Being of an agricultural mindset probably heightens the sense of seasonality about things. Just as one harvest season enters its final acres, preparations for the succeeding one are quickly afoot. In many respects, the sporting year mirrors those circumstances. Not so much, say, in terms of minds switching to the new GAA season rapidly after one has concluded. But certainly a sense of something new beginning.
The newly instigated and highly successful Champions Weekend now probably signifies the conclusion of the serious business of the Flat racing season. However, from a local sentimentality perspective, the annual race fixture on the strand at Laytown is as much a signpost of the changing of the seasons as anything.
There was a time, of course, when the meeting was far more than a one day affair. Health and safety now, maybe too much so, dictates how life rolls. Perhaps, though, racing on the beach being only once a year actually adds to its attraction. And, most recent evidence suggests, the appeal thereof continues to widen.
To my mind, the presence of At The Races in the Irish racing media has been of incalculable value. Not only from the viewpoint of someone that doesn’t get racing as often as would be desired. More so when it comes to showcasing what Irish racing has to offer in terms of sport, business and entertainment.
Maybe the greatest manifestation of the good ATR can do is highlighted by an event like Laytown. Crowds perennially flock to the East Meath venue, most probably intrigued by its uniqueness. Having somebody like Matt Chapman and his colleagues on site exposes the occasion to a whole new audience. Thereby creating numerous new opportunities to boot.
A fact underscored most recently by English-based trainer Richard Ford plundering the opening contest in this season’s incarnation. Only one of a series of cases in the last while of overseas raiders taking away prizes from meetings here. Whether that should be seen as a compliment to the quality of fare here (presumably), or a threat to sustainability for lads here is probably worth a debate. But not here or now!
How significant was it that it was Colin Keane who partnered the visiting victor? Possibly highly. The Trim lad has made great strides in his career to date. For any young jockey trying to ‘make’ it to the big time, though, it’s in attaining mounts from trainers other than the principal employer – in this case, Kiltale’s Ger Lyons – that the break really comes. Sources indicate that even bigger developments could be on the way. It’ll be interesting to see how things pan out.
As was referred to earlier, in one way, the seaside fixture heralds the end of the flat season. Consequently, National Hunt action takes over the limelight. But, before things get into full swing in that sphere, another unique aspect of the Laytown meet is that flat and jump jockeys can both take part therein.
Fitting, then, that the signature image of the 2014 version was that of NH rider Johnny King somehow remaining about the recalcitrant Arbitregeur. King is, of course, most notably attached to the Dessie Hughes yard. As ever, the Osborne Lodge based handler will be to the forefront of affairs over obstacles in the months ahead.
If Champions Weekend and/or Laytown mark a climax of sorts to matters on the level, the September jumps fixture in Navan, for me at least, marks the takeoff of the NH season in earnest. Being able to get there was an added bonus this year. Only getting out for one day of the harvest was a massive disappointment this year, solace was found in tradition, though. That of jump racing filling the void when other interests wind up.
My last excursion to Proudstown Park – almost four years earlier – had a very local angle to it. Indeed a very personal one. Spruce Cottage – a horse in which more than a passing interest was retained – ran that day, ridden by Robbie Power. On my return to the north county venue, Dunboyne based interest also abounded.
Firstly, Brand Ambassador, part owned by John W. (Sean) Byrne, trained by Gordon Elliott and partnered by Barry Geraghty defied an elongated injury absence to comfortably claim the opening contest on the card. Then, in the second heat, Byrne trained as well as owned Urtheoneiwant and, though the mare narrowly failed to add to her Ballinrobe victory, it shouldn’t be long until she’s in the winner’s enclosure again.
Hughes’s Icy Reply was her conqueror in that mares contest and her trainer seems sure to enjoy another bountiful season. Even more so when it’s considered that he has had the addition of some of Barry Connell’s choicest armoury to his battalion. The enjoyment will be in seeing it all unfold.