ROLLING DOWN MEMORY LANE – EP. 8

“And Brian Dooher is down injured and while he is I’ll tell ye a story. I was in Times Square in New York last week. I stopped at a news stand and asked the Egyptian behind the counter did he sell the Kerryman. He asked me did I want the North Kerry or South Kerry edition, so I bought both. And Dooher is back on his feet”.

MICHEAL O’MUIRCEARTAIGH

So far on this therapeutic journey through what might be titled my sporting life, there has been copious and merited mentions of the achievements of some Dunboyne’s finest sporting talent acquitting themselves with great aplomb in their chosen area. It would hardly come as a shock to anyone that so far, the exploits of those from these parts on the GAA scene have thus far held greatest prominence.

However, the time has come to cast the net a bit wider. There’s absolutely no problem doing it either given the abundance of varied sporting talent which hails from the location.

Think of Darragh Lenihan, the first player from Meath to be capped at senior level by the Republic Of Ireland. Not only that, he was also one of the pillars of the promotion efforts of Blackburn Rovers before sport was basically removed from the world. Or, consider the achievements of members of Dunboyne Athletic Club, the boxing club and indeed several people in motorsport.

Yet, for today’s Dunboyne saunter, the focus shall be on a sport which, in several facets thereof, great renown has been visited upon the village. Add to that the fact that horse racing has become such a huge part of my life that what follows hereafter was always going to be trotted out.

At the outset, it will be admitted that National Hunt has always and probably always will be the preferred sphere in this seat. Not only due to reasons which have been serially outlined in this space over the years, also, however, due to the successes of local jockeys, trainers and owners.

TWO OF OUR OWN

As has often been said in this webspace previously, when a connection can be felt to a given situation – no matter how tenuous it may appear – whatever it may be becomes a whole lot more relatable. Flat racing is no different in that sense.

Another topic which often crops up is the crossover between sports. Particularly involving GAA and horse racing. For it was through certain GAA connections that an avenue of interest to affairs on the flat was excavated.

It’s probably no secret at this stage that the point of entry to matters on the level was via the Jim Bolger yard. Almost exclusively at first. Before the same sources actually facilitated an ‘in’ of sorts with Ger Lyons as well.

Jim Bolger: Gentleman, GAA man, Genius

What never would have been envisaged was being attracted to business out of the stalls by the doings of two locals. Some would probably doubt the ‘locality’ of one of those mentioned hereafter, but please stay with me here.

If any further conversion were required, even with the Bolger connection, then it surely arrived in 2009. It was one of those rare, perhaps unique occasions when those apathetic to sport at best, hostile at worst, came in from the cold.

Just like people with no knowledge of or interest in golf will know of Tiger Woods. Or folks who have never seen a dart, no less thrown one, will have heard of Phil Taylor. Similar status befits Sea The Stars.

The son of Cape Cross was not only the best flat horse seen in my lifetime but also in those of punters with a good chunk of a century’s experience of observing such things.

Do you remember the advert that was on TV some years ago which ended “There’s always the one”, meaning people out of sync with accepted norms. So it was with Sea The Stars. There those who said he couldn’t be acknowledged unless he did this or that.

Balderdash. I very much doubt anyone, equine or human, will achieve even close to what Mick Kinnane’s mount did that unforgettable season. By now, you are probably wondering where the Dunboyne connection to this remarkable success story comes in. It lies with none other than the man who masterminded the glorious journey from Currabeg on the plains of Kildare – John Oxx.

His father, also John and also an accomplished trainer was born in and resided in the area for many years, and was an accomplished hurler what must be nearly a century ago now. Having been born at Hilltown Stud, Oxx Snr worked for a period as Manager of Woodpark Stud on the outskirts of Dunboyne. During that time, there were a considerable number of new boxes built in the yard by two local building firms, Mullally Brothers and Peter Brady. Gravel for all of which – as well as similar for where the Kerr family were based at Sommerseat, Clonee – was drawn by horse and cart out of our family pit by my father and late uncle Billy.

Whether the ‘present’ John was born in Dunboyne or not I’m not sure, but, it is known thаt his uncle Jimmy was heavily involved in the GAA club. A man who was known for his generosity, he is recalled for providing hurls for club teams at a time when both supplies and funding to augment same were in short supply.

For that reason, in November of 2009 the club held a function to honour John’s incredible successes that season. On the night Sean Boylan, whose father would have hurled with John Snr, and other people who would have had memories of the Oxx family’s time in Dunboyne – including my own father – spoke of their recollections of that era.

Three Boylans with the great John M. Oxx

Also present on the night were John’s wife Caitriona and his cousin Eugene Power, who was still living in their ancestral family place at Hilltown, Dunboyne back then.

