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Naas Races – Chapter 8 – The 1980s

Pat Eddery winning at Naas, October 1982.

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

 

Back to Naas 100 Contents

Chinrullah

 

In March 1980, Chinrullah, the runaway winner of the 1979 Arkle Challenge Trophy, enjoyed a ‘fine schooling’ at Naas with Ted Walsh in the saddle. The following week, trainer Mick O’Toole brought this versatile horse back to Cheltenham where he appeared to win the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Alas, the horse was disqualified after his feed was deemed to have been contaminated with caffeine and theobromine, both prohibited substances.

 

Blue Wind

 

In 1981, Ireland had much to celebrate when Dermot Weld’s Blue Wind won both the Epsom Oaks and the Irish Oaks. [1] Twenty years later, the Blue Wind Stakes was established at Cork as a Listed race for thoroughbred fillies and mares aged three years or older. Promoted to Group 3 level in 2004, it was transferred to Naas the following year.

Run over one mile and two furlongs every May, the race is seen as an ideal trial for the Epsom Oaks. The Aidan O’Brien-trained mare Was came third in the Blue Wind Stakes in 2012, two weeks before she won the Oaks. The winner of that 2012 race was Princess Highway, who went on to win the Ribblesdale Stakes at Royal Ascot the following month. In May 2022, Joseph O’Brien’s Tranquil Lady won the Blue Wind Stakes five months before she won the Prix de Flore at Saint-Cloud in France.

 

Shergar

 

One of the biggest stories in racing history was the kidnapping of Shergar. This fabulous stallion won five of his six races in 1981, including the Epsom Derby by ten lengths – the longest winning margin in the race’s history.[2]

On 8 February 1983, an armed gang stole Shergar from the Aga Khan’s stud farm at Ballymany, near Newbridge. They subsequently bungled the job and shot the horse dead after he damaged his leg.

 

Storm Bird

 

Shergar was not the only racehorse to come under threat. Storm Bird had been the outstanding European two-year-old of 1980, when he was unbeaten in five races, including the Anglesey Stakes, the National Stakes and the Dewhurst Stakes. In January 1981, he was attacked in his box by a disgruntled stable lad who cut his tail and mane.

Fortunately, the horse was uninjured and, in March 1981, Storm Bird enjoyed ‘a highly successful six-furlong gallop’ at Naas, cementing his status as favourite for both the 2,000 Guineas and the Epsom Derby. In the end, a respiratory infection ruled him out of both races but he would go on to have a successful career as a breeding stallion.

 

Bentom Boy

 

In January 1982, three short but intense snowstorms painted Ireland white for the best part of three weeks. The heaviest fall was a 36-hour blizzard which began on 7 January. Hundreds of motorists had to be rescued from their cars on the Naas dual carriageway.

The snow had cleared sufficiently for racing to resume at Naas on 23 January 1982. That afternoon, Bentom Boy won the Rathcoole Handicap Chase for trainer Willie Rooney. [3] Ridden by his daughter, Ann Ferris, the horse went on to be the shock winner of both the Ulster National and the Irish Grand National in 1984, a unique double to this day. Ann’s sister Rosemary Rooney was already a record-breaker (see p. XX) and Ann now followed suit as the first woman to ride an Irish Grand National winner.

 

J.P.’s Cheltenham Coup

 

J.P. McManus scored his first Cheltenham win in 1982 when Mister Donovan won the Sun Alliance Novices’ Hurdle (now the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle). The win did not come as a great surprise to those who had watched him make late headway at Naas two weeks earlier to come third behind Fredcoteri, a future Irish Sweeps Hurdle winner, but the full extent of his ability was kept under wraps.

It was the Naas finish that prompted J.P. to buy the horse from Mrs W. T. O’Grady, mother of Edward O’Grady, the horse’s trainer. At Cheltenham, Mister Donovan landed his new owner a mighty gamble when, backed from 6/1 to 9/2, he won by a length and a half under Tommy Ryan. J.P. is reported to have won £250,000 that day, providing the basis for his future empire.

That said, J.P. was lucky that Mister Donovan made it around the track. When Edward O’Grady had him examined by a vet, he was told, ‘Jaysus, he’s got such a bad murmur in his heart I’m afraid he might fall down on me.’ The O’Grady stable was enjoying a tremendous roll at this time, Edward having been Ireland’s champion in four straight seasons from 1977 to 1980.

 

Toyota’s Day

 

The Naas Race Company greeted 1983 with the welcome news that Toyota had agreed to sponsor the Naas races on 26 February to the tune of £24,000, including £8,000 for the Toyota Sweeps Hurdle (won by Bobsline) and £4,000 for the Corolla Chase. The other races were named for the Starlet, the Carina, the Camry and the Cressida.[4]

In the wake of that successful Toyota meeting, Margaret McGuinness became the first lady to win ‘Schweppes Racing Manager of the Month’. [5]

 

Charlie Swan’s Debut

 

Charlie Swan weighed barely six stone when he rode his first winner on the flat at the age of 15. The course was Naas, the date was March 1983, the race was the Kingsfurze Maiden for two-year-olds, and the horse was Final Assault, bred by his father, Donald, and owned by his grandmother, Nina Swan. In fairness, Charlie had already been to the winner’s enclosure at least 30 times by then thanks to his superb pony-racing skills. Final Assault was backed from 20/1 to 10/1.[6] ‘It really was a wonderful family win,’ recalled Donald.

 

Dawn Run

 

Arguably the most popular Irish horse of the 1980s was Dawn Run, owned by Charmian Hill and trained by Paddy Mullins. The mare had just won the Ascot Hurdle when she lined out for the Racehorse Trainers Association Hurdle at Naas on 7 December 1983.

She started favourite but was unable to build up a commanding lead and began to tire between the final two flights. When she fumbled at the last fence, four-year-old Boreen Deas seized the initiative and went away to score by three lengths at 33/1.[7]

Dawn Run would learn from her mistake and become a Cheltenham legend by winning the Champion Hurdle in 1984 and the Gold Cup in 1986. *

In 2010, a genetic study published by Dr Emmeline Hill, Charmian’s granddaughter, revealed the discovery of the speed gene in horses.

 

* Forgive n’ Forget, winner of the 1985 Gold Cup, was a non-runner in the Dodder Maiden Flat at Naas on 2 January 1982. (Ireland’s Saturday Night, 2 January 1982, p. 3.)

 

The Cognac Dash

 

Bryan F. Murphy, the then manager (and now owner) of the Dunraven Arms Hotel in Adare, County Limerick, had an especially active Tuesday in September 1983. He lunched at Château de Chanteloup, the Martell family chateau in Cognac. His six-courser included turbot, veal and glacé au cognac, washed down with wine and more cognac. He then boarded the Martells’ executive jet, which landed him in Dublin, where a BMW somehow transferred him down the dual carriageway to Naas where he was due to ride a horse in the 5:30.

Mr Murphy, a top-class amateur jockey with 12 wins to his credit that season, arrived at the racecourse with two minutes to spare. He quickly mounted Here’s The Doc, finishing third at 20/1.[8]

One wonders if such dedication to service was at the root of Martell Cognac’s decision to commence a 13-year sponsorship of the Aintree Grand National in 1992.

 

Barney Curley Strikes Again

 

After his great coup with Yellow Sam in 1975, Barney Curley used some of his winnings to set himself up as a trainer. He scored his first win on 3 March 1984 when I’m Incommunicado, ridden by Willie Mullins, won at no less a track than Naas.[9] The horse was backed from 20/1 to 5/2, winning Barney £120,000. ‘Not a bad start for a rookie trainer,’ remarked Barney afterwards.

Three weeks later, he was seemingly up another £100,000 after The Tariahs won the Maudlin Flat Race at Naas, having been backed in from 8/1 to 7/4.

