer down for her and the mare lived out her days at Rahinstown.

In October 2006, Valerie Cooper was on site to cut the ribbon and officially open the Opera Hat Bar at Naas Racecourse, named in honour of her fabulous mare’s nine victories on the track, including three successive Newlands Chases. The trainer John Fowler as also in attendance. [38]

Opera Hat’s son Woodland Opera, trained by John’s sister Jessie Harrington, took the top spot at the Balmoral Show, winning the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association Racehorse to Riding Horse Championship in 2021.

Opera Hat’s legacy is also recalled by the BBA Ireland Limited Opera Hat Mares Chase (Listed) at Naas. In 2023, the race was won by Magic Daze, trained by Henry de Bromhead and ridden by Rachael Blackmore.

 

Cheltenham Trials

 

In 1995, Dermot Cantillon took over from Helen Cox as a director of the Naas Race Company. He expressed his determination that Naas could stand apart from the bigger Kildare tracks at Punchestown and the Curragh by offering the charm and intimacy of a country track. As part of a new strategy, Naas planned a major meeting for 24 February 1996 at which all seven races on the card were designed as warm-ups for Cheltenham. The conditions for each race were drawn up following consultation with the senior National Hunt handicapper Noel O’Brien.

Support from the locality was also forthcoming, not least when a large group of breeders within the Kildare and Dublin region of the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association sponsored two races on the card on 24 March 1996. They also put up cash prizes for the breeder of the winner of all seven races that day.

On 24 July 1996, Shaws Department Stores sponsored a race night at Naas, complete with barbecue, bars and a playground for children.

 

When Barry Met Jessie

 

A famous partnership began at Naas when trainer Jessie Harrington was introduced to Barry Geraghty on 8 November 1997.[39] Minutes later, Jessie herself gave Barry a leg up on Market Lass, his first ride for her, who was competing in the Novice Hurdle. On that autumnal afternoon, the mare came third behind Prince Dante, but Barry got the call to ride her again at Fairyhouse a few weeks later and on that occasion, he won. The partnership between Barry and Jessie would bloom when he partnered the brilliant Moscow Flyer to so many wins, including the Queen Mother Champion Chase in 2003 and 2005.

 

Timmy Murphy’s Tumble

 

There was a close call for Naas-born jockey Timmy Murphy when he took a heavy fall at Naas on 1 February 1998. Timmy, who had tasted success at Cheltenham with See More Business the previous year, ‘came down to earth with a thud’ when Young Mrs Kelly, the favourite in the Cedar Building Handicap Chase, hit the seventh fence so hard that Timmy was catapulted out of his seat. One of the oncoming runners then trod on his arm. The jockey recovered so sufficiently that he reunited with See More Business the following year and won the Cheltenham Gold Cup.[40]

 

His Song

 

His Song, a strapping point-to-pointer, launched his hurdling career by winning the Weatherbys Maiden Hurdle at Naas on 8 November 1997. That was the first of three consecutive wins, nudging his trainer Mouse Morris to send him to Cheltenham for the Novice’s Hurdle on St Patrick’s Day 1997. He was second home of the 30 horses that set out. Under Adrian Maguire, His Song returned to Naas to win the Newlands Chase from Danoli on 26 February 2000.

 

Bobbyjo

 

Bobbyjo had been living on a farm in Galway for a few years before he was sent to Tommy Carberry in 1995. Between 12 February 1997 and 28 February 1998, the gelding ran at Naas four times where his best result was fourth place in the Brown and McCann Handicap Hurdle. Those who noted how he stayed on well may have been inclined to stake a few pennies on him in the 1998 Irish Grand National, which he then won.

A year later, he went to Aintree and won the Martell Grand National Chase. It was an especially memorable victory for the Carberrys, Paul being in the saddle, and Tommy having also been responsible for the last Irish-trained winner of the National 24 years earlier in the form of L’Escargot, another Naas veteran.

 

Papillon

 

Papillon was an unbroken four-year-old when the jockey Brendan Sheridan, now clerk of the course at Naas, espied him at the Doncaster Sales. With Brendan’s encouragement, the horse was bought, broken and re-sold to Betty Moran, a philanthropist from Pennsylvania. Brendan was on board when Papillon made his Naas debut on 10 March 1996, coming second in the Fishery Novice Hurdle. By the time the Ted Walsh-trained gelding displaced Opera Hat in the 1999 Newlands Chase at Naas, he had won six races, including the Ladbroke Trophy Chase at Cheltenham. He had also been runner-up in the 1998 Irish Grand National.