Peter Moran was Club Chairman at the time and made presentations to our special guest and his wife. Which was entirely fitting as his father Jack would’ve been a very prominent club member around the time of the Oxx family involvement.

The town’s other association with major achievements in flat racing shouldn’t take that much guessing as they are a lot more recent. I shall have to admit I’d forgotten about the victory of North Light, bred out the road in Ballymacoll Stud in the Derby.

AT HOME WITH THE BIG BOYS

If the GAA/horse racing overlap was seminal in relation to John Oxx, then it was especially so in the next and most recent chapter in the black and amber flat racing glory story. Myles Fahey – perhaps appropriately as he’s a GAA fanatic who also loves a punt – was responsible for the formative stages of the careers of a few generations of our football teams. Many of whom have gone on to represent the county at various levels. It’s doubtful, though, if it ever crossed anyone’s mind that he would have a Derby double winning jockey in his ranks.

Double Derby-winning Dunboyne man, Padraig Beggy

Now, in one way nobody should have been surprised when Padraig Beggy hit the big time in the plate. A talented Gaelic footballer while playing the game, sporting versatility appears to run in the genes. His older brother Mick was equally adept at both GAA and soccer while David ‘Jinksy’ Beggy, a cousin, was just as good at giving half backs hell during the most golden period in Meath’s history as he was crossing the line for tries in the colours of Blackrock College in the All Ireland League or Currie RFC in Scotland.

David Beggy in action Blackrock College’s Stradbrook Road home in 1996.

Like a lot of the country’s best young talents in the saddle, Padraig served his time in the great production centre of talent that is Kevin Prendergast’s yard. Incidentally, aside from the aforementioned establishment, the other widely recognised tutor of champions in the making is? A certain Mr Bolger!

As a reference point towards the production line in Coolcullen, see luminaries of the game as Paul Carberry, Mick Fitzgerald and a certain Anthony Peter McCoy. Who was, rather infamously, advised by the great Wexford man that he’d never make it as a jockey because he wasn’t strong enough. Hey, people voted to give clowns like Trump and Boris Johnson power, everyone makes mistakes!!

Anyway, having started out with the wonderful octogenerian, Padraig got his first noteworthy success when landing a fairly valuable race up the north aboard Drunken Sailor, trained by Paul Flynn.

After that, there were plenty of ups and downs – everybody has them, believe me – but two factors which could never be called into question were the rider’s ability or his fortitude. Something of which there could be no greater endorsement than to be added to the roster of riders in Ballydoyle by Aidan O’Brien. Consider some of the names who have graced the Cashel operation previously: Piggott, Kinnane, Fallon, Murtagh, Spencer, Heffernan, Moore. Not to mention the trainer’s own astronomically talented offspring.

Facing stiff opposition in the pursuit of work would be nothing new for Beggy however having emerged from the Prendergast jockey academy where, at the same time there was the likes of Chris Hayes, Christy Geoghegan, Mickey Hussey and current NH Champion Jockey in Britain, the star of the County Down, Brian Hughes.

EVERY HORSE ON ITS MERITS

Over the course of a lifetime observing sport on television or indeed tuned into it on the radio, you get used to the commentators and their various and different mannerisms and sayings. For example, Ger Canning’s fondness for using the word ‘Reprise’. This corner will have to admit that for a long time in this seat it was thought there was no such word. That it was a Canning idiom special.

Then, of course, there was Micheal O’Muirceartaigh. Where exactly does one begin with that legend? One could very easily author an entire book out of the iconic observations of the great man from Dun Sion. Several articles have already collated a good portion of them which preserves such classics as “His father from Fermanagh, his mother from Fiji, neither a hurling stronghold”

Or “And Brian Dooher is down injured, while he is, I’ll tell ye a story, I was in Times Square in New York last week, I went up to a news stand and asked the Egyptian behind the counter did he sell The Kerryman He asked me did I want the North Kerry or South KErry editions, so I bought both. And Dooher is back on his feet”!

Eamon Dunphy is certainly never short of a good quip, but on this occdsion, it’s actually the memorable meanderings of John Giles which resonate as being the most relevant for comparison purposes. A line uttered so often by the former Ireland player and manager that it has been immortalised by the great people behind Apres Match.

Along with how the late, lamented Bill O’Herlihy was “Okie Dokey” with everything in the entire world, Dunphy’s fondness for the word “No” and Liam Brady’s status as football punditry’s version of a sleeping pill.