On 7 September 1988, the poorly rated Ijbar was backed from 14/1 to 4/1 ahead of the Johnstown Handicap at Naas, with the Tote offering even more favourable returns. The horse duly won the race – one of just two wins in his 30 starts – making headlines as one of the biggest betting coups of the decade. As the Irish Independent observed: ‘The fact that Barney Curley attended the meeting might or might not be relevant.’ [10]

In 1996, Barney established the Direct Aid For Africa (DAFA) charity to support ‘the underprivileged people of Zambia’.

 

Barney Burnett

 

The Naas track was very conveniently located for the stables of Ruby Walsh Sr., as his horses could be led out the back gate at Kill, walked across by Furness and ‘in by the back road’ to Naas. In 1985, a horse by the name of Barney Burnett made that trip and won a bumper on his first outing. He was still ‘galloping out’ when the race was over, recalled Ted, his jockey, which is ‘always a great sign.’

Owned by Paddy Donovan, he proved to be the outstanding novice hurdler of the 1985-1986 season, winning six times. In 1987, he returned to Naas where he was second in the Kildare Novices’ Chase and third in the Bishopscourt Chase. In March 1988, he was back again, winning the Hassett Novices’ Chase by 10 lengths.

 

Kieren Fallon’s Naas Debut

 

In July 1986, a ‘smart apprentice’ from County Clare named Kieren Fallon was given a ride at Naas on Highly Delighted by the Australian-born trainer Kevin Prendergast, son of Paddy ‘Darkie’ Prendergast. Kieren duly brought his horse ‘strongly’ on the stand side to beat the favourite and claim the race.[11] He repeated his success on the same horse at Leopardstown two weeks later.

Kieren Fallon would go on to be British Champion Jockey six times, winning 16 classics as well as the Arlington Million. He also won countless races at Naas prior to his retirement in 2016.

 

Board Manoeuvres

 

Money was not in tremendous supply in Ireland during the 1980s, but the board of the Naas Race Company did what it could to maintain and improve the course. New stands were built, the track was drained and widened, and the general spectator facilities were greatly improved. [12]

The racecourse could also sustain itself in tough times. When a nationwide power cut was threatened on the eve of a meeting in September 1985, Margaret McGuinness confidently asserted that they could proceed without electricity: ‘The catering facilities are not dependent on electricity; the public address system can work independently of the main supply and the starting stalls are operated by batteries.’ [13]

There were changes at the top in 1986 when Paddy Cox stepped down after 24 years in the chair. Billy Brophy, son of Edward, was duly promoted to be the new chairman.[14]  Billy’s vacated seat on the board was taken by Helen Cox, Paddy’s wife, who thus became the board’s first female director. The other board members at this time were Redmond J.  Murphy (son of Patrick Murphy), Harry Farrell and Paddy Osborne.

Paddy Cox passed away on 4 November 1988.

 

Bobsline

 

Francis Flood trained Naas veterans Glencaraig Lady (Cheltenham Gold Cup, 1972) and Bobsline (Arkle Trophy, 1984), as well as two Irish Grand National winners, Garoupe (1970) and Ebony Jane (1993).

Bobsline was a hero of Francis Flood’s stables, winning over 26 races between 1980 and 1991. This ‘fantastic performer,’ as his trainer described him, favoured left-hand courses. Consequently he ran at Naas 11 times, winning the Toyota Hurdle, the Irish Racing Writers Trophy Hurdle and the Bishopscourt Chase in 1983. [15]

Bobsline made many friends in 1984 when, as 5/4 favourite, he won the Arkle Challenge Trophy at Cheltenham on the same day as Dawn Run’s Champion Hurdle triumph.[16] However, an enormous amount of Irish money was riding on him when he fell at the third-last fence in the Queen Mother Champion Chase the following year. [17]  He broke a small bone in his hind leg in the fall but returned to his winning ways by defeating Kilkilowen, under Frank Berry, to capture the Boyne Handicap Chase at Naas on 4 January 1986.

At the venerable age of 15, this popular chaser came home third in the Boyne Handicap at Naas in January 1991. He ran his last race on the track two months later, retiring at the end of the year. [18]

 

Barrow Line

 

Barrow Line, a brother of Bobsline, was defeated on his racing debut in a Naas bumper in December 1985. However, he had racked up three wins from five starts by the time he won the Donadea Hurdle on the same course on 4 February 1986.[19] Despite some leg trouble, Barrow Line won his chasing debut at Naas eight months later, taking the Bishopscourt Chase. A top-class chaser, he would go on to win the Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse and the ‘Irish Arkle’ at Leopardstown during the 1986-87 season.

 

Omerta

 

On 5 February 1986, Homer Scott saddled Omerta to win the Kilmeague Novice Chase at Naas, his first outing over fences. A month later, the chestnut went to Cheltenham and cruised to an easy win in the four-mile National Hunt Chase. Subsequently trained by Martin Pipe, Omerta’s career peaked in 1991 when he won the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup at Cheltenham and the Irish Grand National.

 

Flash of the Firestones

 

In September 1985, Flash of Steel won a six-furlong maiden at Naas, justifying his start as odds-on favourite. Trained by Dermot Weld, the colt went on to win the Irish 2,000 Guineas in 1986.

Flash of Steel’s owner was Bert Firestone, head of the Firestone Corporation, headquartered in Virginia, which built warehouses and industrial parks across the USA. From 1973 until 1988, Bert was joint master of the Kildare Hunt. He also sat on the board of the Irish Equine Centre and was one of the key investors in Goffs, along with Khalid Abdullah, Walter Haefner of Moyglare Stud, Robert Sangster and the US sales house Fasig-Tipton.

In 1974, he married Diana Johnson, the granddaughter of the founder of Johnson & Johnson, the pharmaceutical giant. Passionate supporters of showjumping and racing, the Firestones’ connection with County Kildare began when Bert purchased the Aga Khan’s studs at Gilltown and Sallymount in 1970.[20] Between these and their American studs, they bred the winners of several Triple Crown trophies as well as Vintage Crop, winner of the Melbourne Cup.

Weld, who trained Vintage Crop, also trained their horse Blue Wind, winner of the Epsom Oaks. Amongst the other horses to race in Firestone’s green and white colours was Dark Raven, who had yet to be beaten when he lined out for the Newbridge Handicap Hurdle at Naas under atrocious conditions on 3 December 1986. He had not raced since winning the Glenlivet Hurdle at Aintree eight months earlier. Trained by Dermot Weld, the horse did not disappoint his backers, winning with ease under Tommy Carmody. Alas, Dark Raven’s Cheltenham dreams were foiled by leg problems that commenced later that month. He did not race again until 1989, and never reached his full potential.

 

Authaal – Shergar’s Heir

 

Bred in Kentucky, Authaal was the best of the 36 foals sired by the ill-fated Shergar. The American-bred colt set a record as both a foal and as a yearling when sold for 325,000 guineas and 3.1 million guineas, both times at Goffs. He had been pin-hooked from foal to yearling by Timmy Hyde of Camas Park Stud.

Authaal was one of the first horses that Sheikh Mohammed had in training in Ireland. Trained by David O’Brien, son of Vincent, and ridden by Christy Roche, the three-year-old won the Blessington Race, over a mile and a half, at Naas on 9 September 1986.  It was the first of 19 Naas wins for the Dubai-based Sheikh Mohammed between 1986 and 2005.

Four weeks after his Naas win, Authaal cruised to victory in the Irish St Leger, to give the Sheikh Mohammed  his first Group 1 win in Ireland, England or France. In 1988, Authaal went to Australia where his wins included two Group 1 races, the Queen Elizabeth Stakes and the Underwood Stakes. The following year, he began a decade long period as a breeding stallion in Japan.

 

Stirabout

 

In October 1986, Tommy Carmody steered Michael Smurfit’s Stirabout to victory in the Newbridge Handicap Hurdle, despite carrying 12 stone. The win brought Dermot Weld’s annual tally past the century mark, the fourth time the Newbridge-born trainer had achieved the milestone. He was courteous about his hosts, whose concentrated watering had provided near-perfect ground. ‘Let’s give credit to the Naas management for ensuring decent going which we all welcome,’ he said.[21]

By the time of Stirabout’s next outing, two months later, he had been transferred to Nicky Henderson’s yard, for whom he won the Grade 1 Novices Chase at Kempton on 27 December 1986.

