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Naas – Chapter 6 – The 1960s

Naas veteran Fort Leney wins the 1968 Cheltenham Gold Cup. He is pictured here jumping the last fence with his legs crossed, but managed to win by a neck from The Laird (right). He was ridden by Pat Taaffe, who was also on board when Fort Leney won his maiden hurdle at Naas five years earlier.

 

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

 

Back to Naas 100 Contents

 

Television

 

On 26 March 1960, the Naas Race Company hosted a live screening of the first-ever televised Aintree Grand National, as millions of BBC viewers tuned in to watch Merryman II win the mighty race. The following year, the launch of Telefís Éireann, Ireland’s first national television station, also promised good times for Irish horse racing with Michael O’Hehir as head of the channel’s sports programmes. The first race to be broadcast live on RTÉ was the 1962 Irish Sweeps Derby, as it was then named. [1]

Naas was soon reaching an audience beyond Irish shores. On 2 March 1963, three races from Naas were broadcast on BBC television, including the Newlands Handicap Chase in which Out and About, Bernard Sunley’s Grand National hope, came second to Willow King.[2]

 

Michael O’Hehir

 

Michael O’Hehir, a brilliant commentator, had been a staple of the BBC since the late 1940s, as well as the Irish Independent’s long-serving racing correspondent.[3] He was no stranger to Naas. In 1952, for instance, 900 people crammed into Lawlor’s Ballroom for the Naas Harriers Hunt Ball where he served as commentator at the Debutante’s Derby shortly before Jimmy Dunny’s Band took to the stage.

Michael’s son Tony is also a well-known commentator, as well as being the Racing Post’s Irish correspondent since 1986. Michael’s son Peter has likewise been the racing correspondent for the Daily Mirror for many years. Peter’s sons Conor and Eoin O’Hehir have both lined out for the Naas hurling team in the 2022 era. Conor is also a leading golfer.

 

Mr Haughey’s Miss Cossie

 

On 29 October 1960, the Monasterevan Handicap at Naas was won by Miss Cossie, ridden by Joe Canty and owned by Major Laurie Gardner, a brother-in-law to Lord Mountbatten. In March 1962, the major sold the five-year-old bay mare to Ireland’s Minister for Justice, Charles J. Haughey. [4] With his first purchase, Mr Haughey thus became the first sitting Irish cabinet member to own a racehorse since Paddy Ruttledge, another Naas regular, back in the 1930s.

C.J. Haughey had been a keen horseman since at least 1960 when he first rode out with the Ward Union Hunt. He duly sent Miss Cossie to be trained by Dick McCormick, a fellow ‘Ward’ man, who had ridden The Tetrarch in his youth. The minister had registered his silks by 27 October 1962, when he came to Naas to watch Miss Cossie win her second Monasterevan Handicap under young Joe Larkin. [5] Two weeks later, the mare was back in Naas where she came second in the Melitta Handicap. [6]

Miss Cossie went on to become one of the foundation mares at the Haugheys’ stud in Ashbourne, County Meath. [7] The Naas locality evidently appealed to Charlie’s wife Maureen (née Lemass) who was hunting with the Naas Harriers by the time Haughey became Minister of Agriculture in October 1964.

Haughey’s success at Naas did not end with Miss Cossie. On 9 June 1977, Dick McCormick’s son Richard trained the three-year-old colt called Aristocracy to win the Harristown Handicap for Haughey. Three months later, Haughey, Richard McCormick junior and Aristocracy enjoyed further success when they won the Group 3 Whitehall Stakes at the Phoenix Park, with Walter Swinburn in the saddle.

 

Kilmore’s Triumph

 

On 29 January 1960, jockey-turned-trainer Dan Kinane scored a happy victory at Naas when Kilmore won the Celbridge Handicap Chase.[8] Dan was a member of the Kinane racing dynasty – a brother of Christy and Tommy, and uncle of Mick. One year later, the horse was sold for £3,000 to Nat Cohen, the film producer who had helped finance so many of the early Carry On films. [9] Kilmore more than justified the spend when he won the 1962 Grand National at Aintree under Fred Winter. Mr What, a past winner and another Naas favourite, came home third in the same race. Nat Cohen went on to become arguably the most influential figure in the British film industry during the 1970s.

 

Nicolaus Silver

 

In December 1956, a young grey named Nicolaus Silver ran, unplaced, in the Painstown Maiden Plate at Naas. [10] Bred in Tipperary by James Heffernan, the horse was trained by Dan Kirwan when he returned to Naas for the Dodder Flat Maiden a month later. He was again unplaced, as he was when he raced at Naas in May 1959.[11] With the death of Dan Kirwan in 1960, the gelding was sold and sent to England where he was put in training with Fred Rimell.

In 1961 Nicolaus Silver became only the second grey in history to win the Aintree Grand National, at 28-1, under Bobby Beasley. Despite the fact that Bobby was living in Tipper, most punters in and around Naas wagered on a local horse, Jonjo, trained by Joe Osborne with Pat Taaffe in the saddle, which came seventh.

 

Stan Mellor

 

Many racing punters were craning their necks at the Naas meeting of 2 March 1963 to catch a glimpse of Stan Mellor (1937-2020). The Englishman had been Champion Jockey three years in a row from 1960 to 1962. He was supposed to ride a horse, which was withdrawn, but ended up riding another, Ross Sea, on which he duly won the Robertstown Handicap Hurdle. In 1971, Stan Mellor became the first British jockey to ride 1,000 winners.

 

Mrs Dreaper and Arkle’s owner Anne, Duchess of Westminster, at the Naas races, December 1965. The Duchess also owned Ben Stack, who won the Blackwater Chase at Naas in March 1963, ten days before he went to Cheltenham and won the Cotswold Chase.

 

Arkle – Champion of Champions

 

Prior to 1963, Tom Dreaper had reasonable grounds to be wary of Naas. This was, after all, the track on which his career as a jockey came to a clattering halt when his mount crashed into a pile of wooden planks at about 30mph during a hunter chase in 1938. He spent the next eight weeks in hospital. [12]

Tom had already made his mark as a trainer by 1960 when he acquired a gawky three-year-old at Goffs on behalf of Anne Grosvenor, Duchess of Westminster. The young horse had been bred at Ballymacoll Stud in County Meath by Mary Baker of Malahow House, near Naul, County Dublin.  [13]

The duchess named the horse after Arkle, a mountain bordering her estate in the Scottish Highlands. The bay colt showed little zip in either of his first two outings, so Tom was somewhat stunned when he then defeated a field of 20 at Navan to win his first race on the flat in January 1962. [14]

On 10 Mach 1962, a waterlogged course at Mullingar saw its racing programme relocated to Naas. That afternoon, Arkle won his first-ever hurdle. The Rathconnell Handicap Hurdle was also his first race with Pat Taaffe in the saddle.[15]

‘Arkle knew very little about racing,’ recalled Pat of that Naas race. ‘I really had to push him along turning into the straight.’ [16]

Three hurdles out, he was being hard-ridden to improve his position. He ran on strongly, took the lead as they rattled over the second-last flight and strode on well through the soft ground to the winning post.

‘He jumped very nicely,’ added Pat.

Over the next few years, Arkle and Pat Taaffe would become one of the most iconic duos in steeplechasing history. Arkle’s forte was longer races where his extraordinary stamina supported his final sprint to the post. He was the proverbial benchmark, the horse by which all others were measured, winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup three times, as well as the Irish Grand National, the Hennessy Gold Cup, the King George VI Chase and the Punchestown Gold Cup.[17]

His greatest triumph came with the 1964 Gold Cup when he defeated the English-trained Mill House, who was, rather ironically, bred by the Lawlors of Naas. In the wake of that duel at Cheltenham, Dominic Behan, brother of Naas regular Brendan Behan, wrote and recorded a rollicking ballad Arkle, released as a single.

‘Then a quiet man called Dreaper livin’ in the Emerald Isle
Said “That horse of yours called Mill House surely shows a bit of style
But I’ve a little fella and Arkle is his name
Put your money where you put your milk and then we’ll play the game.”‘ [18]

Perhaps playing up to the audience, Tom Dreaper revealed that Arkle’s daily diet included two bottles of Guinness and half a dozen eggs. Paddy Woods, who gave the horse his daily exercise at Greenogue, was a well-known jockey at Naas. Arkle’s popularity knew no bounds. For many, he was simply referred to as ‘Himself’.

In December 1966, Arkle fractured a pedal bone when jumping the open ditch in the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park. He still managed to come second but the injury marked the beginning of the end. As part of his rehabilitation, Pat Taaffe schooled him at Naas one afternoon with Tom Dreaper watching from the sidelines. The outing concluded with one of the more poignant conversations in racing history, as Pat recalled:

“We pulled up. Mr Dreaper was waiting and he looked up at me with his head on one side and he asked: ‘All right, Pat?’ I said: ‘No, sir.’ He then asked: ‘When do you think he’ll be right?’ And I said: ‘I think he’ll never be right, sir.'”

The mighty warrior was taken ill at the early age of 13 and put down in 1970. Over half a century later, his rating with Timeform remains the highest ever awarded to a steeplechaser.[19] In 2014, a statue in his memory was erected in Ashbourne.

Clement Freud, who rode at Naas, recalled him thus:

‘Of all the successful thoroughbreds he was the least machine-like. He jumped brilliantly but intelligently and with enjoyment. His courage was indomitable, so that neither going nor distance seemed to alter the standard of his performance. And he played unashamedly to his audience, keeping spectaculars for the stand customers and achieving good workmanlike jumps at the country fences.’

* The Duchess of Westminster, Arkle’s owner, was presented with a trophy by Helen Cox, wife of Paddy, who was later a board member of the Naas Race Company.

 

Mill House

 

Mill House was arguably the Naas-iest horse ever to race at Naas. For starters, his dam was called Nás Na Ríogh  Moreover, he was born within an apple’s throw of the racecourse and named for the Naas home of his redoubtable breeder, Mrs Lawlor. (See the Lawlor family story here.) Sired by King Hal in 1957, Mill House was raised at Bawnogues Farm, alongside the third-last fence in Punchestown. He was lucky to survive colthood when, on his return from being broken by the Taaffes in Rathcoole, his hoof went through the floor of his horsebox. One of his fetlocks had been ground right down to the bone by the time he was taken out of the box. Horrified, the Lawlors wondered if they would have to put him down, but decided to wait it out. The horse recovered, with a lifelong scar as a reminder of that frightful day.

