GEORGE Ezra could have provided the soundtrack to the first day of Irish Champions Weekend – Green, green grass, Blue, blue sky – just add some brown, brown horses.
It was a most enjoyable day for those who were there. Great weather, great racing. No queues. It was definitely a shade quieter in all areas that you would have liked, especially given the sunshine and no other racemeeting taking place in Ireland or Britain, no GAA and no Premiership football.
Racecourse employees and industry personnel were all wearing red ribbons to honour Jack de Bromhead. These were supplied by the racecourse and were a nice touch.
It was easy to find coffee, stools, tables, anywhere you wanted. The biggest queue by far was for the Tote ‘Spin & Win’ roulette wheel opposite the Champions Quarter marquee. People will queue for free money.
The liveliest spot was the Hurricane Bar, located in the dip between the parade ring and the bookmaker. It had a DJ playing country music - he knew his audience last weekend.
By contrast, the luxurious Legacy Bar – situated where the weighing room used to be – was practically empty. An official told us that racegoers who stumbled in immediately did a U-turn as they assumed the facility wasn’t for them! The racecourse even hired staff to encourage the public inside and invitations were made over the PA. It’s Leopardstown’s best kept secret.
At 1.30pm, as the RTÉ television broadcast of the day began, Ruby Walsh’s tribute to Jack de Bromhead was simultaneously played on the racecourse big screens. “One small man cast a long shadow over the racing world that extended across our island.” The minute’s applause for Jack was fully respected.
Later in the RTÉ broadcast Ruby read a tribute to Queen Elizabeth II. However, it was a bad call to overlay this with crowd scenes. It didn’t look too respectful to show racegoers chatting, lads drinking and walking around with pints, even if we might be a tad tired of all the ceremonies on British TV.
The official attendance figure was given as over 10,000 but it felt nothing like as crowded as at the Dublin Racing Festival. Then again Leopardstown really works in getting the drinkers and diners away from the main thoroughfares so you can move easily.
The Paddy Power shop, normally a packed house, is virtually empty with no ‘away’ racing. Wobble Downs is the action and peculiarly, a virtual Grand National in which horses have no names – “The Leader, the Second, the others…?”
The Queen may be gone but the King of Kerry is still reigning – “The Harvest Festival… come to Listowel, I’ll put ye up in me west wing,” Pat Healy is still recruiting for next week.
Again, it’s a shame that the one very crowded viewing area is the pre-parade ring. It was four or five deep in a small space here and difficult to see the horses for the Group 1s before they were saddled. After his win, Luxembourg gets a generous round of applause when Ryan Moore paraded him back on track. In the RTÉ interview, Aidan O’Brien paid tribute to all the work that had been put in to get the colt back after he missed the summer. “He’s taken it all with a smile on his face.”
Watching from home you would have had a pointer to Pearls Galore’s chance with Chris Hayes interviewed after his earlier win, saying that he was more worried about her than the British filly.
On Racing TV, Tom Stanley does a nice interview with the two lads responsible for Luxembourg’s care at home – rider Killian Hennessy and groom Derek Hennessy who win €1,200 for the World Pool Moment for the Day. Derek has looked after the colt since he was a yearling. “I’m just privileged to look after a horse like this,” he said.
The Festina Lente stall is popular with kids coming to meet and get up close to the ponies Sam and Bob. Jill Carey, chair of Equine Assisted Ireland, is interviewed on the big screen.
There are more on-course interviews and previews of the races broadcast on track, which is good, but their sound carried through to the RTÉ broadcast and wasn’t ideal.
Bookmaker Gerry Collins, who operates well down the line, said turnover was 40% below pre-Covid levels. On the rails, Ray Mulvaney was much more upbeat. “I’m reasonably happy. Bearing in mind the summer meetings were disappointing here, this is a step in the right direction.”
It was unusual to see one older gentleman with a facemask still sitting under his chin. What could that be?
On a summer’s day in September 2022, how far we have come - Luxembourg wasn’t alone with a smile on his face.