 

Michael Osborne

 

Michael Osborne

In 1982, Michael Osborne stepped down as manager of the Irish National Stud. Renowned for his diplomacy, the former vet from Naas declared his exasperation at the failure of the ‘faceless’ state to implement a single recommendation he had proposed over the course of his 12 years of service. [23]  Prior to his appointment to the National Stud in 1970, he was probably the most successful veterinary surgeon in the Naas district. His practice was taken over by Jimmy Kelly, a champion of the reverse pass who played rugby for Ireland. Michael’s daughter Meta, who is also a vet, would later work alongside Jimmy at the practice.

Michael then managed North Ridge Farm in Lexington, Kentucky, until 1986 when he was recruited by General Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and UAE Minister of Defence, to build up his stud farm operations in Ireland. He duly helped Sheikh Mohammed buy Kildangan Stud. As chief executive of the Emirates Racing Authority, Michael was central to the establishment of international racing in Dubai, supervising the construction of the first Nad Al Sheba grandstand and organising the world’s richest race, the Dubai World Cup, in 1996.

A former senior steward of the Turf Club, Michael was the first Irishman to be made an honorary member of the Jockey Club. He was conferred with an honorary science doctorate by the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, while he was also a Freeman of Naas, which he considered an immense tribute. When his term as a steward of the Irish Turf Club ended in April 1989, he was succeeded by the trainer Seamus McGrath.[24]

He is credited with wooing legendary Kerry football player-manager Mick O’Dwyer to manage Kildare in the 1990s, securing two Leinster titles, and giving the Lilywhites their first All-Ireland final appearance in 70 years.

In 2004, Dubai’s King of The Turf was unanimously elected chairman of the World Racing Championships. After his untimely death the following year, Sheikh Mohammed described him as ‘a wonderful man’ with whom he had enjoyed some ‘marvellous times.’

Michael married Ann Duffy of Hacketstown, County Carlow, a daughter of John Duffy, a well-known merchant and businessman. Mr Duffy had an interest in Naas, perhaps through the Whelan family. Michael and Ann’s oldest son Joe Osborne has had a senior role in Sheikh Mohammed’s Irish operation since 1994 when he was appointed manager of Godolphin Ireland in 1994. He became managing director in 1998 and is, by extension, managing director of Kildangan Stud. He also served as chairman of the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association.

Michael and Ann’s younger son John, was chief executive of the Irish National Stud for seven years. In 2017, he moved to Horse Racing Ireland where he is now Director of Bloodstock and Welfare.

 

Economic Turbulence

 

Ireland’s housing and road infrastructure continued to expand during the 1980s, when a new batch of industrial estates began to appear around Naas.[22] The racecourse came within shouting distance of Ireland’s first motorway when the M7 Naas Bypass opened in 1983, concluding an awful era in which Naas had been regarded as one of the state’s most notorious bottlenecks.

Elsewhere, Major John de Burgh, a long-serving steward at the Naas races, lent his support to a volunteer-led project to restore the Naas branch of the Grand Canal with new lock gates, which was completed in 1987.

Nonetheless, the 1980s was a bleak era in Irish history, characterised by high unemployment and mass emigration. Political instability and widespread corruption did little to calm the national nerves. By the middle of the decade, almost a quarter of a million people were unemployed. In May 1986, a massive ‘Live Aid’ style concert, Self Aid, was held in Dublin, raising millions of pounds for a job creation trust.

The racing industry was also under immense pressure, a situation that the Irish Racing Board was determined to resolve. The Phoenix Park track had actually closed at the end of 1981 but was given a lifeline by a consortium that included Vincent O’Brien and Robert Sangster. Ongoing financial difficulties would see the track close permanently in 1990. The independent, not-for-profit Irish Equine Centre was established at Johnstown, near Naas, in 1983 to protect the wellbeing of Ireland’s horses in such uncertain times.

Naas was also struggling. In November 1986, Michael Smurfit, chairman of the Irish Racing Board, chose Naas Racecourse as the place to launch a new campaign to secure state aid for racing. Dr Smurfit vowed to resign if the necessary funding was not forthcoming.[25] He specifically sought funding to improve the drainage on Irish racetracks, warning that if such courses continued to decline, there would be a terrible knock-on effect for the industry at large, jeopardising thousands of jobs and millions of pounds in export earnings.

The government’s initial response was to reduce the tax on all wagers placed in betting offices from a crushing 20 per cent to 15 per cent. The following year, the Tote introduced computerised terminals to Irish racecourses.

 

The Naas Supporters Club

 

With finances low, and Naas expanding rapidly, there was a clear and present danger in the 1980s that Naas racecourse might be sold as prime building land. There was added pressure because the buildings at Naas were so antiquated when compared to the smart new stands at the Curragh and Leopardstown.

When Denis Brosnan became chairman of Horse Racing Ireland in 1986, he counselled the Naas Race Company to get sponsors on board to sustain the course.[26] The injection of private money was increasingly regarded as the solution to the industry woes.

Billy Brophy, the chairman, proposed that they start by finding local sponsors for a ‘novel type of race’, a £4,000 Novice Chase for chasers that had yet to be successful over jumps. [27] With Margaret McGuinness to the fore, the company began by approaching their service providers like Tommy Fletcher, the late publican, and Mick Cronin, the electrician. By January 1987, they had 10 well-known businessmen and women from Naas on board, each prepared to contribute £110 towards the race.[28]

The Naas Supporters Novice Chase was run on 24 January 1987. The victor was Trafalgar Blue, whose owner was presented with ‘a very attractive trophy’ while the groom who produced the best-turned-out horse received a cheque for £25. [29]

‘It just goes to show that many local businessmen and women appreciate the business which the racetrack brings to the town,’ remarked Billy.

As well as contributions from local traders, the Racing Board put up £3,000 of prize money for the day from the extra funds made available by the Government to help National Hunt racing.

 

Sunday Racing

 

With Michael Smurfit as chairman, the Irish Racing Board made a landmark decision to permit Sunday racing in Ireland. In 1986, the 12 Sunday meetings enjoyed attendances double that of the weekday average. France and Italy also had Sunday races at this time, but the UK did not follow suit until 1992. [30] However, then, as Margaret McGuinness puts it, “they started giving one out to everyone in the audience” and interest petered out.

Naas held its first Sunday meeting on 29 March 1987, drawing over 5,000 spectators, which was about 1,500 more than a good Saturday at the time. The crowd was treated to the sight of Bankers Benefit ‘delightfully leaping over hurdles’ under John Fowler to win the Wicklow Hurdle.[31]

Dr Smurfit was also making headlines at this time as part-owner of the great steeplechaser Greasepaint, another Naas veteran. The horse came agonisingly close to winning the Aintree Grand National in both 1983 (beaten by Corbiere)  and 1984 (beaten by Hello Dandy). [32] ‘We might as well be on Mars or another planet, no one cares about second,’ lamented Dr Smurfit. That is not entirely true. I remember Greasepaint; I backed him £3 each-way at the age of 12.

 

Mullins on the Mark

 

Willie Mullins, 2010. Photo: James Fennell.

The 1980s would see the Mullins family rising to the top of the Irish National Hunt scene. On 8 March 1986, for instance, Paddy Mullins enjoyed a treble at Naas, including Boro Quarter, winner of the Nas na Riogh Chase, who went on to win that year’s Galway Plate in the red and black silks of the Hill family.[33]

In September 1987, Paddy’s 25-year-old son Tony, a former Champion National Hunt jockey, took out a trainer’s licence. The following month, he saddled his first winner when Clever Christian defied top weight status to take the Birdcatcher at Naas.[34] Tony had inherited the horse from his father. Ridden by David Parnell, Clever Christian was only the second runner Tony Mullins had ever saddled.