On 28 January 1961, Mill House competed in his first-ever race, the 1m 4f Sallins Hurdle at Naas, and came home fourth. [20] Five Saturdays later, he returned to Naas to register his first win, scooping the Osberstown Hurdle under Pat Taaffe. It was his second-ever race. [21]

Over the course of his career, the 18-hand bay gelding won 16 of 34 starts, including the 1963 Cheltenham Gold Cup, the 1963 King George VI Chase, the 1967 Whitbread Gold Cup and three Gainsborough Chases at Sandown. Willie Robinson was his jockey on all but one of those wins.[22] Had he not been born in the same age as Arkle, Mill House would probably have been the most famous horse of his generation. However, it was Arkle who won the day when the duo competed for the Cheltenham Gold Cup in such an exhilarating fashion in 1964.

 

Kerforo’s National Warm-Up

 

On 2 December 1961, Tom Dreaper sent Kerforo, Arkle’s stable companion, to race in the Boston Handicap at Naas.[23] The mare, whose bloodline could be traced back to Roi Herode, sire of The Tetrarch, won in style. Her jockey was Liam McLoughlin, then a stable lad at the Dreaper yard, who went on give Arkle his first win at Navan a month later.

On Easter Monday 1962, Dreaper, McLoughlin and Kerforo reunited to win the Irish Grand National. 60 years later, Liam’s son Dermot followed suit when he won the 150th running of the Irish National with Lord Lariat.

 

Clem’s French Star

 

In 1962, Clem Magnier claimed his third Naas November Handicap with the mare Fiora. She went on to France where she came second in the Prix Chloe at Le Tremblay and third in the Prix Cleopatre at Saint-Cloud. [24]

 

Let it Snow

 

Mick Scott’s first job at Naas was taking tickets at the turnstiles in 1962, the year Arkle won his first race on the track.

The weather during the early months of 1962 was not great for Irish racing. (See my article on the Big Snow). The first meeting at Naas was abandoned because of severe frost. So was the first meeting of March.[25] However, that dud winter was not a patch on the one that followed. The first powdery snowflakes began tumbling from the sky on Christmas Day 1962. That evening, the snow froze solid all along the eastern half of the country. Temperatures would remain on or below zero until early March in what was to prove the coldest winter since 1814. Over 17 inches of snow fell on New Year’s Eve alone.

Carmel Butterfield, the new secretary of the Naas Race Company, tried to remain optimistic. On 3 January 1963, she told the Irish Independent that, while the course was still covered with snow, ‘there is hope as rain was falling 12 miles away early this morning.’ [26]

Alas, it was not to be. Racing was a non-runner and there was no let-up in the weeks that followed. The countryside around Naas was paralysed, as villages were cut off, roads and railways blocked, telephone wires collapsed, food stocks ran low, and farmers were unable to reach their livestock with deadly consequences. In early February, another phenomenal snowstorm smothered the west of Ireland in white powder.[27]

Two years later, another heavy cocktail of snow and frost caused more Naas meetings to be abandoned in February and March 1965. It wasn’t always the weather that kiboshed events, of course. In November 1967, the racecourse was closed following an outbreak of foot and mouth disease.

 

Winning Fair

 

Winning Fair lost his right eye as a colt when he collided with an apple tree. On account of the accident, his racing was restricted to left-handed tracks like Naas where he competed in his first race, the Sallins Plate, in 1959. A year later, he returned to Naas to win the Osberstown Hurdle for JJ Rafferty.[28]

The horse went on to race at Naas at least three more times before his trainer George Spencer, father of Jamie, sent him to Cheltenham in 1963. He duly won the Champion Hurdle, the Festival showpiece, under Alan Lillingston, the first amateur to win the race since 1938. [29] Winning Fair continued to race at Naas, recording his final run as an ‘also ran’ in the Liffey Handicap Hurdle of January 1967.

 

King Tom

 

Vincent O’Brien had by now switched his skills to the flat where he enjoyed immense success with horses like Ballymoss, Glad Rags, Larkspur and Nijinsky. [30] If Vincent had dominated the National Hunt in the 1950s, the 1960s was to be Tom Dreaper’s decade.

Having saddled his first Gold Cup winner with the Naas veteran Prince Regent in 1946, Tom Dreaper bagged another hat-trick with Arkle, followed by a record-breaking fifth Gold Cup with Fort Leney in 1968. He also won the Irish Grand National seven times in a row between 1960 and 1966, with Arkle and Flyingbolt among his champions.

‘There’s no secret,’ he maintained. ‘I stick to the well-tried methods. I don’t mollycoddle the horses —the stables are unheated, and I give them plenty of fresh air. If a horse is going to be good enough to win, he’s got to be well, whatever the weather.’ [31]

Not surprisingly, everyone wanted to be a part of Tom’s show. In January 1964, for instance, the Sallins Hurdle at Naas was won by Ronan, Mill House’s half-brother, owned by the Lawlor family. Within six weeks, the horse had been sold for £12,000 to General Richard Mellon, an American millionaire. [32] Ronan was immediately sent up to the Dreaper yard at Greenogue, by Kilsallaghan, near Ashbourne, County Meath.

Another Naas apprentice sent Tom’s way was Owen’s Sedge, which Pat Taaffe rode into seventh place at the 1963 Grand National.[33] The horse was owned by Gregory Peck, who won an Oscar that year for his performance as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.

 

The Actor and the Folk Singer

 

The Dublin-born actor Noel Purcell had been one of Gregory Peck’s co-stars in Moby Dick. In the early 1960s, he pulled his Mark 2 Jaguar into a petrol station at Rathcoole on his way to the Naas races. The pump attendant was no less a soul than Paddy Reilly, later to become a well-known folk singer.

‘It was a sensational-looking vehicle,’ recalled Paddy of Mr Purcell’s Jag. Indeed, so mesmerised was Paddy that he ended up following the venerable actor all the way to the races. Noel spent the afternoon with a radio close to his ear, listening to a rugby match live from Lansdowne Road. [34] ‘It was the first transistor radio I ever saw,’ marvelled Paddy.

 

Fort Leney

 

Noel Purcell was almost certainly watching when Ireland almost beat the All-Blacks in Dublin on 7 December 1963, losing 5-6. That same afternoon, a horse by the name of Fort Leney won his maiden hurdle at Naas under Pat Taaffe. [35] Fort Leney returned to the course twice more the following month, coming second both times. [36]

Bred and owned by Sir John Thomson, the then chairman of Barclays Bank, Fort Leney was Arkle’s sometime stable companion at the Dreaper yard. Clearly Arkle whispered some top tips into his ear because in 1968 Fort Leney went to Cheltenham and won the Gold Cup, again under Pat Taaffe. In doing so, he became the first Gold Cup winner to be sired by another, namely Fortina, who won the race in 1947. The win also gave Tom Dreaper his fifth Gold Cup, a record unbroken to this day.

 

Changing Times

 

At Naas, the old guard were vanishing fast. The saddler Patrick Berney, one of the co-founders of the Naas Race Company, died at Silliot Hill on 12 March 1962. Five months later, the racing community gathered for the funeral of James Conway, Jr, another founding father – and first secretary – of the company, who died on 1 August. A few weeks later, the company lost another director with the death of 85-year-old Patrick J. Murphy, who was also a director of Bolands Ltd. [37] His son Redmond J. Murphy was appointed to the board in 1961 and served until 1996. Redmond’s son Brian Murphy would also become a director of the company.

On 12 November 1962, yet another key figure was lost with the death of Edward Brophy. He had been chairman of the Naas Race Company since succeeding Charlie Farrell almost a quarter of a century earlier. [38]  Harry Farrell, Charlie’s nephew and a board member since 1938, died in 1965. Harry’s son Henry Farrell had been manager of Naas Racecourse since early in the decade.[39]

Another loss at this time was Thomas Wheeler, a Gaelic footballer from Naas, who died in August 1963 and who had long been associated with the racecourse.

 

 P. J. Cox, Chairman of Naas Racecourse (1962-86)

 

‘I keep late hours, stay active and take two holidays a year, and I aways spend them in Ireland,’ remarked P.J. Cox, who succeeded Edward Brophy as chairman on the Naas Race Company, and held the office for 24 years.

Born and raised in Newbridge, Paddy Cox had gradually transformed his family grocery and pub into a pioneering ‘cash and carry’, opening a second supermarket in Kildare town. He was also one of County Kildare’s great sporting personalities. He played Gaelic football for the county team in his younger years and In 1932, was on the Newbridge selection in 1932 when they beat the US team which competed in the Tailteann Games. He was also a darts champion. However, the horses and the dogs were his foremost sporting interest.

Paddy started Newbridge’s first greyhound racing track, initially on the main street before moving it to own land outside the town. He was chairman and managing director of the Newbridge Greyhound Race Company.  A director of Shelbourne Park, he served on the Board of Ráisíocht Con Éireann, formally known as Board na gCon, from 1962 until June 1983 (20.5 years) and remains the longest-serving member of the board. He was president of the Irish Coursing Club from 1960 to 1966. [40]

He simultaneously turned his administrative talents to horse racing, not least with regards to Naas. One of his first acts was to oversee an extension of the Grandstand. This was completed by the time the racecourse hosted 120 athletes from 10 counties for the provincial cross-country championships in January 1966. [41] Over the ensuing months, the Naas Race Company commissioned James Hannan of Celbridge to install various drainage works on both the course and its car park. [42]

He was a noted breeder of both horses and greyhounds, most of which were given the prefix ‘Kilbelin’, after his family home.[43] His first horse was Potted Meat, a filly by the late Johnny Rogers that he bought in 1934. He won his first race soon afterwards, with Mornie Wing up. Among his other best horses were Cardy (winner of the 1944 Baldoyle Plate, 1944, for trainer Michael Dawson), Courier (winner of the Baldoyle Hurdle, trained by his brother-in-law Paddy Osborne), Kilbelin Bay (winner of the 1946 Leopardstown Produce Stakes in the late 1940s), Kilbelin Lady and Kilbelin Gap (winner of the first chase ever run at Wexford, ridden by T.P. Burns and trained by Paddy Osborne). Paddy broke his own horses before training.