Some in the Naas crowd may have sensed Papillon weakening when he came fourth behind His Song and Danoli in the Newlands Chase on 26 February 2000. Mrs Moran herself was unwilling to risk running him in that year’s Aintree Grand National until a friend in Jamaica persuaded her otherwise. The bookies utterly underestimated Papillon’s ability, sending him out at 33/1. His win, under Ted’s 20-year-old son Ruby, provided the Walsh family – and Ireland at large – with an epic father-and-son victory to match that enjoyed by the Carberrys after Bobbyjo’s triumph a year earlier.

 

Amberleigh House

 

On 22 November 1997, Amberleigh House outpaced a field of 31 in a Naas bumper to register the first win of his career. Subsequently trained by Ginger McCain, he became an Aintree specialist, winning the 2004 Grand National under Graham Lee. Indeed, he raced over the National fences 11 times and never fell.

 

Pound for Pound

 

By the early 1990s, the coffers of the Naas Race Company were looking somewhat empty. If it was to survive, it was imperative that the course improve its facilities, programmes and overall marketing strategy. In 1994, the IHA offered to co-fund a project to improve the course, including a new grandstand. [41] The project won the backing of Joe Walsh and Ivan Yates, the successive Ministers of Agriculture, as well as Charlie McCreevy, the Minister of Finance, a keen racegoer himself. [42]

There was also support from those who saw the racecourse as a welcome green belt between Naas and the ever-expanding industrial and retail belts forming around the town. The effects of suburbanisation had caused a considerable intake of breath with the sale of the farm at Oldtown, home to the de Burgh family for almost 300 years. The house and woodlands were retained to provide ‘a sylvan oasis’ within the urban area.

‘While the old way succeeded in retaining Naas as a popular friendly and acceptable racecourse, we intend to leave the old image behind and create a new updated approach to all of our needs,’ remarked Tony Osborne, chair of the development committee appointed to oversee the works.

The entire project would cost approximately £2.2 million. The IHA offered to match the Naas Race Company ‘pound for pound’ so the company took the decision to sell nine acres of an unused part of the car park. Approximately £800,000 was raised by the sale, while the land sold was converted into The Gallops, a prestigious development of 42 brick-front houses (18 bungalows, 18 detached two-storey houses and 6 dormer houses.)

 

Lilywhites’ Glory

 

In August 1998, there were major celebrations when the Lilywhites, County Kildare’s Gaelic footballers, won their first Leinster title since 1956. On 27 September, the Lilywhites were defeated by Galway in the All-Ireland final at Croke Park. One of the stars of the Kildare team was Willie McCreery, son of trainer Peter and now one of Ireland’s most successful flat trainers in his own right.

 

The New Stand

 

In early December 1997, the old grandstand was demolished and work commenced on the new one.[43] A bulldozer made short work of the old galvanised owners’ and trainers’ bar and the tea rooms, in which bushes were growing through the windows. It would take 10 months to complete the project but, remarkably, the course managed to host 11 race meetings during that time with the minimum of disruption. Tony Osborne gave full credit to the course manager Margaret McGuinness for enabling such continuity. She in turn acknowledged the patience of the spectators who gallantly sidestepped the ‘piles of muck’ to watch the races from the sidelines.

The new grandstand was designed by Charles D. Ellison & Associates, which later merged with Hamilton Young Associates. The main contractor was the Cedar Building Company of Arklow, County Wicklow, run by Mick Holly.[44] Ove Arup were the structural engineers; Abbott & Partners, the service engineers; and the Duffy Gaffney Partnership acted as quantity surveyor. Ted Johnson Ltd of Naas looked after the engineering and plumbing, while the Naas branch of Dunn-Barr Electric Ltd was the electrical contractor for the racecourse.

New facilities included a large indoor Tote Hall on the ground floor, alongside a Paddy Power betting shop and a spacious bar. The bar furniture came from Noel Fay Fitted Furniture of Tipper South, Naas.

A panoramic 500-seater restaurant on the first floor was modelled on the successful one that had been constructed for the dog track at Shelbourne Park.[45] The tables, which overlooked the racecourse, could be booked in advance with the caterers. The kitchens, which were installed by Mulcahy Kitchens of Greenhills Road, Dublin, offered a selection of top-class cuisine at each race meeting throughout the year. ‘We can now be proud that racegoers to Naas will experience top-class fare in comfortable surroundings no matter what the weather,’ remarked Tony Osborne. Moreover, the course could also now offer catering for weddings, 21st birthdays and christenings.