Four weeks after his Birdcatcher victory, Tony rode a winner for his father at Naas when Tradehimin came home ‘with ease’ in the Sean Graham Brown Lad Handicap Hurdle. Paddy scored a double that afternoon when Redundant Pal won the Rogers For Racing Bumper.[35] Redundant Pal raced at Naas eight times in total, winning the Newbridge Handicap Hurdle in 1989, and also came third in the 1991 Arkle Challenge Trophy at Cheltenham.

The remarkable Willie Mullins, who won the first of his six Irish amateur jockey championships in 1983, commenced training in 1988. His son Patrick is the most successful amateur rider in Irish racing history. See a fuller account of Willie here.

On 30 November 1988, Mags Mullins, the then wife of Tony, rode the family-bred Devil’s Valley to win a Naas bumper.[36] A year later, Paddy won the Brown Lad E.B.F. Handicap Hurdle at Naas with Grabel, ridden by Tony. The following year, the Mullins took Grabel to Kentucky Downs and won the Duelling Grounds Hurdle, the richest jump race ever held in North America.

 

Carvill’s Hill

 

On 2 December 1987, the Naas crowd cheered as Carvill’s Hill, a well-backed 6/4 favourite, soared past 28 rivals in the Kilcullen Maiden Hurdle to make a triumphant start to his hurdling career. Having run out a four-length winner on that occasion, the 17.2-hand giant returned to Naas the following month and scored another win, the Irish Racing Writers Perpetual Trophy Hurdle, this time by 12 lengths. He clearly loved the course because when he came back to Naas in January 1989, he won the Boyne Handicap Chase by 15 lengths.

Carvill’s Hill’ ‘relentless gallop’ would earn him 14 wins by the time of his death in 2002, including two Irish Gold Cups and the biggest runaway win in the history of the Welsh National.

 

Cool Ground

 

On 3 February 1988, the Tasaggart Handicap at Naas was won by a six-year-old gelding by name of Cool Ground.[37] Relocated to England the following month, Cool Ground’s glittering career reached a crescendo when he won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1992.

 

Al O’Connell at Fairyhouse. Photo HEALY RACING.

See You Then

 

One of the stand-out names at the Cheltenham Festival in the 1980s was See You Then, trained by Nicky Henderson, who won three consecutive Champion Hurdles in 1985,1986 and 1987. He had made a winning start to his hurdling career with his debut at Naas when he took the Barrow Maiden Hurdle on 3 January 1987.

 

Classical Charm

 

Classical Charm, who so narrowly lost the 1988 Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, scored his first win at Naas when he took the Barrow Maiden Hurdle on 3 January 1987. His trainer Al O’Connell was also responsible for the brilliant Glens Music, whose six wins at Naas included the Nas Na Riogh Novices’ Chase (Grade 2) in February 2003.[38]

 

A Rare Win for Classic Thoroughbred PLC

 

Kyra, a daughter of Sadler’s Wells, was one of the top two-year-olds in 1988.[39] She was the first horse to carry the colours of Classic Thoroughbred PLC, the ill-fated company in which her trainer Vincent O’Brien was a major shareholder.

Ballydoyle had already won five Birdcatchers at Naas by the time Kyra set off around Naas in October 1988. Her win marked part of a ‘sparkling treble’ for jockey Declan Gillespie that day, although Classic Thoroughbred PLC failed to gain traction and folded in 1991. [40]

 

Trapper John & The Tote Win

 

The last day’s racing of 1988 took place at Naas on 30 November. That afternoon, four-year-old Trapper John, trained by Mouse Morris, came second in a Maiden Hurdle. This was one of several Naas outings for Trapper John whose nine career wins would include the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in 1990.

On the day Trapper John won at Naas, the Tote recorded the ‘Best Winning Odds’ in its history when Mary’s Gift won the Kilcullen Maiden Hurdle at Naas for jockey-trainer Joe Byrne and owner T. G. McGrath. The horse was a 33/1 chance with the bookmakers, but the Tote paid £927.30 for a £1 win and £12.40 for a £1 place bet. [41]

 

TV Pundits

 

By 1988, BBC and Channel 4 were showing approximately 120 days of live racing every year. Many RTÉ viewers got their racing fix from Sports Stadium, which aired every Saturday from 1973 until 1997, when it was replaced by Saturday Sport Live.[42] However, the highest ratings were for the stand-alone RTÉ Racing programme, which covered the major race meetings around Ireland, including the Punchestown and Galway festivals. In 2003, for instance, RTÉ Racing had coverage on 25 days.

For many viewers, the highlight of the programme was the double act of Robert Hall and the former jockey-turned-trainer Ted Walsh, who delivered their punditry for almost 80 years between them. Robert was born in Furness, overlooking Naas Racecourse, and fronted RTÉ’s racing coverage from 1982 until his retirement in 2020. Ted, who also grew up nearby, announced his retirement in 2023.

 

Satellite Age

 

From a bookmaker’s perspective, the days when races were on TV were by far the busiest and most profitable because punters like to see the horses they’re backing and the courses they’re running on. If there was no TV coverage of a meeting, bookies depended on a voice-only service from Extel.

A new dawn commenced in May 1987 when the newly launched Satellite Information Services (SIS) began transmitting live TV pictures daily from two British horseracing meetings and one greyhound meeting.

Backed by the British Racecourse Association, SIS installed cameras at each meeting it covered and then sent a signal to the Post Office Tower in London, which transmitted the signal to the SIS studio in North London. The signal was edited and retransmitted to the Docklands. It was then sent skywards to British Telecom’s Intelsat satellite which bounced it back down to satellite dishes on the roofs of bookies shops all over Britain and, in due course, Ireland.

By the time SIS commenced its broadcasts in Ireland in March 1989, over half of the country’s 1,000 bookmakers had signed up to the service, paying about £90 a week (including the hire of a satellite dish and the all-important decoder). In August 1988, for instance, Paddy Power applied for planning permission to erect satellite dishes over some of its 48 shops.

For SIS’s Irish manager, Tom Gingles, it was an easy sell because the UK experience showed that betting shops without SIS simply could not compete with those that did. Many bookies folded under the pressure while the arrival of SIS heralded a new age for British multiples like Coral, Mecca and Ladbrokes.[43]

 

The Schooling Operation

 

1989 got off to a bad start for Naas when the January fixture was abandoned due to a waterlogged course. However, Margaret McGuinness and the course executive came up with a short-term solution to their financial woes.

Inspired by Peter Martin’s success at Punchestown, they introduced schooling days at Naas. Trainers would duly pay a fee to bring their horse to the track, walk around the parade ring and race against other horses in an unofficial capacity. The idea was that horses would learn the routine of going from home to track, as well as parade ring etiquette, and thus become accustomed to the experience.

As such, following the last official event on race days, racegoers were invited to stay on at Naas so that they might catch sight of a future champion training. This was especially popular in the build-up to the Cheltenham Festival, although few people recognised which horse was which as the races were only practice events, free from commentary or colours.

‘Everybody came to school,’ recalls Mary Brophy. ‘They didn’t have those facilities in their own stables.’

John Fowler schooled Maid of Money at Naas ahead of her triumph in the 1989 Jameson Irish Grand National.[44] As Jackie Mullins told Margaret: ‘There’s nothing like being schooled at Naas with that uphill finish.’

Schooling provided a useful extra revenue for the Naas Race Company but, because they charged a fee for the facility, they were obliged to provide medical cover in case something happened. Thus, a vet and a doctor had to be on duty at schooling events.

Dr Matthew Fay, who was often on duty, recalls an air of mystery about such evenings.

‘There’d be all these individual horses walking around and little clusters of people talking to each other about their particular horse. No one would talk to me because no one knew who I was, so I always felt very nicely anonymous. They wouldn’t want to let on to a stranger what they were planning with their horse!’