He bred Limereagh, which he sold to Kevin Bell, for whom the horse won the 1954 Naas November Handicap, with the late Eddie Hide up. Limeragh’s brothers Chalk End and Kilbelin Land were both good winners in England and Ireland. He also bred Lisnaree, winner of the Galway Plate, and, Little Mo, trained by Vincent O’Brien, who won the Champion Stakes at the Curragh before being sold at Newmarket for £10,000.

Paddy Cox served on the Irish Racing Board for 10 years (1975-85), in which capacity he worked with the Association of Irish Racecourses (AIR), established in 1964 to further the interests of racecourses and their owners.

Following his death on 4 November 1988, Sean Collins of Bord na gCon spoke for many when he remarked: ‘If ever there was a gentleman, Paddy Cox was that man.’

Paddy’s wife Helen was a daughter of the trainer Joe Osborne and was also a member of the Naas board of directors. Helen’s sister Vera married Liam Cosgrave, who served as Taoiseach from 1973 to 1977 and who led Fine Gael from 1965 to 1977.

Their only son, Dermot, developed Cox’s Cash & Carry into a major brand before he and his wife Ann sold it to BWG Foods, operators of the Spar network, in 2022. Dermot would also play a leading role in Kildare’s equestrian scene. Pat’s grandson David Cox is a present-day director of the board.

 

The Iron Duke’s Groomsman

 

On 25 January 1964, nine-year-old Groomsman was the surprise winner of the three-mile Celbridge Handicap Chase at Naas, defeating a field that included four other Grand National entries. [44] One man who liked the cut of the horse was the ‘Iron Duke’ of Albuquerque, a colourful Spanish aristocrat who desperately wanted to win the Aintree Grand National. He rode Groomsman during the 1965 steeplechase, but the horse fell at Valentine’s Brook and the duke broke his leg. He had seven cracks at the National, all told, registering eighth place as his best finish. His Grace may never have won the race but he earned his place in the history books by breaking more bones in the attempt than any other jockey.

 

Bass Champ

 

On 20 June 1964, Naas hosted its first brewery-sponsored race, the Bass Handicap Stakes. The race was won by Netherby. A more appropriately-named winner might have been Extra Stout, who won the Slaney Maiden Hurdle at Naas six months earlier.[45]

 

The Lisnavagh Hurdles

 

By 1960, the Irish National Hunt Committee had decided to replace the somewhat higgledy-piggledy hurdles on its racecourses with a standardised hurdle. Ash had long been the timber of choice for jumps because, as hurlers know well, ash breaks safely rather than into jagged edges that might stab a human or a horse.

The contract to supply the specialist timber for these hurdles was awarded to the Lisnavagh Estate in County Carlow. For the next 20 years, mature, true-grain ash trees were plucked from Lisnavagh’s hedgerows and then converted into hurdles at the estate sawmill. As well as hurdles, Lisnavagh supplied the replacement ‘spare parts’ for Naas and other Irish racecourses.

 

Team Spirit

 

Team Spirit had been something of a Naas favourite ever since he finished second in the Celbridge Handicap Steeplechase in 1959. [46] Bred by P.J. Coonan and trained by Dan Moore, he was considered something of a has-been when he finished fourth at Naas in the Maddenstown Handicap Chase in November 1961. [47] However, at least one eagle-eyed racing correspondent saw this as a ‘return to form’. [48]

At Naas, Team Spirit raced in the colours of Mrs Doreen Brand of Belfast.[49] In 1962, she sold him to an American syndicate and sent him into training with Fulke Walwyn. [50] This game little chaser had already competed in the Aintree Grand National three times with Willie Robinson in the saddle each time. In 1962, he was runner-up in the Irish National. He also came third behind Ayala in the 1963 Grand National. (Ayala, a 66/1 shot, was ridden by 19-year-old Pat Buckley of Two-Mile-House, Naas, who later became very involved with track administration in Abu Dhabi.)

In 1964, Team Spirit carried the American colours to victory at Aintree at 18/1, again under Willie Robinson.[51] That summer, Willie married Susan Hall whose father, Cyril, was manager of the Aga Khan’s racing stables in Ireland.

 

Splash

 

Among Arkle and Fort Leney’s stable companions at the Dreaper yard was Splash, a gelding owned by Alec Craigie. In January 1965, Splash finished third to Cavendish and Brown Diamond over the three-mile Boyne Chase at Naas. The following April, he gave Tom Dreaper his sixth Irish National win in a row under Paddy Woods. That said, it was hardly a vintage contest, given that there were only four runners in the race.

Splash returned to Naas for the £1,000 Celbridge Handicap Hurdle on 12 February 1966 when beaten by Irish Day, who also won the previous year’s Boston Handicap at Naas.

Aside from Irish Day’s team, the happiest person at Naas that February afternoon was the jockey Frankie Carroll, who registered a four-timer, comprising three maiden hurdles and a two-mile chase. At a previous Naas meeting, Frankie won a three-mile chase at Naas on Flamecap, the horse he rode in the 1966 Grand National but, alas, they parted company at the infamous 23rd fence.[52]

 

Champions on the Flat

 

While many of Naas’s great stars of the 1960s were National Hunt champions, there were also plenty of impressive winners on the flat.[53]

In June 1963, Khalkis, son of Vimy – and half-brother to Lady Rathdonnell’s Leuze – put in such an ‘impressive showing’ in a ten-furlong gallop at Naas that his trainer Paddy Prendergast sent him to Sandown Park where he won the Eclipse Stakes the following week.[54] Khalkis was narrowly beaten by Relko in the 1964 Coronation Cup.

Sir Hugh Nugent’s Red Slipper came second in the Newbridge Stakes at Naas in 1962. [55] He went on to become one of Europe’s top milers, winning three big prizes in France in 1965 alone.

Purchased at Ballsbridge by George Rogers on his brother’s behalf,  Fantastic Light was bred by Mr. P. J. Beggan of Smithstown Stud, Dunree, Co. Meath. In June 1965, Fantastic Light won his maiden race at Naas, the Eadestown Maiden Stakes. He went on to be the first Irish-trained two-year-old to win three times off the reel, before going to France where he came a very respectable fourth in the Prix Morny at Deauville. He won both the Prix d’Arenberg, under Lester Piggott, and the Prix de Seine-et-Oise. [56] His name would be reborn in the 21st century for Galileo’s Godolphin-owned challenger.

Green Banner, a mere ‘also ran’ at the Kingsfurze Plate in Naas on 21 March 1964, went on to a spectacular all-the-way win in the Irish 2,000 Guineas at the Curragh in 1965. [57]

The 1965 Birdcatcher Stakes at Naas was won by Paveh, trained by David Ainsworth. [58] The following year, the Florida-bred horse won both the Irish 2,000 Guineas and the valuable Sussex Stakes at Goodwood.

In November 1965, the brilliant Scottish apprentice Sandy Barclay rode Night Star to win a seven-furlong handicap at Naas. The following year, the duo reunited to take the Irish Lincolnshire.[59] Night Star was back at Naas in 1967 to win a trial gallop under Martin Blackshaw.

Wild Impulse won the Fishery Maiden Stakes at Naas in 1966 before going on to win the Rockingham Sprint Handicap at The Curragh that August.[60]

Not every favourite can win. At the November meeting in 1961, the punters backed Bun Penny, who had been part of Brud Fetherstonhaugh’s triumphant treble at Royal Ascot five months earlier, winning the Cork and Orrery Stakes under Doug Smith. Bun Penny would disappoint at Naas when coming home as an ‘also ran’ in the Melitta Handicap, won by Starlight Flight. [61]

 

Baylanx – Derby Leader, 1966

 

In 1962, Stuart Murless became the first Irish trainer to win a French Classic when he took the Prix Royal Oak with Lt.-Comdr. G. Lennox Cotton’s Sicilian Prince. In April 1966, Stuart – whose brother Noel was Queen Elizabeth II’s trainer – sent a horse by name of Baylanx to Naas where he won in style over a mile and a half.

The following month, Stuart took a shot at the Derby and brought Baylanx to Epsom. The horse briefly led, but the race was ultimately won by Charlottown under Scobie Breasley. It was the last Derby to be run without starting stalls.[62] Starting stalls would be in place at Naas by 1970.[63]

Stuart also trained 14 horses for the cosmetics queen Elizabeth Arden, who owned Barretstown Castle, between Ballymore Eustace and Naas, from 1962 to 1967.

 

Santa Claus Comes to Town

 

Ireland’s star jockey of 1964 was arguably 29-year-old Billy Burke from St Corban’s Place, Naas, who became the first Irish jockey to win the Irish Sweeps Derby. His victorious steed was the Mick Rogers-trained Santa Claus, who had won the Epsom Derby and the Irish 2,000 Guineas earlier that year.

In the wake of the win, bonfires were lit along the road between Newbridge and Naas to welcome him home. Among the witnesses was Damien McElroy, the former Irish Independent racing correspondent, who had just moved to Naas. ‘The horse was paraded in the town and the whole of Naas went crazy,’ he recalls.[64]

 

Paddy Sleator

 

Paddy Sleator of Grangecon, County Wicklow, had been running horses at Naas since before he took out his trainer’s licence in 1928. [65] His 74 wins in 1957 was the highest total for any trainer in Ireland and Britain that year. He also won the Galway Plate nine times between 1948 and 1976, his first being with Silent Prayer, who had won the Cork Hunter’s Steeplechase at Naas three summers earlier.[66]

In April 1966, Paddy sent his Cheltenham-winning Haveago out in the Nás Na Ríogh Chase at Naas. Also in the field was Gypsando, the Cyril Harty-trained horse whom Cathal Finnegan had ridden to victory in the previous year’s Naas Handicap Hurdle. That April afternoon, both horses were beaten by Gilles de Milford.[67]

 

Joe McGrath’s Swansong

 

Anglo was the winner of the 1966 Aintree Grand National. He was sired by Greek Star, a horse bred by Joe McGrath that ran with aplomb at Naas several times in the 1940s. Anglo’s victory was especially poignant with the news from Dublin that, following a heart attack at the sweepstake offices in Ballsbridge, Joe McGrath, a stalwart of Irish racing for so many decades, had died that very morning.

