IT almost felt as though Christy Moore should have written a little song to get us on the road back to the races. Didn’t we have a lovely day, the day we went to …Leopardstown. Don’t forget your...
But finally, no restrictions. Check what you need – nothing, no screening, no mask, just in you go. Fancy something in the last? “Wear a Mask”? No, You could even put a Gerry Hannon special on it, “down to the first … and HE’S GONE, HE’S GONE.”
Yes, masks were gone, fling it aside, a thing of the past and it was that other ‘M’ word in whom we trust for our racing good health that took centre stage again. M for Mullins.
Willie reported he’d nearly lost his hat on top of the grandstand during the first race on Saturday, but punters were not in danger of any similar fate by following the maestro.
On TV Ruby, Barry, Jane and Lisa also looked in danger of being blown away up on top of the stands.
Minella Cocooner kicked it off the Mullins parade and Richard Pugh was the first to nearly slip up in the Cocooner/Crooner test when the latter made a mistake at the second last.
Thousand Stars didn’t seem to like Cocooner either – greeting him with his ears back as Katie Walsh interviewed Danny Mullins, in the wind and rain.
You could do worse than expect a few more D Mullins winners at the Festival, such is his prowess from the front and the strength of the P Mullins B-team. “Credit to Leopardstown, they’ve done a great job on it,” Danny reported of the ground.
From the stands, the vibe is definitely back, the runners in the Arkle get a cheer passing the post for the first time, never mind in the exciting finish.
We’ve seen and heard of a lot of new TV angles, some not meeting general approval but the new head on one of the second last is a good addition. It’s a key stage of the races and you could see Honeysuckle and Rachael’s decisive move coming to the bend in the Champion Hurdle though the low-lying sun came back to remove that hurdle late on Sunday.
Rich Ricci still can’t watch his winners – “business is business, sport is sport, I get nervous, it’s great to be part of this game.”
Strong winds gave way to persistent, misty rain but it did not dampen spirits too much early on Saturday.
Lots of smiling faces and you could actually see them as 99% of people dispensed with face coverings completely. Shaking hands was also back in fashion and there was no sign of Covid anxiety in those deep queues at the bars.
There’s ‘characters’ dressed up in blow-up horses again - some with British accents. You come all this way to look like that?
But there is a big influx of a young, male crowd and there was dissatisfaction expressed over the time it took to get a drink in virtually all parts of the track. Many staff seemed inexperienced and there wasn’t enough of them. To be fair, this problem seems to be affecting the whole hospitality sector at the moment.
The coffee docks were easier to get through on the Saturday, possibly with fewer people outside.
An excellent addition is the new revamped former weighroom which Tattersalls Ireland had the use of, a spanking new Legacy Lounge.
This room very quickly became the de facto owners and trainers and hanger-on-ers bar. The sales company must have spent the year’s budget on entertaining over the two days - even the fire alarm couldn’t clear the room on Sunday evening.
On TV, Brian Gleeson gets the thumbs, good to be back from Ministers McConalogue and Heydon.
But like the bookies, the traders like to deal in cash and there were long queues for the ATMs all day Saturday, which stretched across the entrance to the main stand. Hard to believe so many people come to the races in need of cash, but another one or two ATMs would and probably should have been welcome.
On the Saturday, we had another reminder of business as normal, as Rightplacerighttime is favourite for the big Saturday hurdle but in the only place they want to be – the right place for owners Niall Reilly and Aidan Shiels is leading in a winner at Leopardstown, come rain or shine.
Brian Gleeson struggles to keep up with the celebrations on TV, with Niall declaring – “Covid is over!” The ‘Red’ is in his element. “Two years waiting to come back to this atmosphere, it’s better than Cheltenham!”
Before the big race Willie says on TV: “I don’t like all this wind for Asterion Forlonge. There’s a lot of question marks about a lot of runners in this raced.” He was right about that too.
Come the finish if the stand were a bit deflated as it was Conflated who made Davy Russell elated, you get it, Christy again!
Sunday began with the Luck On Sunday at the track and Ted Walsh was in typical from. Conflated may have thrown a spanner in the Gold Cup works but no more so than in Ted’s estimation.