On the downside, trainers and owners alike were quick to blame the ‘schooling’ or the ‘track’ if their horses subsequently lost.

 

Battle of the Kinanes

 

In 1989, Tommy Kinane, who had shared in Monksfield’s Champion Hurdle successes a decade earlier, saddled his first winner as a trainer when his wife’s Corner Forward, the 9/4 favourite, won the Naas Supporters’ Novice Chase under their 21-year-old son Paul. It was the first success for his Curragh stables since opening at Clunemore Lodge three months earlier.

It was also a very welcome win for Paul Kinane, who had been almost two years without a winner. The horse that Corner Forward just got the better of in the Naas race was Midnight Seeker, a 7/1 chance ridden by Paul’s brother, Tommy Jr.[45]

 

Rare Holiday

 

On 24 June 1989, the Dermot Weld-trained Rare Holiday went to Naas and won his debut race, the Clane Maiden, under Mick Kinane. After a long hot spell prior to the race, Dermot was ‘loud in his praise of the Naas executive who [had] watered the course’ for several days beforehand.[46] Dermot and Mick were in top form that day, Rare Holiday making up a treble with Careafolie (the Halverstown E.B.F. Race) and Balance Sheet (the Rathcoole Maiden).[47]

The winner’s enclosure clearly appealed to Rare Holiday. In 1990, the four-year-old went to the Cotswolds and defeated 30 rivals to win the Triumph Hurdle and give the Weld stables its first-ever Cheltenham win. He was also Dr Michael Smurfit’s only Cheltenham winner.

 

Post-Race Celebrations

 

In the late 1980s and 1990s, the principal venues for socialising after the Naas races were Lawlor’s Hotel and the now-closed Manor Inn on Naas’s Main Street. As Goffs director Nick Nugent recounts: ‘None of the many other excellent restaurants in the town today had yet opened. Others stayed in the Cill Dara Hotel, opposite Goffs, or the Keadeen in Newbridge or the Green Isle near Newlands Cross. There was no K Club, no Osprey and no Killashee, all of which today absorb the largest number of visitors.’ In the 1990s, these were the main places of entertainment listed in the area:

Local Hotels
      • Ambassador Hotel, Kill
      • Town House Hotel, Naas
      • Court Hotel, Naas.
      • Harbour View Hotel, Naas.
      • Hotel Keadeen, Newbridge.
      • Kildare Hotel & Country Club, Straffan.
      • Setanta House Hotel, Celbridge.
Local Restaurants
      • Lawlors Hotel
      • Manor Inn
      • Johnstown Inn, Johnstown
      • Finans Restaurant, Naas

 

Peter Curling

 

The artist Peter Curling once rode in a ‘Mad Hatters’ charity race at Naas which he described as ‘the wildest and most dangerous experience I ever had riding, with horses and their partners going in every direction.’

Peter also recalled a helicopter trip from Killarney to Naas on 20 July 1989 with the trainer Frank Dunne and the jockey Brendan Sheridan, who had been competing at Killarney. The plan was to get Brendan back up to the evening meeting at Naas where he was due to ride an odds-on favourite in the 6:30. [48]

‘We were late to leave Killarney and Brendan was getting twitchy but the good thing about going by helicopter is there are no delays and no traffic.’

‘When we landed beside the winning post, it was just before 6:30. The horses were in the paddock. Brendan, who was in his riding gear and wearing the colours, was just able to run across to the weighing room, weigh out and hop on the horse who duly tootled round Naas Racecourse and cantered home. The whole thing took less than 10 minutes.’ [49]

Brendan Sheridan was still at school when he started riding out for Ruby Walsh Sr near his home at Kill. He went on to ride over 500 winners during his career, including the 1990 Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham on Rare Holiday and the 1988 Irish Grand National on Perris Valley. Since 1996, he has been Clerk of the Course at Naas, as well as five other racecourses.

 

Lady Liberty

 

Brendan Sheridan won the only two hurdle races on the card that July evening – the Cork Handicap (with Kinky Lady) and the Clondalkin Maiden (with Myross, trained by Ruby Walsh). There was no such luck for Frank Dunne whose Lady Liberty briefly won the Celbridge Handicap, under Johnny Murtagh. His happiness disintegrated when the horse was disqualified after a stewards’ enquiry found that she had bumped third-placed On Deposit during a switch. Johnny was given a three-day suspension for ‘reckless riding’, while John Egan, who rode On Deposit, was given a two-day suspension for giving what was deemed to be inaccurate evidence to the enquiry.

With Lady Liberty out, the race went to Jim Bolger’s Eliakim, who had ridden into second place under Christy Roche. Jim concluded the day with another win when Galacto Boy, ridden by Peadar Matthews, won the Kare Charity Private Sweepstakes.[50]

 

The Kare Charity Private Sweepstakes

 

The Kare Charity Race was the brainchild of Maureen Bagnall, whose parents Pat and Maureen Doyle owned the 1972 Cheltenham Gold Cup heroine Glencaraig Lady. Inspired by her brother Séan’s win in the first-ever charity race at Leopardstown, Maureen established the race to raise money for Kare, a local charity in Naas. Margaret McGuinness, the course manager, helped organise the race, which was run at Naas for eight years.

Well supported by trainers and owners alike, the race provided an opportunity for amateurs to really experience the track. It also ensured a large gathering of the riders’ families on the day, generating much excitement in the stands and around the parade ring with 20 riders going to post. Séan Bagnall, Maureen’s husband, often rode in the race but had to undergo a ‘long session’ in the sauna beforehand as he was also a prop forward on the rugby pitch. There was always a lively party afterwards, paid for by sponsors, and the race made approximately £6,000 for the charity each year. [51]

 

Galmoy

 

There was considerable despondency in Irish racing circles in 1987 and 1988 when a solitary Irish horse managed to win at Cheltenham. That horse was John Mulhern’s Galmoy, who captured the Stayers’ Hurdle in both years. Galmoy was a sturdy Naas veteran, having won the 1984 Celbridge Flat Race under Ted Walsh and the 1987 Newbridge Handicap Hurdle under Tommy Carmody. [52]

In his bid for a third Stayers’ Hurdle in 1989, he was beaten into second place by Rustle. It was symptomatic of that year’s festival when the combined might of Ireland’s National Hunt failed to produce a single winner.[53] Fortunately the 1990s would see a renaissance.

 

Last Words

 

On 4 November 1989, Charlie defeated a good field at Naas to win the Rossmore Novice Hurdle on My View for trainer Michael Purcell. The horse went on to win the 1992 Coral Golden Hurdle at Cheltenham, under Jason Titley.

On 29 November 1989, the final day of the season, Firions Law outran 29 other horses to win the Town Maiden Hurdle at Naas for Victor Bowens. He went on to win the 1991 Galway Plate, as well as the 1991 Black & White Whisky Champion Chase at Leopardstown.

 

End-Notes

 

[1] Carin Rouge, winner of the Mulcahy Stakes (1980), Irish 1,000 Guineas (1980), Coronation Stakes (1980) and Champion Stakes (1980) was due to have a ‘weekend workout’ at Naas in April 1981. Sunday Mirror, 12 April 1981, p. 43.

[2] He also won the Irish Sweeps Derby by four lengths; a month after that he won the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes

[3] Belfast Telegraph, 23 February 1982, p. 19.

[4] ‘There will be £8,000 in added money for newly sponsored Toyota Hurdle and £4,000 for the Corolla Chase at Naas on February 26. The other races are also being sponsored by Toyota (Ire.) Ltd. and by agents for the motor car firm, bringing the total prize money to £24,000 a record for the fixture.’ Belfast Telegraph, 26 January 1983, p. 20. See also Belfast Telegraph, 25 February 1983, p. 23.

[5] ‘Racing’s First Lady – Margaret McGuinness,’ Irish Examiner, 1 April 1983.

[6] Irish Independent, 11 December 1986, p. 15.