 

Willie Robinson (1932-2020)

 

Famous for riding the great Mill House, Willie was the grandson of Edward ‘Cub’ Kennedy, a co-founder of Naas Racecourse. In 1963, he guided Mill House to a rare double, winning both the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Hennessy Gold Cup. (Willie won the Hennessy three times.)

The following year he steered Naas veteran Team Spirit to victory in the Aintree Grand National. Willie was also the pilot on Mill House when defeated by Arkle and Pat Taaffe in the 1964 and 1965 Cheltenham Gold Cup showdowns.

 

Ragusa and Noblesse

 

Ragusa won five top-class races in 1963–64, including the Irish Derby and the Eclipse Stakes. Painting by Richard Stone Reeves.

One of the fastest horses on the planet in the 1960s was Ragusa, bred by Harry Frank Guggenheim (1890-1971), a businessman, diplomat and founder of the New York Racing Association. His daughter Diane helped make The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem the most successful Irish band in the world during the early 1960s.

As a foal, Ragusa was so puny that he was hand-fed on milk and eggs. Guggenheim certainly felt that he wasn’t a keeper, selling him as a yearling for 3,800 guineas in 1961. The bay was bought by Paddy Prendergast on behalf of Jim and Meg Mullion.

Among his stable companions was a filly named Noblesse, owned by Evelyn Olin, the wife of an American armaments magnate. She made her name in 1962 by becoming the first – and, to this date, only – filly to win the Timeform Gold Cup (now the Futurity Trophy) at Doncaster, then the richest two-year-old race in Europe. Noblesse was due to compete in the Paddy’s Sister Stakes (sponsored by the Mullions) at Naas in March 1963, but her trainer withdrew her because he felt she might peak too soon, and he foresaw a bright future for her. [68] (He won the race with another filly, Confidence.)

However, Paddy Prendergast did give both Noblesse and Ragusa a private gallop around the racecourse at Naas the following month. Noblesse was the quicker of the two that day and, as one witness observed, ‘gave the impression of having a considerable amount in reserve.’ [69] Shortly afterwards, Paddy shipped the two horses to England where Noblesse won the 1963 Oaks by a whopping ten lengths and Ragusa came third in the Epsom Derby.

The Australian jockey Garnet Bougore was in the saddle both times. His multiple successes during 1963 would help Paddy Prendergast to become the first Ireland-based trainer in history to win the British trainers’ title. [70]

Noblesse, who also came third in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, was named Champion three-year-old filly for 1963. She would go on to become one of the greatest broodmares of her generation.

Not to be outdone, Ragusa returned to Ireland in time to win the 1963 Irish Derby, the richest race in Europe at the time, before scooping the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot and the St Leger Stakes at Doncaster. By the end of 1963, he was regarded as the best three-year-old colt in England or Ireland while his prize winnings had set a new record.

In April 1964, Ragusa was the star attraction at Naas when he won the Mullion-sponsored Ardenode Stakes, again under Bougore, ‘with a fine burst of acceleration to win by a handsome four lengths.’ [71] (Paddy Prendergast was assured of a winner in the race as all three runners were trained by him.) The Mullions promptly donated the prize money to the Cancer Research Fund, to which news the crowd at Naas responded with a round of applause.

Later that year, he won the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown Park and, in his final race, he finished unplaced in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. He retired from racing to become a fine breeding stallion, based at Ardenode Stud, where he died on 4 May 1973. [72]

 

Breakthrough for Women Trainers, 1966

 

Prior to 1966, women were not permitted trainers’ licences. The male-only Stewards of the Irish Turf Club were openly hostile to such a concept, despite the vital involvement of women since the early days of racing. Naas racegoers were certainly familiar with pioneering women trainers such as Toby Wellesley (wife of Ginger, who trained several Classic winners), Jean Bryce-Smith and Peggy St John Nolan. However, all three women were obliged to train under the names of men. Jean used her husband’s name while Ginger and Peggy’s horses were officially recorded under the name of their headman. As such, Toby’s triumph with Morning Wings in the Irish 1,000 Guineas in 1948 was clocked up to Eddie McGrath, while Peggy’s triumph with Zonda in the 1959 Irish Grand National was likewise credited to Matt Geraghty. [73]

The ground shifted when Florence Nagle, ‘the Mrs. Pankhurst of British horse racing’, won a legal case against England’s Jockey Club on 3 August 1966, after which women were to be granted licences.[74] The Stewards of the Irish Turf Club quickly followed suit. That same month, Mrs Anne Biddle (aka Anne Brewster) became the first woman in Ireland to be granted a trainer’s licence. The 35-year-old American, who wore a Hermès scarf as well as anyone has ever done, was a well-known patron of Irish racing and had won the Irish Derby with Sindon in 1960.

Just days after Mrs Biddle was admitted to membership of the Irish Turf Club, her horse Flying Tiger won the Cork Stakes at Naas, with Liam Ward up. Thus, her first official runner as a trainer was also her first official winner. [75] Moreover, with that Naas win, she also became the first woman to officially train a winner in Ireland. Not surprisingly, the auburn-haired Mrs Biddle received a tremendous ovation from the crowd in Naas that day. She relinquished her trainer’s licence in 1994.

NB: I thought Mrs Biddle was admitted to membership of the Irish Turf Club in 1966 but this may not be so. It seems Sonia Rogers was the first female member of the Turf Club.

 

Foinavon’s Maiden

 

Perhaps the most infamous moment in Aintree’s history was the 1967 Grand National when most of the field collapsed in a mêlée of chaos at the 23rd fence. Sporting a bizarre pair of bug-eyed blinkers, Foinavon sidestepped them all and won the race at 100/1. It was just over three years since he had won his first race, the Blackwater Chase, a two-mile steeplechase, that was run at Naas on 29 February 1964. [76]

Like his sometime stable companion Arkle, Foinavon was initially owned by the Duchess of Westminster and named for a mountain near her estate in Scotland. After watching him finish sixth in the 1963 Osberstown Hurdle at Naas, his trainer Tom Dreaper opined that he was the type of horse that ‘could win an English Grand National’.[77] However, aside from his win in 1964, he was so consistently disappointing over the next two years that the duchess sold him shortly after he fell in the 1965 Boyne Handicap Chase at Naas.

With a white nanny goat called Susie as his new stable companion, few anticipated his success in the world’s toughest steeplechase in 1967. Foinavon’s extraordinary win established him as an instant crowd favourite and he spent much of his remaining days on tour, generally accompanied by Susie.[78]

 

Clement Freud’s Naas Race

 

As well as being an adventurer, gambler, owner of a night club, radio broadcaster, TV chef, and Member of Parliament, Clement Freud owned and occasionally rode racehorses. In November 1967, he launched his career as a jockey in a bumper at Naas, with ‘throat parched, legs weak’, after a hard night’s drinking. He was on board Toby Balding’s Saxon King in a race for amateur riders. H recalled his experience in an essay entitled The Day I Join the (Lukewarm) Tea Set.

Having acquired a ‘painful stitch’ while walking the course beforehand, he noted ‘a large number of slow-moving birds’ following him. His colleague assured him they were vultures. Freud then spent 90 minutes stewing in a Nordic sauna, praying that the ground would be too waterlogged for his race to continue. His prayers unanswered, he proceeded to the weigh-room where a jockey’s valet kitted him out in other men’s tights, breeches and boots. ‘Only the butterflies in my stomach were my own.’

Once mounted, he was led out of the parade ring by Toby Balding, where, he recounted, ‘I probably looked more like a policeman, less pretty, but Saxon King behaved in the most exemplary fashion, let himself be steered like a moped and pulled up like a bath chair.’

When the race commenced, he ‘galloped grimly’ and unexpectedly found himself in the lead. It was a brief sensation. ‘I sat head down, feet down, hands down, hearing behind me the thud of hooves. An unparalleled feeling of elation came over me and remained with me as Saxon King and I were overtaken by sixteen horses.’

Freud finished second last but he declared that the lukewarm cup of tea he had afterwards was ‘the best drink I have ever had’. [79]

 

Boomtime for Stud Farms

 

The Irish racing industry benefited considerably during the late 1960s when Charlie Haughey was Minister of Finance in Jack Lynch’s cabinet. Following strong lobbying by Captain Tim Rogers of Airlie Stud, Mr Haughey gained cross-party support for a farsighted bill that introduced tax exemption for stallion fees from 1968. This was a critical factor in making the green grass of Ireland such a vibrant, attractive terrain for the global elite to stand a racehorse. Innumerable broodmares were dispatched to be covered by these stallions, which is why so many of the world’s best horses racing today carry the IRE suffix in their name.

Mr Haughey temporarily fell from grace with the Arms Crisis two years later but the impact of the exemption status he championed would reverberate on the stud farms around Naas into the present age. [80]

Meanwhile, Naas itself was becoming ever more accessible with the completion of the N7 Naas Dual Carriageway in February 1968. At the time, the road between Dublin and Naas was described as ‘Ireland’s most heavily trafficked route’. Naas, the county town of Kildare, would grow substantially in the decades to come. [81]

 

L’Escargot’s Hurdling Debut

 

In 1966, Dan Moore – father of Arthur – bought a 3,000 guinea horse at the Ballsbridge sales on behalf of Raymond Guest, Lyndon B Johnson’s US ambassador to Ireland. Mr Guest, a cousin of Winston Churchill, was a decorated US Navy war hero and former international polo player. He also owned a number of excellent flat horses such as the Derby winners Larkspur and Sir Ivor.

The horse that Dan Moore bought for him was a chestnut gelding named L’Escargot but his pace would be anything but snail-like. [82] In his first six outings on the flat, he won twice. Dan decided to try him on the jumps and brought him to Naas in 1968. Sure enough, L’Escargot reigned supreme, ‘streaking home’ in a combative hurdle race. It was his first race over hurdles. [83]

Shortly afterwards, he went to Cheltenham and won again. In 1969, Mr Guest brought the horse across the ocean to the United States where he ran three times, winning the Meadow Brook Chase at Belmont Park, New York, and was named US Champion Steeplechaser. He would go on to win back-to-back Cheltenham Gold Cups in 1970 and 1971, under his regular jockey Tommy Carberry. He also defeated Red Rum at Aintree in 1975, becoming the first Irish horse to win both the Gold Cup and the Grand National since Golden Miller in 1934.