Much of the top floor was converted into corporate suites, that could be leased for a competitive cost of £15,000 for three years, providing companies and individuals alike with a useful opportunity to entertain friends or customers on a regular basis. Those suites were quickly snapped up, while other suites were made available to groups wishing to book private facilities on a once-off basis.

Elsewhere on the course, the old committee rooms at the racecourse were turned into an afternoon tea room at this time also, while the Bookmaker’s Ring was also lowered to allow better viewing of the races.

James Hannan and Sons of Celbridge was also contracted to upgrade the Schooling Grounds at the racecourse. This involved new drains, pipes and watercourses, the removal of hedges, the levelling of topsoil and the excavation of certain rocks and large roots encountered along the way.

 

A New Era Begins

 

Charlie McCreevy formerly opened the new Grandstand at the meeting on Sunday 11 October 1998. The stand, officially known as Woodlands Park, was blessed by both Father Moling Lennon and the racing priest Father Sean Breen, while Denis Brosnan, chairman of the IHA, was close to hand.[46]

The huge crowd of 6,000-plus spectators were visibly impressed by the revamped stand and its new facilities, reaching a happy conclusion that the racecourse had managed to retain its intimate charm.

From their new ring, the bookies enjoyed a good day with £524,000 placed in bets. There was a fully sponsored seven-race card, with prize money totalling almost £90,000. The biggest prize was the £25,000 Birdcatcher Nursery, sponsored by Derrinstown Stud. In that event, Cobourg Lodge just caught Wish List to give Kevin Manning his third Birdcatcher in five years.

The Swiss-owned Charita sprang a 14/1 surprise for Liam Browne, another Curragh trainer, to take the Soudavar Garnet Stakes (Listed), valued at £20,000. The bookies were further elated when the £10,000 Coughlan Handicap Hurdle – the eighth successive running of the race – went to Seamus O’Farrell’s Mister Chippy, a 25/1 shot, to give Niall Mulholland his tenth career win. [47]

Less welcome was the sight of Johnny Murtagh crossing the line on Mrs Magnier’s Borromini, the 8/15 favourite, to capture the Smurfit-sponsored £7,000 Timfrums Maiden for Aidan O’Brien. Tony and Sharon Smurfit were in position to present the prize.

Tony and Chryss O’Reilly were likewise on hand to congratulate Paul Shanahan and Trish Hyde, joint owners of Danzarina, who won the £7,000 Castlemartin Stud Maiden under Seamie Heffernan.[48]

Two new sponsors were also welcomed to Naas that day. Paddy Power sponsored a Handicap worth £12,000, won by the Aga Khan’s Afarad, while the £6,500 bumper sponsored by the MBNA Credit Card Company proved to be the main betting event of the session, generating £131,000 with the layers.[49] It was won by the Cat and Mice Syndicate’s Billywill.

A jackpot of £23,000 was also offered on the day but went a-begging. Also on offer was a trip to France for four adults with their own car, including cabin accommodation, on the Irish Ferries service.

 

Local Heroes

 

For the Cheltenham Trials Day on 28 February 1998, the featured £20,000 two-mile chase at Naas was sponsored by Naas-based QK Cold Stores. (The company, which employed over 600 people, increased the prize to £30,000 in 1999.)

Other races that day were sponsored by the Corporate and Personal Insurance Brokers, Cleary Doyle Construction (who built the houses on The Gallops) and Kealy Mehigan Higgins, the chartered accountants. Brown and McCann Solicitors, Naas Supporters and the European Breeders Fund (EBF) also contributed to the €73,000 prize fund.

Sponsors at the meeting on 5 July 1998 included Gay and Annette O’Callaghan of Yeomanstown and Morristown Lattin Studs, the Derrinstown Stud and Goffs, while Vanity Fair, Newbridge, and Monaghan’s Menswear teamed up to hand out prizes for the best dressed ladies and gents competition. Barney was also on hand, damn him.

On the weekend of 2-4 June 1999, Naas hosted an unprecedented two-day racing festival with a seven-race flat card on the Saturday and eight National Hunt races the following day. The latter included a charity race for Our Lady’s Hospital For Sick Children, Crumlin.

 

The Decline of the Ring

 

The new grandstand and the consistent quality of the races were credited with boosting attendance at Naas by 21 per cent between 1991 and 1998. In the latter year, the 14 meetings drew upwards of 40,000 spectators. During this era, the betting ring at Naas was so vibrant that there might be anything from 70 to 100 bookies in place. In 1998, the betting turnover topped £5 million.

