The Irish racing experience

- -

Six days into our week-long Irish honeymoon presented the following question: Scenic drive around the Dingle Peninsula or take in the penultimate day of racing for 2013 at The Curragh?

Tough decision.

Seriously, especially so after the day trips to the ancient monastic settlement Clonmacnoise, the Cliffs of Moher and Connemara stimulated the visual senses like never before.

Despite the temptation – and the encouragement from locals about Dingle – we opted to go racing. 

Of course, right?

Once the decision was made it was time to pick up a copy of Racing Post before breakfast, a bargain at less than 3 Euros considering all the news and information contained in its 88 pages. Yes, 88 pages, on a Sunday no less. Saturday’s edition – which previewed the big matchup between Sky Lantern and Elusive Kate in the Group 1 Sun Chariot at Newmarket (Sky Lantern won), scores of other major stakes around Europe and the U.S. and of course the All-Ireland hurling final – was a whopping 160 pages. I’m still not all the way through that one. We filled our rental car and then trekked the 260 kilometers (about 160 miles) from Killarney to The Curragh, arriving just in time for the 2:40, the second race on the card, the Group 3 C. L. Weld Park Stakes for 2-year-old fillies.

We were bummed to miss the opener, which attracted a field of 18 going 7 furlongs on the straight. Plenty of familiar silks in that one, with Team Valor, The Aga Khan, Coolmore and Juddmonte represented with starters. Juddmonte’s Selkirk filly Tested won it fairly easily for trainer Dermot Weld, fairly fitting since the co-featured Park Stakes was named for his late father. 

Weld was represented in the 7-furlong event, but managed only a third with Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum’s Tarfasha behind the favored Sea the Stars filly My Titania for trainer John Oxx and jockey Declan McDonogh.

Thankfully there were more big-field races left on the 7-race card, a straightaway 6-furlong handicap that had 24 starters and another straight 1-mile handicap the race after the featured Group 2 Juddmonte Beresford Stakes going 1 mile with a sharp right hand bend. 

Big fields and straightaways were the flavor of the day.

Needless to say the variety of options for race configuration at The Curragh – and seen at other tracks along our stay that weren’t running, Kilarney and Galway racecourses – was most interesting and refreshing for this American.

A soft serve ice cream stand near the bookmaker stations also proved too irresistible and once we figured out how and what to order – a single cone with a Flake barn inserted simply known as a “99,” – we were back to the paddock in time for a couple exhibitions by the Cavan and Newcastle Lyons Pony Clubs. It was great to see young people incorporated into the race-day experience, beyond being plunked down into a play area or dragged along while their parents tried to cash a bet.

But back to the races. Aidan O’Brien, described by me to my wife as the “Todd Pletcher of Europe,” looked like he had the Beresford over a barrel with the strong entry of Geoffrey Chaucer and Oklahoma City for Coolmore connections and her certainly did. Geoffrey Chaucer, a Kentucky-bred by Montjeu and half brother to European champion juvenile Shamardal, lived up to his favoritism and defeated stablemate Oklahoma City by 1 1/4 lengths. b2ap3_thumbnail_Curragh3.jpg

Geoffrey Chaucer in winner’s circle after Beresford Stakes.

O’Brien wasn’t done and took the finale, a 2-mile handicap that covered basically the entire expanse of the racecourse with Eye of the Storm. Both of O’Brien’s winners were ridden by Ballydoyle’s main rider and the trainer’s son, Joseph O’Brien.

The track is described in the racecard as a “steady uphill finish, ideal of the galloping type” and it certainly is. The facility itself is ideal for the entire racing experience, with short walks between the betting and concession areas, the paddock and viewing spots for the races.

The crowd that turned out on this day, which the locals might describe as “smart,” was definitely there for the races rather than the experience we’ve seemingly become obsessed with selling here in the U.S. I’m not saying one is better than the others, but it was nice to attend a day at the races with people who are there for the actual races, not for the experience of just being at the races.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Liz99_20131009-200357_1.jpg

The day wouldn’t be complete with out a “99” would it?