 

Miss Carmel Butterfield

 

Carmel Butterfield is on the right.

There was shock and sadness in November 1969 with the death of Carmel Butterfield, who had been attached to the Naas Racecourse for over 25 years. Carmel, whose family hailed from Dunlavin, lived at Rathsallagh and had studied bookkeeping at the Naas Technical School.[84] By 1959, she was the acting secretary for the Naas Race Company. She subsequently served as secretary until her unexpected demise.

An excellent whist player, she was, as the Wicklow People observed, a ‘gentle, obliging and unassuming’ woman, who was ‘very efficient’ at her work and ‘popular with all sections of the community’. Following her passing, a two-minute silence was observed at the next Naas races as a mark of respect. [85]

She was succeeded as secretary by Margaret McGuinness, who retained the role for the next 40 years.[86]

 

End-Notes

 

[1] ‘A case in point was the televising of the Irish Sweeps Derby live from the Curragh last June, the richest event in the European racing calendar for 1962. Clearly a race of such importance was a “must” for television, not only in Ireland, but abroad. too. With the fullest co-operation of the B.B.C., this great race was broadcast live on Telefis Eireann,’ and simultaneously replayed to the B.B.C. network and immediately afterwards a tape of the whole event was flown to America for transmission over the A.B.C. network. Telefis Eireann’s cameras also covered the thrilling climax of Horse Show Week, the Aga Khan Cup.’ Munster Tribune, 12 December 1962, p. 11.

The 1962 Irish Derby was won by Tambourine under the great French jockey, Roger Poincelet.

In 1961, the Irish Derby was won by Your Highness, ridden by Bert Holmes, trained by Humphrey Cottrill and owned by Mr and Mrs Stanhope Joel. Bert had been at J. T. Rogers stable and was later stable jockey to Bob Fetherstonhaugh at Loughbrown.

[2] LIVE’ RACING THREE races from Naas (Eire) on Saturday are expected to be on BBC TV. One of the races will probably be the Newlands Handicap Chase (4.0), in which Mr. Bernard Sunley’s new Grand National hope Out and About runs. (Daily Mirror, 27 February 1963, p. 27); Ireland’s Saturday Night, 2 March 1963, p. 3;

[3] I read that he was the Irish Independent’s racing correspondent from 1947 until 1964. However, Raymond Smith, ‘Decades of Glory: A Comprehensive History of the National Game’ (Little & McClean, 1966), p. 362 states: ‘When Telefis Eireann came into being he gave up the post of ” Irish Independent” racing correspondent to take over as T.E. Head of Sport.’

[4] ‘Minister buys a racehorse’ Belfast Telegraph, 21 March 1962, p. 13.

[5] Irish Examiner, 29 October 1962. His silks were black-blue sash and cap.

[6] Evening Echo, 10 November 1962; Belfast Telegraph, 10 November 1962, p. 10.

[7] Haughey also owned a grey yearling named Innocence, consigned by Airlie Stud, at the time of Ireland’s pre-eminent stallion farm. Innocence was “a very unlucky loser when badly hampered in the valuable and prestigious Birdcatcher Stakes at Naas.” Gary Murphy ’Haughey’ (Gill, 2021); Come Greaves, ‘Charles Haughey’s Balidaress: The horse that could have changed Ireland’s political history,’ Examiner, 30 March 2017, here, which maintains the horse won at Naas in October 1962.

[8] Kilmore was then owned by John J Ryan of Clonoulty Hill, Gooldscross, County Tipperary. He won the Dunraven Cup on 26 December 1959. See here. In the Naas win in January 1960, he was ridden by 17-year-old R. Hanley of Kilvemnon, Mullinahone. (Ireland’s Saturday Night, 30 January 1960, p. 6). Dan, a former jockey of note, had lately established himself as a trainer of ‘excellent ability’ as the Munster Tribune observed on 5 February 1960. Dan, Christy and Tommy were the sons of Jim Kinane, a stonemason, and his wife, Annie, of Ballinahinch, Cashel.

[9] ‘Kilmore is sold,’ Leicester Evening Mail, 25 February 1961, p. 5. In the 1961 National, the eleven-year-old finished a tight fifth at 33-1. He was fifth again in 1963.

[10] Belfast News-Letter, 8 December 1956, p. 7; Belfast Telegraph – Saturday 08 December 1956, p. 8.

[11] Ireland’s Saturday Night, 5 January 1957, p. 5.

[12] Tom Dreaper had been a successful jockey through the 1920s and 1930s before taking up the trainers’ mantle in 1940. That said, after he hugely successful season at Fairyhouse and Punchestown in 1938, “a hunter chase at Naas almost finished his career when his horse crashed through a wing’. As Anne Holland wrote in her biography of Arkle: ‘Such a thing happens in a split second: approaching a fence the horse veers unexpectedly to left or right trying to run out, the jockey tries to pull him back towards the fence and the wing intervenes; all this happens at approximately 30mph. Wings were generally made of several horizontal wooden planks rising to six or seven feet high, and to run into one at that speed would probably result in splintered wood, a cut horse and an injured jockey; today’s wings are made of flexible white plastic poles. Luckily horses seldom try to run out as most relish jumping, but the result of Tom’s mishap left him unconscious for two weeks and in hospital for eight.’ (Anne Holland, ‘Arkle: The Legend of ‘Himself’’ (O’Brien Press, 2013)

[13] Born at Ballymacoll Stud, County Meath, Arkle was bred by Mrs Mary Alison Baker of Malahow House, near Naul, County Dublin.

[14] During his first ever race, at Mullingar on 9 December 1961, Arkle was ridden by Mark Hely-Hutchinson, second son of Lord Donoughmore. Mark rode Arkle twice – and lost – before becoming CEO of the Bank of Ireland. The first was at Mullingar, where he came third of seventeen. The second was a Leopardstown bumper three weeks later where he was fourth of ten. When Arkle went over jumps as Navan in January 1962, he was ridden by Tom Dreaper’s stable lad Liam McLoughlin.

[15] He won the two-mile Rathconnel Handicap Hurdle at Naas by four lengths, ahead of Soltest and Gainstown. Belfast Telegraph, 10 March 1962, p. 10. Ireland’s Saturday Night, 10 March 1962, p. 6.

“It was his first handicap and it was also the first time he was written in a race by Pat Taaffe. In a field of 10, he carried third top weight and though “green” (i.e. a novice) justified 2-to-1 favouritism to score by four lengths.” (Anne Holland).

[16] Liverpool Echo, 24 September 1966, p. 17. ‘Pat Taaffe was going to have his first ride on him on Saturday, March 10, which was the Mullingar meeting transferred. due to the ground, to Naas. Naas itself had had its meeting postponed from March 3 to 7 and then—most unusual for the clement island—had lost it through frost . Arkle’s target was the two mile Rathconnell Handicap Hurdle worth £202. It was, of course, his first run in any handicap and in a field of ten runners he carried third top weight of 11st. 21b. The ground was still soft, he was ridden for the first time by the stable’s first jockey and started favourite at 2 to 1. The formbook suggests that he was waited with.’

[17] Anne Holland, ‘Arkle: The Legend of ‘Himself’’ (O’Brien Press, 2013) ‘In 1964, Arkle’s first-place finish in the Cheltenham Gold Cup was the first big win by Ireland’s most celebrated racehorse: the horse by which all others are measured. Fifty years on from the start of his incredible career – which included wins in the Cheltenham Gold Cup (three times), Irish Grand National, Hennessy Gold Cup, King George VI Chase and Punchestown Gold Cup – Anne Holland looks at Arkle’s life and legend through the eyes of those who knew him best.’

[18] The full lyrics are here: https://kinglaoghaire.com/lyrics/arkle/ Hey Baby was No. 1 at the time Arkle won.

[19] The Irish National Stud, at Tully, Co. Kildare, has his skeleton on display in its museum. A brilliant bronze statue in his memory sculpted by Emma McDermott was erected in Ashbourne Co. Meath in 2014.

[20] The race was 1m 4f. Belfast Telegraph, 28 January 1961, p. 12. As well as his 16 wins, Mill House was placed in another nine.

[21] “Naas has seen many marvellous National Hunt horses over the years and was the scene of Mill House his first win when he took the Osberstown Hurdle in 1961.” (Anne Holland). Results of the 2m 1f. race at Naas are in the Belfast Telegraph, 4 March 1961.

Tom Taaffe relates: “My father actually broke Mill House. Mill House was down at Grandfather Taaffe’s place – also Tom Taaffe – in Rathcoole and he came to get broken at Alasty. The horse was owned then by Tom Lawlor of Lawlor’s Hotel in Naas and Tom had horses in training with the likes of Fulke Walwyn and he was a larger-than-life guy. When Mill House was broken and being sent back to Rathcoole, his foot went through the floor of the trailer and his left hind joint was completely down to the bone by the time they went to take him out. They initially thought they’d have to put him down, but they decided to patch it up and see what would happen. They knew he was a nice horse at this point, but they did not know if he had an engine or not. Allegedly he always had a big scar on it, but he still went on to do what he did. ‘To have had Mill House and Arkle so closely associated with the one person is just unbelievable.”

[22] For the 1967 Whitbread Cup, he was under David Nicholson.

[23] Ireland’s Saturday Night, 2 December 1961, p. 6. Kerforo was owned by Frank Stafford of Wexford.

[24] Paddy Sullivan, Fidra’s jockey for the Naas win, hailed from Bagenalstown, County Carlow, and commenced his racing career in 1949. He won his first race in 1950 on John Oxx’s Miss Gammon at The Curragh. He rode many notable winners over the ensuing years and became a noted tutor of two-year-old and was greatly respected in the racing fraternity. He died in 2005.

[25] 7 March 1962: The Irish race meeting at Naas today been abandoned because of frost. The meeting was originally scheduled to take place last Saturday, but was postponed until today in the hope that the frost would have come out of the ground.’