As of 2023, the betting turnover is considerably reduced with perhaps £150,00 on a good day. That presents a challenge for the ten bookies on the ring for today’s meetings. (All racecourses have to have 10 bookies minimum to determine the starting price.) The turnstile take is also down. In the 1990s, the racing crowd would show up for meetings on Thursday and Saturday afternoons, but now there’s ‘too much choice’ with five meetings across Ireland every weekend. On top of this, TV offers excellent racing coverage every Saturday from courses around the world, so people increasingly tend to watch from the comforts of their home rather than head for tracks like Naas.

 

Cheltenham Naas Races Novices’ Hurdle, 1998

 

In 1998, the Naas Race Company sponsored the £6,500 Cheltenham Naas Races Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham. Run on 11 December 1998, it was won by Tom Paddington under Jamie Osborne. Billy Brophy and Margaret McGuinness presented the prize.

 

Automated Tote

 

In 1999, the Tote launched its new self-service Touch Tote Terminals. Automation was not an immediate winner with the Tote staff at Naas who threatened strike action when they learned that the new system was to be unveiled at the course on 29 May. Five hours of negotiations ensued, after which the Naas staff took SIPTU’s advice and voted unanimously to accept an amended package from the IHA.[50]

The racing industry received a further boost when the IHA brought in additional Sunday fixtures while Charlie McCreevy, the Minister for Finance, abolished the betting tax for on-course bookmakers and reduced the off-course betting shops tax.

Meanwhile, the impending madness of the Celtic Tiger was highlighted when the Tote recorded a turnover of one million Irish punts for a single day’s racing at the Galway festival on 3 August 1999.

1999 was also the year in which Naas was twinned with Ayr racecourse in Scotland.

 

Le Coudray

 

Le Coudray had won five times over hurdles in France before J.P. McManus bought him for no small sum at the end of 1998. Trained by Aidan O’Brien, he made a winning debut at Naas on 31 January 1999 under Charlie Swan, beating Limestone Lad by 20 lengths in the first running of the Bank of Ireland Hurdle.[51] He subsequently moved to Christy Roche’s stables at Collaghknock by the Curragh and fetched up as a dual Grade 1 winner.

Bank of Ireland was a welcome sponsor at the racecourse, taking a suite in the stand each year. [52] Limestone Lad would return to Naas to win the race in 2002 and the race is now known as the Limestone Lad Hurdle in his honour.

 

Giant’s Causeway

 

One of the most exciting horses in Ireland on the eve of the new millennium was Giant’s Causeway (1997-2018). The American-bred colt made his racing debut at Naas on 21 July 1999 where, with Mick Kinane on board, he won the six-furlong E.B.F. Maiden in impressive style.

‘Giant’s Causeway was the best horse I ever rode at Naas, by a long shot,’ recalled Mick. ‘I knew straightaway he was an exceptionally good horse.’

Two months later, the 16.1-hand chestnut went to Longchamp and won the Prix de la Salamandre. The following year, Giant’s Causeway earned the moniker of the ‘Iron Horse’ of Europe by running in eight consecutive English or Irish Group 1 races – a race every three weeks – winning five, and coming second in the other three. He then crossed the Atlantic to turn in a brilliant performance in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, losing by a mere neck to Tiznow, the 2000 American Horse of the Year. A multiple champion on the track, he would go on to become a champion sire.

As it prepared for the new century, Naas was looking as strong as it had ever done in the 75 years since it was founded.

 

End-Notes

 

[1] The 1996 Family Day was sponsored by Kildare County Council and was based around “The Environmental Awareness Maiden Race,” organised in association with Sean Graham bookmakers.

[2] Evening Herald (Dublin), 2 October 1990, p. 43.

[3] The Naas solicitors’ firm was headed up by John Coughlan.

[4] The death of Ali-Reya Soundavar was covered by the Kensington Post on 16 December 1977, p. 25.

[5] Irish Independent, 25 Jan 1991.

[6] The BonusPrint Stayers’ Hurdle (Grade 1) was won by Shuil Ar Aghaidh with Pragada second and Baydon Star third. You can see the race here.

[7] A course specialist, Mass Appeal was taking her third chase in only four runs over the larger obstacles when making virtually all in the Naas Novices Chase. Sunday Life, 26 January 1992, p. 55.

[8] Ebony Star, a gelding, also won the 1993 Tassaggart Handicap Chase at Naas.