Reference is of course being made to John’s often comical insistance that we “Take each game on its merits there Bill”. I just came to mind when trying to evalute the jockey pecking order within the Coolmore operation. Specifically, Padraig’s position therein.

Simply as, there may be a perception, with some at least, that, more often than not, he tends to be put on pacemakers. In other words, not given a fair crack at landing the top prizes. With the main mounts going to Moore or Heffernan or Wayne Lordan. Such a stance is entirely understandable. However, sometimes it pays to examine matters through a different lens. Which is why the oft uttered Giles quote came to mind. Simply as I do not for one second believe it’s in the modus operandi or mindset of Magnier, Tabor etc to send a horse out – particularly in a major race – to just make up the numbers.

Remember, Magnier is a man who once said – on live television – about the greatest man who ever saddled a racehorse – that Aidan had “Apologised” to HIM for not following HIS instructions. Which would be comensurate with somebody from Kerry teaching an Indian chef how to cook Vindaloo!

Now, it’s known they did get into hot water years ago when a horse called Red Rock Canyon did clearly move off the rail in order to afford a much more highly vaunted neighbour an easier passage. For all that, there are a few points worth making here. The horse which the one mentioned above cleared the path for could’ve won the contest in question with a hoof tied up.

Secondly, Robbie Power executed an identical move in the Mares Hurdle at Cheltenham last month, albeit in the wrong. The Moynalvey man clearly took Stormy Ireland off her line of running thinking it was the stablemate of Jared Sullivan’s steed, namely Elfie, behind him. When in fact it was Rachael Blackmore – like the last named in the silks of owner Kenny Alexander – atop Honeysuckle as she astonishingly demonstrated why she was the banker of the entire meeting.

As far as I know, apart from a probable and if so thoroughly deserved rollicking from Mullins, I don’t think the jockey faced any other sanction. The third point worth making at this stage is that, whether by accident or design, “The Lads” certainly had an altered approach to their having multiple representatives in races.

“When you’re riding one of Aidan’s you always have a chance”

PADRAIG BEGGY

Which leads me nicely to where the Giles quote, or something very similar to it comes to mind. Keeping in mind Padraig Beggy’s seemingly go-to self depreciation when he has partnered a winner that “When you’re riding one of Aidan’s you always have a chance”. Another way of saying the same thing would be to imply that an observer and/perspective punter would do very well to take each horse on its own merits.

A noble notion indeed, but one which all too greatly underplays the part played by the equine hero’s human driver. That was never more relevant than in the case of Beggy’s remarkable Derby double. His deliveries of both Wings Of Eagles and Sovereign were so fundamentally different that less attuned onlooker could be forgiven for questioning whether the same rider would be possessed of such versatility and nous to deliver two conveyances of such contrasting components.

Twice as nice: Padraig makes it Derby victories in consecutive seasons.

Doubtless, few will find it surprising what follows hereafter, but it’ll be given a spin out anyway. To observe Padraig’s pair of polarised perfect performances was to be reminded firstly that there are many different ways of winning.

And secondly to glory in the local man’s garnering of two of the biggest prizes in world racing by deploying tactics that were so diverse it would be like letting Barney Gumble lead a prayer group and Ned Flanders own a nightclub, was to be beamed back to another era.

One that’s actually not that long ago in a literal sense, but in today’s confused, cautious world seems like eons ago.

Padraig’s patient, almost sleepy navigation of Wings Of Eagles around Tattenham Corner and on to one of the most unlikely of victories ever witnessed in any race, let alone a Classic, bore all the hallmarks of a certain other Meath rider who should’ve patented finishes liable to send a viewer into cardiac arrest. Think Christmas Hurdle, Kempton, 2004.

Reference was made earlier to what must be white hot competition within the Ballydoyle staff for race mounts. So, the fact that Padraig regularly gets legged up in some of the world’s most prestigious races must count as the greatest seal of approval any jockey could wish for.

Mind you, the self promotion of his own didn’t work out too bad either! If you were going to win one race a season, the Epsom Derby and the Irish equivalent at The Curragh aren’t a bad brace to put yourself in the shop window.

Displaying a tactical acumen which enabled him to completely flip flop from the plan which worked so well on the Downs represents another sizable deposit on the credit side.

For, you see, if Padraig’s ride on Wings Of Eagles was reminiscent of the best of Harchibald, the barnstorming manner in which Sovereign turned the Curragh showpiece into a procession on a par with the recently retired Un De Sceaux in his pomp under Ruby.

Gut feeling, and, thankfully general wisdom appears to be that, if there is to be any sport salvaged for the remainder of the year, horse racing may well be the flag bearer.

If such does turn out to be the case, don’t be surprised if Beggy bags another big one!

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