Between the jigs, there were some fine races such as the Celbridge Handicap Steeplechase on 27 January, won by The Proud Servant, a previous winner of the same race. Mention of Proud Servant’s first win in Sunday Independent (Dublin), 26 April 1959, p. 14, with Team Spirit second. On 27 January 1962 – Horse Racing – Celbridge Handicap Steeplechase at Naas. “The Proud Servant” (left) J. Hogan up, leads Grand National Entry “Carraroe” J.J. Rafferty up, over the last fence. “The Proud Servant” went on to win with “Carraroe” in 3rd place behind “Irish Reel”. https://www.irishphotoarchive.ie/image/I0000Rs88jJGWtsc

[26] Irish Independent, 4 January 1963.

[27] ‘The Naas racecourse is covered with snow and the ground frostbound. There will be a course inspection this morning but Mr. H. Farrell. the Naas manager said yesterday: The position is pretty hopeless.’ Birmingham Daily Post, 24 January 1963, p. 25.

[28] Lady Rathdonnell, aka Pamela Drew / Massy, my grandmother had a horse called Fair Missile was an also ran in the Osberstown Maiden Hurdle at Naas in March 1960, won by Winning Fair. (Belfast Telegraph, 5 March 1960). He then ran on two consecutive days in Killarney, latterly in the Dunlop Handicap Hurdle of 1 mile 5 furlongs under DJ Morgan. (Belfast Telegraph, 20 July 1960, p. 10). He was an ‘also ran’ in the Barnstaple Novices Steeplechase at Newton Abbot in September under G. Foster. (Torbay Express & South Devon Echo, 22 September 1960, p. 11). Fair Missile was last in a two mile chase at Wincanton on 8 December. (Daily Mirror, 9 December 1960, p. 26). He was back at Newtown Abbot for the 2-mile Halwill Novices Chase, under W. Fisher, where he came third to Rueil and Sarah’s Boy at 20-1. (Daily Mirror, 5 August 1961, p. 17; Sunday Mirror, 6 August 1961, p. 19). At some point the horse won and Granny telegrammed my father a notice of victory which was posted on the board in the officer’s mess on Girdle Ness. He was then obliged to buy his fellow officers a round of drinks.

[29] Daily Mirror, 14 March 1963, p. 22. Winning Fair won the Osberstown Hurdle at Naas on 5 March 1960 and came second in the Baronrath Hurdle in Dec 1960. He was back in Naas for the November Handicap in 1962 and the Baronrath Hurdle in Dec 1962, unplaced both times.

[30] In 1962, Glad Rags, bred by Tim Rogers from High Hat at Airlie Stud, was the Champion two-year-old; he won the 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket in 1965. One of Vincent’s great jockeys was Jack Purtell.

[31] ‘‘‘There’s no secret,” says Tom Dreaper. “I stick to the well-tried methods. I don’t mollycoddle them —the stables are unheated, and I give them plenty of fresh air. If a horse is going to be good enough to win, he’s got to be well, whatever the weather.” When Arkle came here,” says Dreaper, he was the rawest material possible.” Within months he had been entered for a couple of local races, doing well in neither. Then, on January 20, 1962, he won a novice hurdle over three miles at Navan, sweeping ahead to win at 20-1. It was the biggest surprise of my life,” confesses Dreaper. I didn’t think he had it in him.” From there on, he had to take Arkle seriously. He brought in Pat Taaffe, chief jockey under contract to Dreaper, for regular schooling with Arkle over the fences. Soon he was winning all the longer races, where his extraordinary stamina supported his final sprint to the post. By 1964, it was clear there were only two horses of championship class—the Duchess’s Arkle and Bill Gollings’s English-trained Mill House.’
From a feature on Arkle in Illustrated London News, 11 December 1965.

The brilliant Flyingbolt, also trained by Tom Dreaper, was due to compete in the 1966 Boyne Chase at Naas according to the Drogheda Independent of 8 January 1966, but I don’t believe he ever raced on the course. He was described by Ireland’s Saturday Night, 9 April 1966 as ‘the only ‘chaser which can be considered a worthy challenger to the might/ Arkle can remain unbeaten over fences and register his eleventh success over the major obstacles.’

Flyingbolt was owned by Jean and Geoffrey Wilkinson, aka Major Wilkinson, who rented Lisnavagh for two years circa 1962 and 1963, then rented Maiden Hall for a year before returning to rent Lisnavagh again in 1964 and 1965. They left a pram behind, which would be my eldest brother William’s first wheels when he was born in 1966. My parents called the pram ‘Flyingbolt’.

[32] ‘RONAN SOLD TO AMERICAN – Two hours after Mill House had won at Sandown yesterday, it was announced in Dublin that his five-year-old half-brother Ronan had been sold to American millionaire General Richard Mellon. The price was reported to be £12,000. Ronan won over hurdles at Naas last month and later ran the top Irish novice Flyingbolt to three lengths at Baldoyle. Previously trained by Tos Taaffe, Ronan now joins Tom Dreaper’s team.’ Daily Mirror, 20 February 1964, p. 28.

Another American buyer was Elmer Ellsworth Dale Shaffer, owner of the 900-acre Coldstream Stud Farm, a few miles outside of Lexington, Kentucky. In early 1964, he spent 10,000 guineas on a promising colt named Horse Power that he entered in the Fishery Plate at Naas on 21 March. As the Wicklow People put it on 21 March 1964, p. 12: ‘Michael Dawson … is very keen that another American owner Mr. E. E. Dale Shaffer has got value for money in the 10,000 guineas colt HORSE POWER (Alcide-Tirmai). whose programme commences with the Fishery Plate at Naas on 21st March and then takes in the Tetrarch Stakes at the Curragh on 22nd April. HORSE POWER showed a good measure of ability in his home gallops last year.’ The horse disappointed at Naas. (Belfast Telegraph, 21 March 1964, p. 12). He was an also ran in the Ballymoss Stakes at the Curragh on 21 April 1964, and, in June, he came home 13th in the Irish Derby won by Santa Claus.

[33] F. D. Farmer’s Owen’s Sedge ran in the Baronrath Handicap hurdle at Naas on 5 December 1959. Trained by his owner at Piper’s Hill. Naas, he was one of eight Irish contenders for the 1962 Grand National at Aintree. The grey was then bought by the actor Gregory Peck and put into training with Tom Dreaper. Drogheda Independent, 23 February 1963, p. 14.

That same year, Gregory Peck won an Oscar for his role as Atticus Finch, an idealistic lawyer in Alabama during the 30s, in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ In the selected photograph, Atticus tries to explain the Depression to his daughter Scout (Mary Badham).

[34] Paddy Reilly was working in the petrol station in his hometown of Rathcoole at this time. “Paddy vividly remembers the actor Noel Purcell travelling through in his Mark 2 Jaguar motor on his way to the races at The Curragh or Naas. Noel Purcell sometimes stopped at the Rathcoole filling station for petrol.

‘Even when not working at the filling station, I would sometimes just sit on the bridge waiting for Noel Purcell’s Jaguar to go by. It was a sensational-looking vehicle in the

1960s. I think it was one of the first of that model they manufactured, maybe around 1958 or 1960. Noel was a gentleman and a real Dub. I remember he had the first transistor radio I ever saw. It was one day at the races in Naas, and I was walking around with him, just to be close to him. Then another little young fella came up to him and shouted, “Mr Purcell, Mr Purcell! What’s the score?” as Noel was listening to the match from Lansdowne Road. Noel replied, “It’s eight to six now.” “But for who, Mr Purcell?” shouted the youth. “Oh! It’s eight for Ireland, ya little bollix ya,” Noel replied as he roared out laughing.

Paddy only got to know Noel Purcell very fleetingly’, as he was an old man even at that time and already a Hollywood star. But he says that Purcell stood out in a crowd and had great gravitas.’

[Paddy Reilly: From The Fields of Athenry to The Dubliners and Beyond (O’Brien Press Ltd, 2022).

[35] He won the Oughterard Hurdle, defeating Our Joy. Drogheda Independent, 7 December 1963, p. 14.

[36] Fort Leny was pictured, ridden by Pat, jumping the last alongside Our Joy ridden by Mr. E.J. Cash. He came 2nd in Blackwater N.S. at Naas on 4 Jan 1964, behind Day Trip. And second again in Leixlip Chase of 25 Jan 1964 behind Paddy Mullins’ Moonduster. Ireland’s Saturday Night, 25 January 1964, p. 9.

[37] ‘Mr. Patrick Murphy, 5 Eglinton Road, Donnybrook, Dublin, who has died in a Dublin nursing home, aged 85, was founder of Patrick Murphy and Son, Ltd., produce merchants, 24 Upper Ormond Quay, Dublin. Born in Co. Limerick, he came to Dublin in 1897. He had been a director of Bolands. Ltd., and was a director of the Naas Race Company, Tote Investors (Ireland) Ltd., and the Hibernian Shirt Manufacturing Co., Ltd., Dublin. A keen racegoer, he owned racehorses. He was also a golf enthusiast and a former president of Royal Dublin Golf Club. Mr. Murphy is survived by his wife, Mrs. Nance Murphy, two sons and a daughter.’ Irish Press, 17 August 1962.

[38] Edward Brophy had succeeded Charlie Farrell in 1938. He died from Coronary Thrombosis, 3 days certified, on 12 November, 1962, so he most likely was still the chairman at the time of his death.

[39] ‘Mr Henry Farrell, Ballinagappa, Clane. Co. Kildare, who has died aged 56, was a member of the Naas Race Company, having succeeded his uncle, the late Mr. Charles Farrell, one of the founders of the company in 1938. He was an extensive farmer. He is survived by his wife. Mis Catherine Farrell; four sons Charles, Thomas, Henry and Paul, and three daughters, Mrs. M. McQuillan, and Misses Hilda and Brigid Farrell.’ Irish Independent, 26 Feb 1965.

[40] See article Paul Donaghy, ‘Paddy Cox of Newbridge’. Paddy Cox was a director of the Sporting Press (published and printed in Clonmel) and Powerstown Park (1964-86), where Clonmel Races are held, and served on the ICC Executive (1943-87). In 1965 GRA’s recently closed breeding establishment in Naas was actioned. The property which was situated on seven acres less than half a mile from the main Dublin-Naas road, included a house, cottage, 15 runs and kennels for 15 racing dogs. The range had been producing greyhounds for 17 years.

Thanks also to Aisling Leonard (Rásaíocht Con Éireann / Greyhound Racing Ireland).