[7] Daily Mirror, 8 December 1983.

[8] ‘A MAD DASH from Cognac to the Naas Races.
It sounds almost like a spy film. Bryan F. Murphy, Manager of the “Dunraven Arms Hotel” in Adare, Co. Limerick, began at Cognac airport in mid-France at 3 p.m. yesterday. Bryan, who is also a top class amateur jockey with twelve wins this season to his credit, was scheduled to ride “Her’s the Doc” in the 5.30 race in Naas.
Murphy was on a special visit to the Martell family Chateau in Cognac as the grape harvest for 1983’s cognac is about to begin.
He flew back in Martell’s own executive jet and was met at the airport by a BMW after. being hustled through Immigration. A screaming zip through Dublin’s traffic jams and an hysterical race down the dual carriageway got Murphy there with two minutes to spare.
It was a harrowing experience.
And how did he do at Naas? Bryan finished third at a starting price of 20/1. Lunch before he left in the Martell “Chateau Chanteloup” was a magnificent six course affair courtesy of Reace (Rennee?) Martell Legion d’Honnere, which included turbot, veal, salad, two wines, cheese and glace cognac, followed by cognac.
Tempting even for a Naas jockey.
Then there was a dash to the airport and the rest was hysterics in Dublin.
Evening Herald, 14 September 1983

[9] Sunday Mirror, 4 March 1984, p. 40; Westmeath Examiner, 17 March 1984. Nick Townsend ‘The Sure Thing: The Greatest Coup in Horse Racing History’, p. 79-81. See also his obituary here.

[10] Irish Independent, 10 September 1988, p. 22. Barney Curley once organised a lottery where first prize is his home Middleton Park House. A native of Irvinestown, County Fermanagh, and professional gambler, he owned and lived in Middleton Park House, Castletown Geoghegan, situated between Kilbeggan and Mullingar, County Westmeath. The ancestral home of the Boyd-Rochforts, Middleton Park House was designed by George Papworth and constructed circa 1850, replacing the previous house on the site which had been destroyed by fire. Situated on 380 acres, it has been run as an agricultural business since Barney Curley purchased it. With plans to expand his horse training business Barney Curley decided to hold the draw for his house selling almost 9,000 tickets in the process. Hopefuls who paid £200 for a ticket were in with a chance of winning this mid-nineteenth century Italianate style two-storey house, complete with outhouses, stables and mature grounds. The winner was from England.

[11] Irish Independent, 10 July 1986, p. 13. In June 1984, Kieran Fallon won his first race on Piccadilly Lord at Navan for). He had expected to be partnered with the horse again when it raced in the Naas November Handicap but he was overlooked in favour of his friend and sometime flatmate, Charlie Swan. It hardened the youngsters resolve to move on from the Prendergast yard.

[12] ‘Racing’s First Lady – Margaret McGuinness,’ Irish Examiner, 1 April 1983.

Margaret applied for permission to increase the number of horseboxes in 1981.

[13] NAAS RACES should not be seriously affected if today’s threatened power cuts take place. The catering facilities are not dependent on electricity; the public address system can work independently of the main supply and the starting stalls are operated by batteries.

Mrs. McGuinness, the ever efficient Naas secretary said yesterday: I have checked up on the situation. only the film patrol. That could be worked off a generator but it would be too noisy. There should be no problem staging the meeting.”

The news will be welcomed by owners and trainers of two year olds which are just beginning to emerge in force after a summer of discontent.’

Irish Independent, 10 September 1985.

[14] Billy Brophy had been a director since his father’s death in 1962.

[15] Daily Mirror, 2 January 1982, p. 27; Ireland’s Saturday Night, 22 January 1983, p. 3; Belfast Telegraph, 24 December 1983, p. 11.

[16] See the race here. “The Irish sent off Bobsline at 5-4 favourite and the bookies were to take a huge battering because the race was run the same day as Dawn Run’s Champion Hurdle, and a vast number of Irishmen had backed the pair in a double,” wrote Marcus Armytage in an article on great Anglo-Irish Cheltenham battles where Bobsline and the Gordon Richards-trained Noddy’s Ryde almost emulated the rivalry of the sublime Arkle and the great Mill House.

“Noddy’s Ryde went on six out and only Bobsline could stay with him coming down the hill,” said Armytage describing the thrilling 1984 encounter. “The two chestnuts jumped the last as one and were neck and neck up the hill until Bobsline forged ahead near the line to win by a length-and-a-half.”

[17] Sandwell Evening Mail, 11 March 1986, p. 29. On 1 January 1986, Barrow Line – a brother of Bobsline – captured a maiden hurdle at Fairyhouse.

[18] Sunday Life, 5 May 1991, p. 55. Bobsline ran five more times after contesting the Boyne Handicap Chase in Jan 91. His last appearance at Naas was in March of that year and he was retired after running at Tipperary in October.

[19] Evening Herald (Dublin), 4 February 1986, p. 39.

[20] That still left the Aga Khan with two his studs at Sheshoon and Ballymany.

[21] ‘Weld team keep up good work THE Champion team of trainer Dermot Weld, jockeys Michael Kinane and Tommy Carmody plus former flat title – holder Christy Roche were the principals at Saturday’s Naas meeting which featured probably the best racing surface encountered during the dry spell that appears finally at an end. The efforts of the Naas executive in providing through concentrated watering, near-perfect ground were not lost on Weld as the Curragh maestro saw his 1986 tally pass the century mark thanks to an 194/1 treble that made it eight successes in as many days for his team. “Let’s give credit to the Naas management for ensuring decent going which we all welcome. Naturally I’m very pleased to have trained 100 winners for the fourth time but hopefully we can manage a few wore,” Dermot remarked as Carmody steered Michael Smurfit’s Stirabout into the winner’s enclosure after the Newbridge Handicap Hurdle.’

Evening Herald (Dublin), 20 October 1986

[22] Naas Cotton Mills closed in 1970. Among the other industries to come and go from Naas were Kingswear, Woolcraft, a concrete pipe factory and a car mirror factory.

[23] ‘In October 1970, Michael Osborne arrived at Tully to take over as manager of the Irish National Stud. In six months time, and exactly 12 year later, he moves on to the North Ridge Stud, Kentucky. Why, at the age of 47, is Michael Osborne leaving? Quite simply, he is the boss of a semi-state company, and frustration has driven him out.

When he was appointed manager 12 years ago he had little to lose. He had become a successful veterinary surgeon in the Naas area, and looked for the post almost as an optimistic afterthought. Therefore, he was amazed when he was selected from literally hundreds of applicants.

He was given a contract and knew little of the red-tape world of civil servants that would eventually strangle him. In 1978 the Irish National Stud was the first company to be the subject of the report of the joint-committee on state-sponsored bodies, and issued a memorandum of activities from 1970-78 to help the committee.

Faceless people

As Osborne put it this week: “Not one recommendation was carried out, although the Irish National Stud board did everything in its power. The trouble is one is dealing with faceless people who do not have bias, but worse still, have no interest. You’d expect a reasonable hearing, but it ain’t so.”

If 1978 held a glimmer of hope following the November meeting with the joint-committee, then 1979 was soul destroying, and probably did more than anything to force Osborne to leave. For some time the stud’s board has been lobbying for Osborne, now managing director, to be paid a reasonable salary.

The opposite happened. The infamous Devlin Report actually had him downgraded from III to IV of the five grades for semi-state managers, with an insulting salary by commercial values of between £13,500 and £15,000 per annum. Also, to make matters worse, the stud, although the property of the Minister for Agriculture, was rented to the Minister for Finance. Therefore applications for funds had to wind its way through two departments.”

The Irish Field.