[9] Destriero never ran at Naas. Trained by Mick O’Toole, he made his debut in January 1990 by winning the 4Y0 bumper now run at Naas. He was then sold on and won his Maiden Hurdle at Leopardstown for trainer Andy Geraghty. Destriero’s win in the 1991 Supreme was only the first half of a double which, had the second leg also been successful – The Illiad in the Champion Hurdle later on the card – it would reputedly have netted Noel Furlong four times that amount. As with Mister Donovan, the full extent of Destriero’s ability had been kept under wraps beforehand, so that his only appearance over hurdles prior to Cheltenham had been when winning a maiden event at Leopardstown on Boxing Day. ‘We didn’t run him [again] because we didn’t want to end up getting 2/1 instead of 6/1’ said Furlong. Instead, it was the Martin Pipe-trained Granville Again who started the 2/1 favourite, but the subsequent Champion Hurdle winner was only able to stay on for second, four lengths behind the winner. Furlong won a similar sum when The Illiad won The Ladbroke two months earlier.

[10] Dermot Cox, owner of the Cash & Carry in Newbridge, was a son of the businessman Paddy Cox who, as well as breeding horses, was sometime director of both Naas Racecourse and the Newbridge greyhound track, The Newbridge greyhound track closed in March 2011. Dermot’s uncle was former Taoiseach Liam Cosgrave. By 1995, the Cash and Carry had 40 employees. Dermot’s wife Ann COX (née Tighe) died in May 2022. There was a nasty episode in 1995 (here) when Dermot was kidnapped for a few hours and stuffed into the boot of a car while a group of robbers roughed up the family. His 18-year-old son David managed to tie some sheets together, escape from the window and call the police.

[11] Sunday Independent, 17 Nov 1991. Linvar carried the colours of American-based Anna McCaffrey and provided his owner with her first success. Trapper John also ran in American colours.

[12] A JACKPOT carryover well in excess of £6,000, twin £10,000 sponsored races and no shortage of runners, including Trapper John, winner of the 1990 Cheltenham Waterford Crystal Stayers’ Hurdle Championship Race under Charlie Swan, provided jumping enthusiasts with plenty to interest them at Naas on the afternoon of 16 November 1991. Trapper John’s trainer, Mouse Morris, had chosen the Sean Graham Brown Lad Hurdle for his comeback but he never got into contention in the race, as Frank Berry, ten times champion jockey, recorded his second success as a trainer with his recent acquisition Linvar under J. Jones. This was Berry’s first winner over jumps. A free draw on the racecard for a colour television to mark the latest Win Electric Novice Chase series was an added incentive for the invariably loyal patrons of Naas Racecourse, whose numbers included a visiting group of 40 supporters involved with the Kelso racecouse in Scotland.

Frank started training for J.P. McManus on an informal basis when he was training horses. He stopped training in the 2001/02 season

[13] Sunday Tribune, 17 November 1991, p. 21. [Riding Donald Swan’s Barna Beauty in the Celbridge Flat Race in December 1984 was the Swedish blonde jockey Marie-Louise ‘Lulu’ Olivefalk. She won five races for him that year. Daily Mirror, 5 December 1984, p. 28. “This is her ground” trainer Donald Swan would later say. [I’ve looked and she didn’t race at Naas much!!? ]

[14] ‘We were together 15 years,’ he says. ‘I was multiple champion during that time. I wasn’t champion jockey before I joined Dermot and then I was in the first year. Then we travelled the world. Dermot was a pioneer in that. We were the first to win in the international races in Hong Kong, a horse called Additional Risk. We ran second in the cup the same evening. I did a month’s stint in Hong Kong after that and I won the Derby and the Steward’s Cup, and so on. I went mad and they thought I was the Next Coming, so they offered me a job and and that’s how all that came about. Then Dermot and I went to America and we were the only European horse to win a classic in America (Go and Go in the Belmont Stakes, 1990). And of course Vintage Crop. They were all pioneering things and was on board! At that time, we were a huge dominant force here. Ballydoyle was in transition and wasn’t nearly as powerful at that time … so we were the dominant force for a long, long time. It was a purple patch.’

[15] Weld and Kinane came second in the cup the same evening.

[16] Dermot Weld, ‘Vintage Crop: Against All Odds’ (Gill & Macmillan, 2009). Vintage Crop won sixteen races in Ireland and England between 1992 and 1995, but never ran at Naas. His Melbourne Cup win pulled the rug from the longstanding belief that no European horse could win the race after such a long trip to Australia.

Go and Go’s grandsire was the great Northern Dancer.

[17] Pat Smullen, ‘Champion, Gill & Macmillan, 2021.

[18] Irish Independent, 26 November 1993, p. 18.