[41] ‘THE Provincial cross-country championships opened on Sunday with the holding of the novice event on Naas Racecourse, Kildare. The race was held under ideal conditions, and a hundred and twenty athletes from ten counties hotly contested a great race for individual and team titles.’ New Ross Standard, 15 January 1966, p. 15; Wicklow People – Saturday 15 January 1966, p. 16.

[42] On 6 October 1966, James Hannan of Celbridge was paid the final instalment of £2,557 by the Naas Race Company for work on ‘drainage and site works, car park etc.’ Architect by name of *** eagh. [Killeagh?]

[43] Leinster Leader, 27 November 1954, p. 8.

See here. His coursing champions included Kilbelin Flash, winner of the 1955 Tom Harte Memorial Cup (here).

[44] Coventry Evening Telegraph, 2 March 1964, p. 38. Five weeks later, he was defeated by Willow King on the same course.

[45] Belfast Telegraph, 4 January 1964. The five-year-old gelding by Blue Chariot from the Rosolio II mare, Irish Wine, was bred by his owner. He was also placed at Naas in November 1963. (Belfast Telegraph, 15 November 1963, p. 26.)

[46] Sunday Independent (Dublin), 26 April 1959, p. 14.

[47] Belfast Telegraph, 11 November 1961, p. 10.

[48] Ireland’s Saturday Night, 18 November 1961, p. 6.

[49] Mrs Brand lived at of Notting Hill House. Malone Road. Belfast. When she died on 10 February 1966, she left all her racehorses and other bloodstock to her “trainer and friend.” Mr. Daniel Levins Moore, or his wife, Joan, formerly of Old Fairyhouse, Ratcath, Co. Meath. Belfast Telegraph – Friday 30 June 1967, p. 8.  Dan, who rode Royal Danielli to a near Grand National win in 1938, was a son of one Master of the Ward Union Hunt (Thomas), and brother to another (Andrew). Dan, who went on to train the great 1970s champion L’Escargot. He was father to the trainer Arthur Moore and to Pamela, who married the jockey Tommy Carberry in 1970.

[50] He was initially sold to Ron Woodward, an American merchant banker from Indiana. In March 1963, Mr Woodward sold half of his ownership in the horse to John K Goodman, aka Jack Goodman, a hotelier from Tucson, Arizona, while Gamble North was another owner. By the time of his Grand National win, he seems to have been owned by Mr Goodman alone.

Daily Mirror, 24 January 1962, p. 18. He fell at Becher’s Brook on the second round of the 1960 Grand National, came ninth in 1961 and fell again in 1962. In November 1962, he was put into training at Fulke Walwyn’s Lambourn Stable. (Nottingham Evening News, 22 November 1962, p. 12.) He was ws oldest and smallest horse in the race when he won the Grand Sefton Chase at Aintree in November 1963. (Coventry Evening Telegraph, 2 November 1963, p. 37.)

[51] He was trained by Fulke Walwyn, who also trained Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, Mill House. On that same day that Team Spirit won, the journalist and broadcaster Nancy Spain and her partner, the magazine editor Joan Werner Laurie, were among five people killed when their light aircraft crashed near Aintree racecourse, which they were travelling to attend.

[52] Daily Mirror, 14 February 1966, p. 16.

[53]Other modern Irish trainers of distinction include Paddy Sleator who had won more jumping races in England than any other trainer on record; Tom Taaffe, now retired , who won the Grand National with Mr What; Charlie Weld who mixes flat racers and jumpers with consistently good returns ; Brud Fetherstonhaugh who sent three horses to Royal Ascot in 1961 and saw Silver Tor , Prince Tor and Bun Penny complete a winning treble; Vincent O’Brien’s younger brother Phonsie who won the Galway Plate four times in succession ; Kevin Kerr who trains the horses owned by his brother Bertie Kerr, Ireland’s foremost bloodstock dealer, at Summerseat and who won the Irish 2,000 Guineas and St Leger with Sea Charger and the Guineas again with Green Banner; Stuart Murless who became the first Irish trainer to win a French Classic when taking the Prix Royal Oak with Sicilian Prince; Paddy Norris who runs an expanding stable which has become a regular challenger for the honour of winning the largest number of races in a year ; David Ainsworth, another of the younger school, whose Paveh won the 1966 Irish 2,000 Guineas and followed up by winning the valuable Sussex Stakes at Goodwood ; Clem Magnier whose unorthodox training methods – he rarely gallops his horses at home but usually turns them out in the paddocks – have yielded an abundance of success; Toss Taaffe who succeeded father Tom and in his very first season was runner-up to Tom Dreaper for the title of leading NH trainer; Paddy Mullins, a Kilkenny farmer-turned-trainer, whose placing in the trainers ‘ list improves each season ; Sir Hugh Nugent whose Red Slipper has become one of Europe’s top milers; Naas specialist Joe Osborne; Michael Hurley who won the Irish Derby and St Leger with Zarathrustra; and a quartet of ex- jumping jockey stars whose careers belie the old saying that good jockeys don’t make good trainers, Aubrey Brabazon, Dan Moore, Willie O’Grady and Danny Morgan . (Noel Phillips Browne, The Horse in Ireland’ Pelham, 1967, p. 60-61.)

[54] Daily Mirror, 4 July 1963, p. 20.

[55] Belfast Telegraph, 10 November 1962, p.10. He won the Irish Lincolnshire, the Sandown Anniversary Handicap, the 1965 Prix Messidor at Maison-Lafitte, the 1965 Prix de la Fort and another French prize in 1965. He also finished third in the 1964 Prix Quincey at Deauville.

[56] Fantastic Light was a scion of his owner’s champion sprinter in Ireland, Star Gazer. By getting 18 individual two-year-old winners in 1965, Star Gazer matched the post-war record for a single season set up by Grey Sovereign in 1958.

Fantastic Light was third on his debut at the opening meeting of the season at the Curragh. He proceeded to win his maiden at Naas in June, beating the useful Red Taffy by a neck; then the Emily Persse Cup, Phoenix Park, a fortnight later; and the Enniskillen Stakes in July by six lengths … he went on to contest the Prix Morny at Deauville in France and, having come a very respectable fourth, he was bought by a Frenchman, Hubert Marteneau … he went on to win the Prix d’Arenberg (1000m) [at Longchamp] and the Prix de Seine et Oise (1200m) [at Maisons-Laffitte]. The Bloodstock Breeders’ Annual Review, Volume 54 (British Bloodstock Agency, 1965), p. 122.

[57] Green Banner was owned by Dublin bloodstock agent Bert Kerr and trained in County Meath by his brother Kevin. The Kerrs also won the Irish 2,000 Guineas and St Leger with Sea Charger.

[58] Ireland’s Saturday Night, 16 October 1965, p. 11.

[59] At the age of six, Night Star competed in the 1967 Lincoln Handicap won by Ben Novus. Sunday Sun (Newcastle), 19 February 1967, p. 22.

[60] The Bloodstock Breeders’ Annual Review (1966), Volume 55, p. 117.

[61] Bun Penny was an ‘also ran’ again at the Kilwarden Plate in Naas on 8 December 1962. Fetherstonhaugh’s other horses were Silver Tor and Prince Tor.

[62] Sunday Mirror, 12 June 1966, p. 25; Daily Mirror, 26 May 1966, p. 24.

[63] 1970 Directory of the Turf: Naas.

[64] See: Willie Burke here. See McElroy and the Naas reaction here. ‘THE death occurred at his home in Naas early yesterday of Billy Burke, the former jockey who partnered the brilliant Sauna Claus in most of his victories, including the 1964 Irish Derby. Santa Claus became his regular mount in 1963 regular although Scobie Breasley replaced him for the Derby, Burke was in the saddle for the colt’s odds on second Derby victory up the Curragh. He had celebrated his 60th birthday a month ago. Irish Independent – Tuesday 10 January 1995.

[65] His horse Bealach Conglas was scheduled to compete in the Ruanbeg Plate in October 1925, but did not run, the Maudlins Plate of April 1936 and the Craddoxtown Plate of May 1926 (also ran). Kildare Observer and Eastern Counties Advertiser, 31 October 1925, p. 7.

[66] In May 1945, Paddy Sleator’s Silent Prayer won the Cork Hunter’s Steeplechase, defeating Revelry amongst others. Sunday Sun (Newcastle), 27 May 1945, p. 7.

[67] Ireland’s Saturday Night, 23 April 1966, p. 3. Gypsando went on to win the 1966 Irish Champion Hurdle.

[68] Daily Mirror, 1 April 1963, p. 22.

[69] Daily Mirror, 29 April 1963, p. 20.

[70] Bougore’s tally for that year included both the Irish Derby and the St. Leger Stakes on Ragusa. He also won the 1960 Irish Derby (Chamour) and the 1964 1,000 Guineas Stakes (Pourparler.)

[71] ‘RAGUSA will have his first race of the coming season on April 23 at Naas. Trained by Paddy Prendergast, Ragusa was the best three-year-old colt in England or Ireland last year and won a record total of prize money. He will be a leading contender for the top prizes in Europe open to four-year-olds this year.’ (Belfast Telegraph, 5 February 1964, p. 12.) Ragusa won the three-horse race ahead of Paddy Prendergast’s Credo, who went on to win the Chester Cup.

[72] Meadow Court, co-owned by the singer Bing Crosby, was due to run at Naas on 1 May 1965, but never did. (Drogheda Independent, 24 April 1965, p. 13; Ireland’s Saturday Night, 24 April 1965, p. 12). He went on to win both the Irish Derby and the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes, just as Ragusa had done in 1963. His trainer Paddy Prendergast was so delighted that he renamed the Maddenstown house and stables “Meadow Court”. The stallion was to be the last of his four Irish Derby winners.

Morny Wing died at his home, Windsor Lodge, Naas, on 4 May 1965, aged 68. He is buried at St. Conleth’s Cemetery in Newbridge.

[73] Mrs H. G. Wellesley won Classics with Grand Morning, Morning Wings (the 1948 1000 Guineas) and Morning Madam but she had been forced to operate under a licence granted to her head lad, Eddie McGrath.

[74] Florence was the daughter of Sir William George Watson, 1st Baronet of Sulhamstead (1861–1930). On 1 July 1916, she married James Nagle, a native of Ireland who had emigrated to Canada but returned to serve with the King’s Royal Rifle Corps before being sent to Sulhamstead Abbots to recuperate. What a horrendous day for a soldier to have for his wedding day … day one of the Somme.

