HOW do you determine the great horse? The one that has really captured the imagination of the public? How about when the cheers begin?
In that famous Tingle Creek Chase where Moscow Flyer took on Azertyuiop and Well Chief, the cheers rose from when he touched down over the Pond fence, three from home.
At Fairyhouse last Sunday, the cheers from the stands began for Honeysuckle from when she touched down alongside Stormy Ireland at the fourth last.
On the RTÉ commentary, Richard Pugh was alive to it too as they turned into the straight. “You don’t need to hear me, you can hear the crowd.”
They had lined up three deep along the walkway to see her out to the track. It was six deep as she returned and a few hundred more added around the winner’s enclosure side of the parade ring. All eyes on the equine queen of Fairyhouse.
Young Harry de Bromhead, interviewed on RTÉ gave insight to Brian Gleeson’s question, what’s she like at home? “She’s very angry. If you walk in to go rub her, she’ll turn her bum to you.” But his sister Georgia gave her approval. “She’s class.”
Peter Molony also told us of Honey at rest. “When she’s at home with us in the summer, she’s like a dote in the paddock, you could go in and she’d put her head in your lap. When she’s fit and ready to go, she’ll eat you alive.”
While the winner took the adulation, the other side of the coin was out on the racetrack. Paul Nolan took one horse to Fairyhouse, his best one. And went home with an empty horsebox. Three cheers for Honeysuckle, just tears for Latest Exhibition.
RTÉ got some criticism for showing the breakdown, a particularly bad one, in the replays. Certainly the second replay for analysis, after the commercial break, would have been better with it edited out. Racing folk might accept and sympathise but the general Sunday afternoon TV watching public could have been spared it.
From pulling into an already full carpark just before the first race, the day was as close to normal as we’ve had in a long time.
Covid certs with ID, could be checked outside the entrance and also inside so you were ready wristbanded and for indoor dining. Decent weather made the open-sided marquee as good as any place to spend the day close to the action.
RTÉ Racing had a finely balanced team for the day – Ruby at the helm with Jane, Barry and Lisa O’Neill becoming a good addition across all channels.
The day also had a few masterclass rides, one from Danny Mullins to get up on Statuaire in the Royal Bond. Richard Pugh informed us before the start Mags Mullins had told him My Mate Mozzie was the best she had seen through her hand, but son Danny claimed the scalp of the favourite.
In the Grade 1 novices’ chase, the crowd lined the rail from the last for this rousing finish. Denis O’Regan got the plaudits to keep Beacon Edge in touch and deliver a final flourish on the run-in to land a Grade 1 winner. He thanked, Gigginstown, his old ally Noel Meade and Sean Flanagan for the win and came through again on Smoking Gun in the next.
On TV, the second highlight of the day involved Rachael Blackmore too. She was in on the set-up to surprise IHRB SMO Dr Jennifer Pugh in the weighroom to escort her out to a guard on honour to the parade ring to accept the HRI Contribution to the Industry Award.
Interviewed by Brian Gleeson, she recalled the efforts of the last 21 months from March 2020, particularly last March when the “Irish bubble” went to a behind-closed-doors Cheltenham.
“As we do in this industry, we step up every time we are asked. I’m the name that’s bandied around but it’s a massive team.
“When I look back to Cheltenham and Aintree, I don’t think I’ll ever be involved in anything so spectacular. Both countries were in level 5 restrictions. We had to make sure we didn’t bring any Covid to England, we had to make sure we didn’t get it when we were these, and we didn’t bring Covid back. We lived in that little Ireland within Cheltenham. It’ll forever be a time I was so fortunate to be involved with.”
Even the bumper was worth waiting for, and many did. The two riders circling in the track waiting for the photo-finish result were named Taaffe and Swan. It could hardly be more appropriate on the day when Irish racing felt free at last again at a headline meeting with a star
As we left through the gates, one man saluted another, old regulars meeting again.
“Is that you, Brendan? We’re all two years older now, I have to check!”
But the great thing was, for this afternoon, we forgot it was so long since we’d all cheered together.