[24] ‘SEAMUS McGRATH (65), who, as a trainer, won the Irish Derby with Panaslipper and Weaver’s Hall, and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe with the Ascot Gold Cup winner Levmoss, has been elected a steward of the Turf Club to succeed Michael Osborne whose two year term ends on April 21.’ Irish Independent, 28 January 1989

[25] The Racing Board also produced ‘an attractive 12-page booklet’ setting out nine good reasons why the State should support racing. Largely based on the findings of Lord Killanin’s Commission, it was circulated to politicians and all interested parties. It pointed out that racing was threatened by the rundown conditions of many racecourses. Should racing decline, it warned of the immediate knock on effect on breeding, jeopardising thousands of jobs and millions of pounds in export earnings.

[26] Denis Brosnan was successively chairman of the Irish Racing Board, the short-lived Irish Horseracing Authority (1994-2001) and, from 2001, Horse Racing Ireland. In total, he was chairman for 21 years.

[27] ‘Chairman Brophy thought up the idea and when be approached people like Tommy Wheeler, Pat Goulding, Mick Cronin, Phil McCauley, Tom and Dennis Hogan, Donal Fitzsimons, Tom Fletcher, Harold Clarke (a brother of the showjumping owner Mervyn Clarke) and the only lady in the group, Naas publican Mrs Mary Kavanagh … Kieran Boylan also ‘dug deep to back the idea.’ Irish Independent, 14 January 1987, p. 7.

`Self-aid’ at the local race track TEN well-known businessmen and women from Naas. Co. Kildare have come together to back a novel type of race at their local track for their next meeting on Saturday. January 24. They have handed over £110 each to make it possible for the track to stage a £4,000 Chase for novice Chasers which have not before been successful over jumps. Naas chairman, farmer Billy Brophy and Margaret McGuinness, who is the person responsible for the management of the Naas racecourse, are naturally very pleased with the support which they have received for their local “self-help” venture.

Billy says: “It just goes to show that many local businessmen and women appreciate the business which the racetrack brings to the town.” In addition to the cash which has come from the local traders, the Racing Board are putting up £3,000 out of the extra funds which were made available by the Government to help National Hunt racing. The winning owner will receive a very attractive trophy and the groom who produces the best-turned-out animal will get a cheque for £25 for doing a good job. Irish Independent, 9 January 1987

[28] ‘We aimed at getting a thousand euro to sponsor a race and so we went to all our service providers and connections,’ recalls Margaret. ‘Tommy Fletcher, our plumber, our electrician and our friends. Dawn Foods came in. Feelys. [??] I charged £110, of which £10 to entertain them. It was very sociable. There was a day when they all had free entry and a nice lunch and free drink.’

[29] The 1988 winner was Straw Again, trained in County Wexford by Henry Cleary. In 1990, Ebony Star from the Jim Dreaper stable made a winning debut over fences to win the Naas Supporters’ Chase. The gelding also won the 1993 Tassaggart Handicap Chase at Naas. Jason Titley made the long journey from Co Clare worthwhile with the success of 12/1 shot How’s The Boss in the 1991 Naas Supporters Hurdle. In 1992, the race was won by Deep Heritage, representing the in-form partnership of Arthur Moore and Tom Taaffe, who justified favouritism. In 1993, Joe Crowley’s Bayrouge bounced back to winning form by beating just three opponents to take the race. Klairon Davis made easy work of Court Melody to win it in 1994.

[30] The new Channel 4 Racing commenced on 22 March 1984.

[31] Irish Independent, 30 March 1987, p. 12.

[32] Greasepaint, with his two white socks, was a narrow second to Corbiere in the 1983 Grand National and to Hello Dandy in 1984. Greasepaint raced at Naas on 2 March 1985, coming third to Kilkilowen. (4:40 race, Ireland’s Saturday Night, 2 March 1985, p. 3; Daily Mirror, 30 March 1985, p. 16. When he was second in the 1983 Aintree National, he was ridden by amateur rider Mr Colin Magnier and trained by Michael Cunningham and the owner was Mrs N. Todd. The horse was then purchased by Dermot Weld and when he finished second to Hallo Dandy in the 1984 Aintree National, he wore Michael Smurfit’s colours (although he was only part owner – I believe there was 3 other owners but because Michael Smurfit was a well-known racing figure at the time, a lot of people automatically assumed he owned 100% of him). Dr Smurfit had different racing colours then – Martin Murphy thinks they were originally quartered colours with purple and white (the Clongowes colours!) but he changed to Royal blue with yellow epaulettes in the late 1980s and then changed again to yellow with Royal blue epaulettes in or around 1987 when Dermot Cantillon started working for him. The latter were the colours that become famous when Vintage Crop won the 1993 Melbourne Cup. Greasepaint started favourite for the 1985 Aintree National (which was his third attempt at the race) but could only manage fourth place behind Last Suspect. Later that year, he finished runner up in the 1985 Galway Plate, won by the Dessie Hughes-trained Chow Mein.

[33] Sunday Tribune, 9 March 1986, p. 14.

[34] Sunday Sun (Newcastle), 18 October 1987, p. 38. Clever Christian vanishes from the records after that.

[35] Sunday Tribune, 22 November 1987, p. 14.

[36] Sunday Independent (Dublin), 20 November 1988, p. 28.

[37] Daily Mirror, 4 February 1988, p. 30.

[38] Al O’Connell’s name was Jeremiah O’Connell. He was Ally Bunbury’s godfather.

[39] Kyra won the St Louis Maiden Stakes at the Curragh in 1988 under Declan Gillespie

[40] Afghan, Treasure Trove and Western Symphony pulled off a hat-trick of Birdcatcher wins for Ballydoyle from 1981 to 1983. The 1988 Birdcatcher was worth £12,000. Declan Gillespie also won on May Message and Fragrant Dawn that afternoon.) Sunday Independent (Dublin), 16 October 1988, p. 29. Sunday Tribune, 28 July 1991, p. 25.

In 1989, Kevin Connolly captured the race with Ring of Light; he also took third place with Maid of Mourne. Ring Of Light also made his racing debut at Naas when coming fifth in the Lakelands EBF Maiden under Christy Roche.

[41] The pay-out is recorded in some online sources as 1177/1 at Naas. When you convert £927.30 into euros, it works out at 1177/1 so, working with the odds in relation to the regime in place at the time, it was 926/1, deducting the £1 stake. Alan Sweetman is confident that there would have been only one winning ticket that day – “The typical win pool on the Tote at a mid-week meeting would have been tiny” – but whoever had it must still be smiling when they brush their teeth by night.

With thanks to Alan Sweetman, as well as Martin Murphy of Horse Racing Ireland who looked up the formbooks to see the recorded Tote Dividends.

[42] RTÉ never had a dedicated weekly racing programme. Outside Broadcast coverage of race days would vary from approx. 25 to 30 days each year. At end of 80s it probably was the lower number. These were/are stand-alone programmes – ‘RTE Racing from ……’. The finishes of races from smaller race meetings would be included in weekend magazine programmes Sport in Action / Sports Final / Weekend Sport / Sports Stadium / Sunday Sport.

[43] ‘Satellite age set to dawn for bookies’, Sunday Tribune, 7 August 1988, p. 22.

Rory Godson reports on a £3O million plan to end betting shops’ dependence on TV

IN March next year, Irish betting shops will move a step further away from the seedy cigarette smoke and discarded betting dockets and enter the satellite age. For long, bookmakers have been subject to the whim of the television companies for much of their income. The 120 days a year that BBC and Channel 4 show live racing are the busiest and most profitable for British and Irish bookies as bettors like to see what they are backing and where it is running.

When there is no TV coverage, they depend on a voice-only service from EXTEL. To iron out the variations between TV and non-TV days, the big British bookmakers combined with the racecourses last year to launch Satellite Information Services which daily transmits live TV pictures from two British horseracing meetings and one greyhound meeting. SIS is to commence broadcasts to Ireland next March when it says it will have more than half the country’s 1,000 bookmakers paying about £90 a week for the service and hire of equipment.