[75] Noel Phillips Browne, The Horse in Ireland’ Pelham, 1967, p. 55.

[76] Ireland’s Saturday Night, 29 February 1964.

1966 was not a golden year for the Irish in the Grand National. ‘Seven Grand National entries are possible starters the Celbridge Handicap Steeplechase over an extended three miles at Naas to-morrow They are Flying Wild, Papus, Cavendish, Irish Day, Gale Force X, Quintin Bay and Flamecap.’ Liverpool Daily Post (Welsh Edition), 11 February 1966, p. 15. The most successful of them was Gale Force X who finished 10th.

[77] Tos Taaffe rode him in the Osberstown Hurdle at Naas on 2 March 1963. (Daily Herald, 2 March 1963, p. 9).

[78] According to jockey Peter McLoughlin, his trainer Tom Dreaper reckoned Foinavon was the horse that ‘could win an English Grand National’, one of the few races to have thus far eluded Tom. During 1965, Tom Dreaper was still sick with an infection that had kept him away from Arkle’s victory in the 1964 Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in December. On 9 January 1965, McLoughlin rode Foinavon in the Boyne Handicap Chase at Naas, but the horse fell – his second fall in two weeks.

As David Owen observed in “Foinavon: The Story of the Grand National’s Biggest Upset,” The Irish Field put ‘a favourable gloss on events’, noting, ‘There might have been a third success for our top National Hunt trainer if Foinavon had not tumbled at the last … when he was coming storming along to challenge the ultimate winner Cavendish.’ McLoughlin concurs: ‘If he had landed running, I think he would have won.’ In any event, the horse rallied two years later when he won the 1967 Grand National at 100-1, with Paddy Woods on board.

On 8 April 1967 at Aintree racecourse in Liverpool, a 100-1 outsider in peculiar blinkers sidestepped chaos extraordinary even by the Grand National’s standards and won the world’s toughest steeplechase. The jumps-racing establishment – and Gregory Peck, the Hollywood actor whose much-fancied horse was reduced to the status of an also-ran – took a dim view. But Foinavon, the dogged victor, and Susie, the white nanny goat who accompanied him everywhere, became instant celebrities.

David Owen, “Foinavon: The Story of the Grand National’s Biggest Upset” (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013)

[79] Emma Freud, ‘A Feast of Freud: The wittiest writings of Clement Freud’ (Random House, 2010), p. 151 here.

The Day I Join the (Lukewarm) Tea Set
Sun, 13 November 1967
According to all the omens, my race on Saturday boded little good. Photographer George Phillips and I met at 7.30, drove to Naas and walked the course, which is recognized in racing circles as a good thing to do.
We found the track to be an undulating circuit of about a mile and five furlongs. The two mile one furlong start is six furlongs below the finishing post, runners having to negotiate a sharp uphill bend, gallop past the stands and move off left and downhill into the country.
A number of things augured ill. I collapsed twice during the thirteen-furlong walk and ran out on the third bend to find myself on the hurdles course. I pulled up with a painful stitch in my side.
Also, we were followed by a large number of slow-moving birds which Phillips said were vultures.
The ground was very soft, there was a light drizzle and visibility was poor. I asked our photographer how this would affect pictures.
He was non-committal, said he would have no difficulty in picking out the red cross on the ambulance van. We left in silence.
Back to Dublin for the morning papers. Saxon King, whose previous outing was in March when he came seventeenth of nineteen in yielding going, was quoted at around 10-1. A columnist mentioned that he was to be ridden by the well-known English gourmet.
‘Will you win?’ asked the hotel porter.
Absolutely bound to, said I, which is the surefire way of putting people off having a bet.
The Nordic sauna bath on a Saturday morning is a haven of polite chit-chat, flavoured with overnight Guinness fumes. Into this well-bred atmosphere of decadence came I, to weigh myself with the option of partaking of their services.
Weight: 11st 10lb. I took up the option, sweated off 3½ lb in 90 minutes and left for my hotel. Throat parched, legs weak.
Looking up at the sombre sky, I promised to reform and go to Sunday school if six inches of rain waterlogged Naas before the 4oclock. The rain stopped. We drove to the course. I entered through the owners, trainers and jockeys gate and made for the weighing room. Helpful acquaintances procured for me one Michael – profession: jockey’s valet.
I had supposed that such a man irons one’s breeches, gives that last immaculate shine to the boots, eases a chap into his racing silks, hovers and asks whether that will be all, sir?’
I was wrong.
A jockey’s valet is a high-powered second-hand clothes man. He has a caseful of whips, a trunkful of boots, a sack of useful colours that look near enough to the real thing, and he carries enough saddlery to fit out the Household Cavalry.
He already ‘did’ most of the other jockeys and said he would gladly do’ me when the time came.
There is one thing about participating in a race which I found totally unexpected …. It is the cheapest way of having an afternoon out.
I went to Naas with four good things marked on my racecard and in the course of three hours of going in and out of the weighing room, watching the starts, worrying about tactics and paying an unnatural number of visits to the gents, I found myself with insufficient time to back any of the four horses – which were unplaced.
After the fifth race (my ride was in the seventh), I took the dressing room peg between Johnny Roe and Ernie Johnson, hung up my suit and put on my apparel: Michael’s nylon tights, Ian Balding’s breeches, Nobby Howard’s boots, Con O’Keefe’s colours.
Only the butterflies in my stomach were my own.
The jockeys from the sixth race came in, a steward said: “Three minutes, Mr Freud; Michael gave me a whip and passed me a saddle, a pad, a martingale and my number cloth.
Clutching my gear, I sat on the scales. Weight: exactly 12st.
As I walked into the parade ring it occurred to me that I had not yet seen my mount. I looked round. Saxon King was a small-framed bay, about 16 hands, walking quietly and confidently in the late autumn sunshine.
A bell rang, ‘Jockeys get mounted? I had never had much faith in getting as far as this. I stood near the horse, a hand gripped my calf, I landed in the saddle and found my irons – eventually.
Toby Balding, who had generously given up his Saturday to fly to Ireland and give me moral support, led me out on to the course and took me over to the far rails.
Saxon King, entirely bored with our precautions to prevent him running away with me, gave Toby an understanding nod. I said ‘all right and we were off.
We hack-cantered past the stands and seven furlongs down to the start. In spite of Jimmy Lindley’s advice, I’m afraid I probably looked more like a policeman, less pretty, but Saxon King behaved in the most exemplary fashion, let himself be steered like a moped and pulled up like a bath chair.
‘The start, they said, is the hard part. We walked round and round, our names were called and, with memories of Berkshire schooldays among the rhododendron bushes, I said ‘Here, sir’ when the starter got to mine.
He said: ‘Put your tails against that rail and walk in slowly: We moved forward, jockeying for positions. Twenty yards from the start, the tapes went up.
I broke about tenth, took the inside, got bumped back and bored my way through to take second place in the straight.
Crouching low, holding Saxon King’s head, I galloped grimly and eased out to come past the leading horse. I expected a muttered threat and a whip aimed at my face. I received a friendly grin from Mr J.R. Cox, who said: ‘Are you enjoying it now, Mr Freud?’
So that is how it is during a race. I heard the public address system giving the order – Saxon King by a length from Make Money.
Coming past the stands, turning into the country where I had walked so laboriously eight hours ago, I sat head down, feet down, hands down, hearing behind me the thud of hooves.
An unparalleled feeling of elation came over me and remained with me as Saxon King and I were overtaken by sixteen horses; the feeling returned more acutely as we made a last effort and beat one in the final furlong to finish sixteenth.
In the enclosure, I dismounted and Toby said: Take off his saddle and weigh in.
‘I can’t, I said. ‘I am too weak. Someone took off the saddle and I gripped it, walking on gelatine legs into the weighing room.
‘Photo finish for places, said a man, ‘everyone weigh in?
Everyone turned out not to include contestants for sixteenth place and I went back to my piece of bench in the dressing room.
Michael passed me a cup of tea. This was brackish, lukewarm and sugared; I don’t take sugar. I can honestly say that that cup of tea was the best drink I have ever had.’

[80] The Arms Crisis was a political scandal in the Republic of Ireland in 1970 in which Charles Haughey and Neil Blaney were dismissed as cabinet ministers for alleged involvement in a conspiracy to smuggle arms to the Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland.

[81] “In Feb 1968, N7 Naas Dual Carriageway was completed, linking Dublin to Naas on what was at the time Ireland’s most heavily trafficked route. It was the culmination of over 20 years of dualling the road piecemeal. It was the first decent bit of DC in the RoI, when roads were of a very poor standard. In its first years it was very dangerous, as Irish drivers were not used to driving on a DC. There were many fatal accidents and in the 1970s traffic lights were added at major junctions. The completion of the Naas DC allowed Naas, the county town of Kildare 30km from Dublin, to develop as a commuter town and grow substantially.”

[82] L’Escargot was bred in Mullingar, County Westmeath by Mrs Barbara ONeill. He was a kin to former Grand National winner, Mr What, through his dam, What a Daisy.

[83] Belfast Telegraph, 1 March 1968, p. 19; Birmingham Mail, 19 March 1968, p. 18. He beat Golden Scene and Murpep, reputedly the best four-year-old hurdler in Ireland at the time. Bristol Evening Post, 16 March 1968, p. 32. See also here.

[84] Leinster Leader, 14 September 1935, p. 4.

[85] Leinster Leader, 23 July 1949, p. 3. Wicklow People, 6 December 1969, p. 18. Carmel died in hospital after a short illness. As a mark of respect, a two minute silence was observed as the Naas races on the Saturday races on 28 November. She was a daughter of Mr E [Edmund?] Butterfield (who died before 1945) and his wife H***. She was predeceased by her brother Sean (John) Butterfield went to China in 1940 and was ordained a priest of the Order of Salesians in Shanghai in 1949. Her other siblings were Eamon Butterfield, Helen Butterfield and Angela Carolan.

[86] Margaret McGuinness was not the only woman manager at this time. From 1939 to 1950 the Phoenix Park track was managed by Harry Peard, son of the founder JHH Peard. After 1950, it was run by his widow Fanny. Mrs Peard retired in 1969, and the track closed for the first time at the end of the 1981 season.