THE two-day meeting at Annaghmore, Co Armagh provided so many highlights it is hard to pick a headline. These premium meetings are few and far between and are the reason why horsemen, stewards, bookies and the public follow the sport.

The feature events, one a pace, the other a trot went to the same horses as at the Irish American weekend, three weeks previously so Benny Camden and Duca de l’Eau are headliners again.

The weekend also saw the regally-bred pacers from the Gavin Murdock stable show something approaching their true potential. Gavin drove four winners over the weekend.

Jonny Cowden had a three-timer, as did Billy Roche. The Munster raiders went back home with the spoils of war as both the Kelleher and Quill outfits won a race.

However, it was the all-round atmosphere of the meeting which deserves the biggest mention. The fixture attracted the largest crowd seen at a Northern Ireland track since the late sixties.

Indeed Brendan Murdock, Jack Wilson, Patsy Fagan (of Belfast as opposed to the Dublin horseman) Eric Dougal and John Nixon were amongst the crowd. The veterans can recall the early trots at Randalstown, Millisle, Toomebridge and Ballyclare even before a purpose-built track was laid.

We carry a photograph of some of the willing volunteers who laid bricks, plumbed, wired and painted the new clubhouse. The team spirit and the love of the sport is a credit to all involved.

The action itself involved 17 races and two pony races for kids so brevity is called for.

Day One – Saturday

The meeting kicked off with Eoin Joyce landing a gamble in the Grade G pace. Rhyds Salsa was chalked up at 3/1 in a place in the morning and was backed at all prices into 4/5.

The fashionably bred MB King Louis (John Richardson) was also well backed but the daughter of See And Ski got first run and did her job well.

Jonny Cowden was on fire at the meeting. He took out the Grade F pace with the Coreys’ Arts Closure. Cowden also won a heat of the Annaghmore Pacing Cup with Fairdays Western for the same owners.

Finally, the North Belfast man guided his father’s Beat The Clock to a 2’01.3 victory over IB A Magician driven by his owner Wayne Mc Nevin.


The Quills from Kenmare will not shirk a challenge. Father Finbar and the boys sent out three runners over the weekend. Destin de Larre (7/2) upset the 5/4 favourite Energy Oaks (Martin Loughran) and Fina Mix would eventually claim the second rosette in the trot final. The 307-mile trip home was made more bearable by their results.

‘The Red Baron’, Billy Roche is always a force to be reckoned with at the big weekends. Billy won both heats of the trot with Joe Gannon’s Buliano and John Moloney’s Cartouche Jemiska.

“She’s a super mare when she is right,” said Billy of the Co Clare-owned mare, “she went off the boil a bit last year but I think she is back.” Billy plumped for the mare in Sunday’s final.

The meeting closed with a three-year-old fillies’ pace in memory of Jim Murdock, the Godfather, in a family steeped in market trading and trotting. Only three fillies faced the car, all trained by Jim’s nephew Gavin.

Unfortunately Gavin has the majority of the well-bred two- and three-year-olds from the major sales. Stable companions are less likely to cut each other’s throats as the winning times would confirm. It would be better for the Irish sport if the Wallace, Murphy or Meadowbranch yards could produce some contenders.

For the record, Gavin beat cousin Ciaran and brother JP. Sweet Caroline from Sweet Sunset and I’m Great Hanover, was the result, a head and a length and a quarter in slow time of 2’10.2.

It would be no surprise if the second and the third go on to bigger things as well as the winner.

Day Two – Sunday

Intermittent showers put a dampener on the second day a bit. But – hey, haven’t we a lovely new club house to christen? The action on the track was exciting and the screams as Galway and Armagh ebbed and flowed on the TV only made the day more memorable.

Neil Mc Dermott’s Tango (Gavin Murdock) made it two from two in a little grade G four runner contest.

Hill Top North Art shaped well in second for Eamon Griffin and would have been closer only for a break in the home straight. The winner won snugly.

Gamba des Tithais has been costly to follow in the Billy Roche barn. The Roches are great optimists and the view would be that at least her beaten runs ensured a better price on the day. The 3/1 to 4/5 tells the story.

The mare was a bit lucky in that she got up the inside of long-time leader Frisson d’Yvel (Hopper Foran) while the Sean Kane runner Eureka d’Eronville galloped when in contention.

Away record

The Kellehers from Macroom are another team with a great away record. Mikey Kelleher was in the bike for the win with Impress Me as his son Luke was injured in a fall recently. Impress Me is by Rachmaninov Seven €419,000, 1’11.9 (km) who produced well in his first Irish crop and is back at Mooreside Stud in conjunction with the IHRA for 2022.

The favourite Immaculata (John Richardson) was fractious for the second time in two runs, after a three-year-old season where she trotted level every week.

JR got a pick-me-up in the next race when Neville Martin’s Meadowbranch Aine came back to her best in winning the James Corey Cup in 2’02.4. The runner-up Miss Pantastic (Patrick Kane jnr) came from another parish and is worth backing wherever she reappears.

Martin Loughran was out of luck with All Bets Are Off and Energy Oaks but he got his turn when High Speed Efbe won the E to F trot. Martin Maughan is the owner of the mare, at five she has plenty of potential.

Oakwood Paddy (Gavin Murdock) opened 1/3 for the Harry Mone Cup for three-year-olds but was allowed to drift.

With hindsight the opening price was a better reflection of his superiority, and he hardly broke a sweat in beating Churchview Camelot (Alan Wallace jnr). Incidentally, neighbouring Annaghmore Saddlery sponsored a free sweat rug to each winner on the day.

Ayr Balmoral (Gavin Murdock) won the two-year-old pace sponsored by Timmons Brothers of Wolverhampton for the same owner Ruari McNulty.

Once more there was a Murdock one-two-three with Amazon Fire (Alan Wallace) and Maid Sweet (JP Murdock) filling the frame. A 2’06.4 was the clock.

Replays of both the trot and pace finals are easily accessible, at no cost on the IHRA Facebook page. The two races are examples of tactical battles.

Go for broke

In the trotting final both Seamus Quill and Billy Roche went for broke with Fina Mix and Cartouche Jemiska respectively. Cavan man Bernard Nicholson picked them off on the line aboard Duca de l’Eau.

Wayne McNevin owned two runners in the final, so Patrick Kane came in for the catch drive on Benny Camden. The favourite Newtown Rock paced awkwardly as he had done in his heat. Martin Loughran set the fractions with Fairdays Western but Patrick moved at exactly the right moment to give owner Wayne McNevin a second major final in a month.

Patrick missed day one as he was driving Rhyds Scoundrel to win in 1’59.2 at Tir Prince, North Wales.

Bouquets have been thrown at all the right people, but the team simply must address the shoddy way that non-runners, driving changes and incredibly some ‘extra’ runners are communicated, etc.

After a decade of the current management, there are still too many errors in this, the simplest of processes.

20,000 home runs in the USA

READERS may be interested to know that Dave Palone (60) who races mainly at The Meadows track in Pennsylvania recently became the first driver to record 20,000 lifetime wins. Russell Baze (US flat jockey) on 12,844, Sir Gordon Richards (4,870) and our own AP McCoy (4,348) were all prolific under another code but Palone gives a whole new meaning to the word.

Dave Palone shows no sign of retiring although he is a bit more selective in what he drives these days.