[19] After the race the stipendiary Steward Mr. O’Donoghue informed both Mr. Roche and Mr. Skelly that the Stewards of the course would hold an inquiry into the riding of both. See court case details here – https://ie.vlex.com/vid/roche-v-oe-waller-793914301

[20] Sunday Independent (Dublin), 1 November 1992, p. 45.

[21] Anne Holland, ‘Horses for Courses: An Irish Racing Year’ 2011.

[22] Niall Quinn, ‘Niall Quinn: The Autobiography’ (Hachette UK, 2004)]

[23] Niall scored on the property market when his stud farm sold for over three quarters of a million pounds on 22 July 1998. It included a luxury ultra-modern dwelling completed earlier that year. The stud farm at Ladytown between Naas and Newbridge, which was bought in 1994, was auctioned at Lawlor’s Hotel, Naas, by local estate agents McEvoys. The final bid of £760,000 was made in trust by a local solicitor. At the time, Gillian said, “We have a lot of race horses, we breed them and I like to ride.” Their home in Durham, England, also incorporated lands and stables.

[24] ‘Trickle Lad’s win at Naas last Saturday marked the first of two record targets for trainer Aidan O’Brien this year. This success made him the first Irish trainer to win 100 national hunt races in a calendar year. And, it took his overall score to 146, just four short of Dermot Weld’s combined (flat and NH) record.’ New Ross Standard, 27 October 1994, p. 58.

‘Among those I was delighted to meet at the bash were Aidan O’Brien and his gorgeous wife Ann-Marie. Last Saturday. Aidan blitzed his way into the record books at Naas when he notched up his 100th winner of the calendar year, over jumps. to become the first Irish trainer to reach the magical figure. And when you consider that the following day he celebrated his 25th birthday, you realise just what an exceptional young man he is. He is in line for another record before the year is out, since he is powering his way to breaking Dermot Weld’s all time record for a combined total of flat and jumping successes. Weld’s record stands at 150 for a calendar year. but there is little doubt that Aidan will smash it before December 31. Ann-Maria’s mother, Sarah Crowley, came along to the reception. Naturally. she and her husband Joe are extremely proud of their son-in-law’s achievements. Her other daughter, Frances, was conferred with a degree in Commerce on Wednesday and she will continue her studies with a degree in Equine Studies, and, no doubt, join in the family operation. Of course. Ann-Marie was a champion trainer herself before handing over the licence to Aidan. They have a son, Joseph, who will soon be two, who naturally occupies most of her time now.’ Irish Independent, 29 October 1994, p. 40.

[25] Aidan broken Dermot Weld’s three-year-old record of 150 winners in a year with a combined total of flat (47) and jumping (104) successes. Aidan wasn’t at Leopardstown to see Holiway Star, under Christy Roche, make it 151 by winning the Kilmacud Handicap.

[26] ‘LOCAL trainer Victor Bowens has an ambitious programme mapped out for Commercial Artist. who came out best in a photo finish to the Grange Con Handicap Hurdle. beating Beglawella by a head. The eight-Year-Old. who had his burden of top weight offset by the seven lb claim of the handler’s son Brian. will now revert to fences, with the Mackeson Gold Cup as his immediate objective. Said Bowens: 1 was pleased with that, and we’re heading for Cheltenham on 12 November, followed by the Hennessy at Newbury and then Liverpool.- Stable companion Tryfirion made a brave effort to complete a family double in the Rossmore Novice Hurdle, but came under pressure before the last as Trickle Lad pulled away to justify favouritism by three lengths in the hands of Charlie Swan. Trainer Aidan O’Brien, greeting his 100th NH winner of the year, an achievement never previously matched is just four short of equalling Dermot Weld’s record of 150 wins, NH and flat combined in a calendar year. Sunday Tribune, 23 October 1994, p. 22.

[27] Joe Walsh was Minister for Agriculture and Food (1992–1994) and Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála (TD) for Cork South-West.

[28] Pierce Molony became a member of the Turf Club in 1991 and was on the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee from 2000. He had been deputy senior steward of the Turf Club since May 2001. He succeeded Ray Rooney as senior steward of the Turf Club. As Brian O’Connor wrote in 2003:
Pierce Molony has been formally announced as the new senior steward of the Turf Club. Molony, who has been a Turf Club member since 1991, takes over from Ray Rooney, who in the last year oversaw the deal that resulted in the Aga Khan donating a large sum to enable the rebuilding of the Curragh stand. Molony, involved in the property business and owner of Malton Stud near Naas, has been Rooney’s deputy for the last two-and-a-half years. The new deputy senior steward is Frank Clarke SC, who first became a Turf Club member in 1999. My mother sat next to his wife at Jackie Corrigan’s funeral.

