The Association of Irish Racecourses (AIR) is privileged to represent all 26 Irish racecourses as part of their overarching strategy for engaging with their members and supporting teams at racecourses nationwide.
AIR likes to get to know the people behind the scenes, paying tribute to their hard work and the excellent job they do for the wider racing product on a daily basis. This is at the core of the Association’s work. Over the coming months The Irish Field readers will be treated to some profile articles on some of the important characters on Irish racecourses.
As we look ahead to the final jump meeting of the season at Navan on Saturday, it makes sense to commence these profiles with the legendary dual All-Ireland winning footballer, Donal Curtis, who is the track foreman at Navan Racecourse.
Little did Donal know that when a teacher at St. Pats, Navan got him a part-time job at the Royal Tara Golf Club during the Easter holidays it would lead to a summer job. Then, the day before he got his Leaving Certificate results, he was offered a full-time position. He progressed to become assistant greenkeeper at Lucan Golf Club from where he was headhunted by Eddie Campbell for the role of head greenkeeper on the golf course at Navan Racecourse. Less than a 10-minute commute from home, doing something he clearly loves, and another step up the career ladder made for an easy decision; Donal couldn’t believe his luck.
Initially, Donal looked after the golf course while Vincent Eivers took care of the racecourse. “Vincent has a wealth of knowledge and experience at Navan Racecourse, which is brilliant to have on my side, and I also give him a hand at Bellewstown where he is still involved since he retired from Navan,” said Donal.
No stranger to learning from the best, Donal has worked at Galway, Punchestown, Leopardstown and Royal Ascot in recent years. He was also keen to praise his excellent clerk of the course, Paddy Graffin, and acknowledges local trainers like Noel Meade and Gordon Elliott who are very supportive.
His love of racing was always there, whether it was “the excitement of working in the family shop on busy racedays to the year I was there to see Danoli win at Cheltenham and Tiger Roll’s big come back at Navan before he went on to Grand National glory; there are lots of highlights.”
There’s a great crossover between GAA and horse racing. Donal made the annual pilgrimage to the Galway Races with the lads long before his time working at Navan and, although nowadays Willie McCreery and Curtis meet trackside rather than on the pitch, the banter is as good as ever!
Together with his wife Ann Marie, they have three sons David (17), Joey (15) and Bobby (11). They are all sports fanatics and very active in lots of disciplines, and always on the go. The same can be said of Donal who, although retired from intercounty football for some time now, is still very active in the game.
Whether it is playing football with his local club Rathkenny or hurling for Wolfe Tones, he attributes his fitness to his active job which “involves lots of walking - and a bit of luck - which has helped to keep me injury free”.
Former champion jockey Barry Geraghty commented on Navan Racecourse: “I just love this place, everything about it brings out the best in a horse and a rider. The cream always comes to the top here.”
For further information or to book tickets and hospitality, visit www.navanracecourse.ie.