SIS, in conjunction with the Racecourse Association which represents all the British courses, has cameras at the meetings it covers and these send a signal to the Post Office Tower in London which transmits the signal to SIS’ studio in North London where the signal is edited and retransmitted to Docklands. From there it is sent to British Telecom’s large INTELSAT satellite which bounces it back down to satellite dishes on the roofs of bookies’ shops all over England. SIS first broadcast in May 1987 and is now taken by 3,500 British shops. When its network is complete in March 1989, it should be in 90% of Britain’s 9,900 shops, according to spokesman Nigel Payne. Selling the service, even at Stg£3,600 per annum in Britain and Stg£4,000 in Ireland is easy, say betting industry sources. At present, all bookies have sound commentary only from courses and their punters relish the opportunity to see where their fancies are running.

Last week, Ireland’s biggest betting office chain, Paddy Power applied for planning permission to erect satellite dishes over some of its 48 shops. Stuart Kenny of Paddy Power says: “Satellite racing will provide two live meetings a day and will entertain the punters and provide a great facility.”

All the other betting shop chains are expected to take satellite racing and SlS’s Irish manager, Tom Gingles told the Sunday Tribune that he expected to have 500 to 600 shops taking the service by March when broadcasts start. Bookmakers will be provided with a satellite dish, TV set and, most importantly, a decoder which will unscramble the signal. At present, betting shops pay about £30 a week for EXTEL’s voice commentaries. To pay the extra £60 a week for SIS, they will have to gross an extra £400. Despite the extra cost, all major shops have little choice but to take the service. The British experience is that shops without SIS and in competition with shops with SIS, do not say in business for long.

The arrival of SIS will be the latest step in an industry that has expanded dramatically in recent years, especially since the British multiples Corals, Mecca and Ladbrokes first became involved three years ago. In 1984, there were 843 bookmakers’ licences. In 1986, there were 916 and today there are believed to be more than 1,000. SIS, which has invested between Stg£2s million and £30 million in providing a satellite service is owned 15% by Ladbrokes and the Racecourse Association and 5% by the English Tote. The rest of the company is to be placed privately in September. It has an exclusive five-year deal for pictures with the racecourses which were already videoing races for their own use and had live course commentary.

EXTEL managing director, Stuart Hall says: “SIS has the contract to provide the pictures. Smaller bookmakers in Ireland will opt to keep on with just EXTEL and our experience in England is that many people will keep our service on even when they take SIS. “British Telecom is in a monopolist position with telecommunications services. If and when that monopoly is broken and BT offers service at a sensible price, we will look at the possibility of providing a picture service.” He added that EXTEL is now primarily a financial services company and would adjust its cost profile to

[44] Irish Independent, 27 March 1989, p. 15.

[45] ‘In every sense this was the battle of the Kinanes as the winner was ridden by 21-year-old Paul Kinane who was celebrating his recent engagement with this success, the first for his father’s stables in the three months that they had been in their new quarters. Paul had been almost two years without a winner but showed determination in bringing this favourite home.’ Evening Herald (Dublin) – Saturday 28 January 1989, p. 34.

[46] Sunday Independent (Dublin), 25 June 1989, p. 32.

Dermot and Mick had a treble that day as Careafolie won the Daily Express Triumph Hurdle Championship Race and Rathcoole Balance Sheet took the E.B.F. Maiden.

[47] Sunday World, 25 June 1989, p. 55.

[48] This horse was owned by Michael Smurfit and trained by Dermot Weld. I think this was Perris Valley who was then withdrawn!? Evening Herald (Dublin), 19 July 1989, p. 53. Perris Valley was named after a Californian landmark and won the 1988 Irish National.

[49] Peter Curling: “I was down at Killarney races with Frank Dunne. We had gone there in his helicopter. We were going to give the jockey Brendan Sheridan a lift up to the evening meeting at Naas where he was due to ride an odds on favourite owned by Michael Smurfit and trained by Dermot Weld. The race was at 6:30. We were late to leave Killarney and it was after 6:00 as we flew over The Montague Motel. Brendan was getting twitchy but the good thing about going by helicopter is there are no delays. And no traffic.
When we landed beside the winning post it was just before 6:30. The horses were in the paddock. Brendan, who was in his riding gear and wearing the colours was just able to run across to the weighing room, weigh out and hop on the horse who duly tootled round Naas racecourse and cantered home. The whole thing took less than ten minutes.’
I’m sure nowadays the jockey would have to be at the races an hour before his race, inform the stewards of his intended mode of transport etc. None of that was necessary and everything worked out the finest!”

[50] ‘TRAINERS and jockeys who made a dash by helicopter from Killarney had mixed luck at Naas last night. Brendan Sheridan arrived just in time to win the only two hurdle races on the card on hotpot Kinky Lady and locally-trained Myross. Later on Frank Dunne, whose Killarney runner, Class Apart, had been touched off by Christy Roche on Real Lace, got his revenge when Lady Liberty comfortably beat Eliakim in the Celbridge Handicap. But Dunne’s satisfaction was short-lived. A Stewards’ enquiry found that Lady Liberty had interfered with third placed On Deposit and she was not just demoted but disqualified and placed last. John Murtagh, who rode Lady Liberty, was given a three-day suspension for what the Stewards considered reckless riding and John Egan, who rode On Deposit, was given a two-day suspension for what was deemed to be inaccurate evidence to the enquiry. The film patrol showed that Lady Liberty had, indeed, bumped On Deposit, when Murtagh switched her out rather violently from behind Eliakim. There is no doubt, however, that Lady Liberty won on merit and her disqualification is contrary to recent decisions by Stewards at the Curragh. Jim Bolger, who trains Eliakim, and Christy Roche will never have a luckier winner and Bolger went on to send out Galacto Boy, ridden by Peadar Matthews to win the Kare Charity Private Sweepstakes.’ Irish Independent, 21 July 1989.

[51] Mercedes has pictures of her father ‘romping home before fainting having spent the night before in the sauna to make his weight.’ Each rider had to get a sponsorship for the charity and ride out each morning on their allocated horse which was kindly donated for the race by the local trainers and the trainers on the Curragh. There was a large family gathering for all the riders on the day and great excitement in the stands and around the parade ring with 20 riders going to post. The craic and laughter from the stands was amazing, this was only the second charity race held in Ireland. The RTE cameramen stayed on and filmed it once or twice adding to the excitement for the riders. There was always a party afterward on the course, Maureen’s family were all roped in and busy cooking salmon, making Quiches and sandwiches and Maureen got drinks sponsored so that as much money as possible went to the Charity. The party on the course usually ended in Bagnall’s house via dinner in Barberstown Castle. Kare benefited with 6000 pounds(euros) made each year for the charity and everyone had the thrill of their lives to remember. Cox won the race. Trainers like Francis Flood, Peter McCreery, Mr Oakes were generous enough to supply the horses for our riders.

[52] Galmoy won the Celbridge Flat at Naas on 5 December 1984. Daily Mirror, 6 December 1984, p. 29. He also came third at Naas in the Brown Lad Handicap Hurdle on 21 November 1987 and fourth in the 1991 Roberstown Handicap Hurdle

[53] From 1975 until 1986, a crushing “tax on bets placed in betting offices was an enormous 20 per cent. Furthermore, it was collected as a ‘paid-on’ wager tax meaning the placement of a IR£100 bet on an even-money shot would cost £120 and if it were to win the returns would be £200. The impact on the racing industry was highlighted when just. Tax was back down to a more palatable 10 per cent during the late 80’s and for most of the 90’s in-line with British bookmakers. Meanwhile, and a semi-state body called Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) was set up in 2001 to continue the development of the sector. 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).”

Roy Brindley, ‘How Government Greed Almost Destroyed Bookmaking in Ireland’, March 9th, 2020, gambling.com, here.

Soundtrack – On 10 October 1981, The Fureys reached no. 14 in the UK charts with When You Were Sweet Sixteen. In 1983, Paddy Reilly released his version of “The Fields of Athenry” as a single; it was the most successful version of this song, remaining in the Irish charts for 72 weeks.