[29] Other IHA members were Jim Bolger, Aidan Walsh, Margaret O’Reilly, Pierce Moloney, John Magnier, Joan Moore, Joe Donnelly, Eimear Mulhern, John Oxx, Susan Armstrong, Michael Osborne, Minister Joe Walsh, Denis Brosnan (chairman), Alan Lillingston and Eddie Browne. Naas was one of 31 Irish racecourses when Margaret began her long stint in office there. Baldoyle, Mullingar, Phoenix Park and Tuam have since closed … any others?

[30] This was controversial as some said the course was a ‘diabolical’ swamp and races should not have proceeded. Irish Independent, 11 February 1995, p. 17; Irish Independent, 18 February 1995, p. 19.

[31] Among the competitors was Ann Keenan-Buckley was among the distance runners. She competed at 1988 Olympics in the 3000 metres where she finished in 24th place.

[32] Sept 1994: Outline permission to demolish and rebuild part of existing stands and

amenities, plus permission sought to build 42 houses on the racccourse between Kingsfurze/Maudlins townlands, and Tipper Roads, Naas.

[33] In January 1996, Pattie Tim defeated 29 rivals to win a £5000 Naas maiden. The horse was named for Meelin hurler Pattie Tim O’Sullivan.

[34] John Fowler’s other successes included 1989 Irish Grand National winner Maid Of Money and two-time Naas winner Bankers Benefit.

[35] Valerie Beamish met Tom Cooper at the Carlow Hunt Ball in 1957. He was a barrister but soon gave up law to become a bloodstock agent – he was pal of Pat Vigors at Columbus who introduced him to Tim Vigors, with whom he worked in horses. Tom had an incredible intuition for a horse and was a pioneer for buying thoroughbreds with Vincent. She is modest, a champion of integrity. Tom Cooper bought horses for Carolyne Anne Christie, who became good pals with Valerie and was a partner with Opera hat throughout her career. Tom and Valerie had three sons and a daughter. Her late son Jonathan was a journalist with People magazine and great pals of Alan Sweetman. Her second son Alan works with Niarchos Family of Greece. The third son Patrick is now with BBA Ireland while her daughter Diana works with Sheikh Mohammed.

[36] Opera Hat ran almost 60 times, winning on 15 occasions. See ‘Valerie Cooper | Naas Racecourse’, interview with Robert Hall, here.

[37] See Robert Hall’s interview with Valerie Cooper here. Opera Hat was dam of Woodland Opera.

[38] Sylvia Pownall,‘Opera Hat Bar Opens at racecourse’, Leinster Leader, 19 October 2006.
THE official launch of the Opera Hat Bar at Naas Racecourse on Sunday was an overwhelming success, writes Sylvia Pownall.
The racecourse chairman, Mr Dermot Cantillon, paid tribute to Opera Hat and her great achievement as winner of nine races at Naas including three successes in the prestigious Newlands Chase.
Both her owner Valerie Cooper and trainer John Fowler were in attendance and were delighted at the naming of the recently built public bar as ‘Opera Hat Bar’ in recognition of the horse’ great affiliation to Naas Racecourse.
Patrons enjoyed their complimentary hot Powers Irish whiskeys as they admired the Opera Hat memorabilia now located in the bar.
Good weather helped the day along and it went on to be one of terrific racing and ambience, with something for everyone.
Betting on the day was over €700,000. The next race meeting at Naas Racecourse is Saturday 28 October.
For more information contact Edel on (045) 897391 or www.naasracecourse.com.

[39] Barry Geraghty, Niall Kelly, ‘True Colours’ (Gill & Macmillan, 2020)

[40] Irish Independent, 2 February 1998.

[41] The Commission of Inquiry into the Thoroughbred Horse Breeding Industry, more commonly referred to as The Killanin Report, was published in July 1986. Its principal recommendation was the establishment of a new Thoroughbred Industry Board, in place of the Irish Racing Board, to oversee all areas of racing ‘except those relating to the making and administering of the rules of racing.’ This finally came to be when the Irish Horse Racing Authority was formed in 1994. The IHRA would in turn by replaced by the semi-state body Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) in 2001. To this day, 2001 legislation sees tax proceeds distributed as 80% for the thoroughbred industry through HRI and 20% for greyhound racing through Bord na gCon (Irish Greyhound Board).