He was described as a “dirty rotten mongerel” from a previous impression. He was six and a half lengths superior though to the horse who won last year’s Gold Cup so handsome is as handsome does.
The new Bulmers Secret Orchard area looked good. Very good in fact on TV for the Luck on Sunday broadcast but during the day the screen wasn’t elevated much so if you weren’t close to it, you couldn’t see the bottom half of it.
It sounded like someone gave Jerry Hannon a much needed drink as Birchdale came into the straight in the Bulmers Leopardstown Chase, such was the gulp in the commentary – or maybe, like so many, he was waiting so long for liquid substance he took too big of a mouthful!
Honeysuckle gets the cheers, before the race, after the race, three more in the winner’s enclosure.
Honeysuckle is getting to everyone now – like Danoli and Istabraq. Even her normally super-cool pilot admitted being more emotional to Katie Walsh in the post race interview. “I had chills through my veins going down to the start, listening to everyone. That cheer, where would you get it.
“Kenny Alexander texted me last night and said just go out and enjoy it, she owes us nothing,” Blackmore confessed.
Interviewed afterwards, Peter Molony relays that even when at home for the summer, she is in demand. “We were thinking of putting a turnstyle on the gate,” such was the desire to come and see Honeysuckle.
Andy Mc says: “When you are that good, no matter what your attitude is. She can kick anyone she wants there and they’ll still be hugging and kissing her after!”
Brian Gleeson was back in his hinterland and, a full flowing ring, caught up with Ray Mulvaney and Brian Keenan over the two days.
The good news was that punters hadn’t forgotten how to bet and there was plenty of money around. The bad news is that the results largely went against the layers (“Thanks a lot, Willie”) over the two days, especially with the favourites on the Sunday.
On the rails, Victor Norris said: “Business is good but the results didn’t go our way.”
Down the line, Jim Fanning somehow managed to come out in front. “Trade was better today [Saturday] than it was here two years ago. I think people want to get out and enjoy themselves. We made a few quid too, so no complaints at all.
“I’ve been at a few other meetings recently and they have been better than expected, especially Sundays.”
Also glad to see the crowds back were Jean and Angela, who were selling chocolate at the exit behind the parade ring. “I missed it terrible,” Angela said. “I missed meeting the people.”
Six of the eight Grade 1s nabbed by Closutton, and when asked on both RTE and RTV, he didn’t even mention any of those as the most impressive performance of the weekend.
That went to Facile Vega in the Saturday’s Grade 2 bumper. “Even better than I thought he was.” That’s some encouragement for those trying to feed on the scraps. But all was right with the world again as those favourites romped home.
The tale of the punter and the barstaff
THE battle on Saturday wasn’t between the punter and the bookie but the punter and the barstaff.
Sunday was better, better weather and a less drinking crowed, but many moved on after the Champion Hurdle. We had a new race on the card: named in the typical fashion by Rory Fitzgerald (@roryfitz15 on Twitter), and the runners names supplied by the Twitter folk!
The: Paddy Power “I’d Love A Pint But The Service Is Horrific” Handicap Hurdle (Grade B).
Here’s the field. No Non Runner No Bet refunds.
1. “It’s a two-race queue to get a round.”
2. “Better chance of getting a pint at an AA meeting.”
3. “I’ve been coming here for 30 years, it’s never been so bad. They’ve had two years to get it right.”
4. “I was queued up straight after the 2.45 to get a round and I wasn’t near the top of the queue when the Irish Gold Cup was on.”
5. “Pint situation was unbelievable. I’m 44, drinking and betting at Leop since I’m 16 and that was the worst I’ve seen.”
6. “So bad yesterday no chance we’d be going back today.”
7. “I paid €80 for a ‘premium’ ticket and waited 30 mins for a Guinness.
Grade 1s performances Wins Placings Total
Willie Mullins 6 5 11
Gordon Elliott 1 6 7
Henry de Bromhead 1 2 3
The others (Pat Fahy, Lorna Fowler, Paddy Corkery) Placings - 3