[42] “As regards the investments which racecourses must make to improve their facilities and so on, Naas racecourse must sell land to finance its development. Application was made to the Minister for Finance to have rollover relief for capital gains purposes. My understanding is that this is not available in this instance. Given the amount of the investment, it should be allowed if it is going back into the business.” Seanad Éireann debate – Wednesday, 29 Jun 1994. Vol. 140 No. 17. Irish Horseracing Industry Bill, 1994: Second Stage.

‘Following the 1997 precedent that saw Naas Racecourse allowed roll-over relief of tax on land it sold to modernise course facilities, sporting bodies generally will be able to avail of such relief. That will enable them to sell property and not be hit for tax so long as the cash is invested in “field, truck or stadium facilities.’’

In March 1998, the plan to have agricultural land re-zoned to allow for 36 new houses was not without opposition among the residents of Kingsfurze, Woodlands and the Paddocks. Colm McEvoy, the Naas auctioneers, had charge of sale.

[43] On 15 April 1997, sought “approval to demolish part of existing 2 level stands and tote buildings and construct new 3 level stand at Naas Racecourse”.

[44] The late Mick Holly was a Kerry-born owner and golfing enthusiast. Cedar Building was based in Abbeylands, by Arklow.

[45] DAMIEN McELROY, 6 October 1998.
THE NEW £2m Grandstand at a revamped Naas racecourse will be officially opened by Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy before Sunday’s meeting which boasts almost £90,000 in prize money.
Patrons of the Kildare venue, where racing commenced in 1924, will see lavish new facilities including an indoor Tote hall and Paddy Power betting shop on the ground floor, a panoramic restaurant on the first floor and corporate suites above that.
Grant-aided by the government through the Irish Horse Racing Authority, the project has transformed facilities and amenities to such an extent that development committee chairman Tony Osborne declared: “We can now be proud that racegoers to Naas will experience top class fare in comfortable surroundings no matter what the weather.”
WOODLANDS PARK
This is the first phase of the transformation, now to be known as Woodlands Park, as the Millennium approaches. Attendances and wagering have been on the increase, with the betting turnover due to top £5m for this year alone.
The reconstruction was completed in record time by main contractors Cedar Building, run by Kerry-born owner and golfing enthusiast Mick Holly. The main first floor restaurant has been modelled on the formula so successful for dog racing at Shelbourne Park.
Sunday’s seven-race card is fully sponsored with the £25,000 Derrinstown stud Birdcatcher Nursery and the £20,000 listed Garnet Stakes, the main events.
Champion trainer Aidan O’Brien has wholesale entries for four of the flat races, including last Sunday’s unlucky Longchamp loser Crystal Downs, the French Group winner Hunan, Borromini and the superbly bred Saffron Waldon.
Four English-trained horses are among the initial acceptors for the one mile Garnet Stakes including Flawless trained by Sir Mark Prescott and Roger Charlton’s Housekeeper.

[46] Among the hundreds who attended a sneak preview of the course were the Osbornes and McCormacks, Niall and Pamela O’Neill, Willie Coonan from Maynooth and bloodstock agent John Walsh. Father Breen’s One Won One had recently romped home at the Curragh.

[47] In October 1993, Michael Smurfit’s daughter-in-law Sharon Devlin, a model / actress, accepted the prize when his horse Aiybak won the Coughlan Handicap Hurdle at Naas. It was given to her by Eithne Coughlan, the wife of solicitor John Coughlan whose firm was one of the leading sports sponsors in County Kildare.

[48] Irish Independent, 12 October 1998, p. 32.

[49] Irish Independent, 13 October 1998, p. 18.

[50] Brian O’Connor, ‘Tote broker deal’, The Irish Times, 2 June 1999: ‘The Tote staff at the centre of last weekend’s threatened strike action at Naas yesterday voted unanimously to accept the Irish Horseracing Authority’s amended package. Pickets had been planned for the unveiling of the new Autotoe system at Naas on Saturday but five hours of negotiations between the IHA and SIPTU on Friday evening caused the industrial action to be postponed. After a meeting yesterday, the SIPTU spokesman Liam Peppard said: “We have a deal. The broad principles have been agreed and it has been accepted unanimously. A few bits and pieces have to be tidied up but everyone is happy in so far as they can be.”’

[51] On 6 May 1989, Never Wrong won the five-furlong Bank of Ireland Series Race at Naas by half a length, but never did much more.

[52] Noel O’Brien, who became the senior National Hunt handicapper in 1990, hailed from Caragh, neat Naas, and took a keen interest in helping the Naas committee.