Monday, June 13th
Back to Ascot for the Royal meeting after missing the last two years and I’m all excited catching the iron bird from Cork to Heathrow.
Hat, tails, waistcoats, ties and patent shoes all packed making it a different set of gear that I would carry to Cheltenham or Aintree, I tell you.
I am staying in Windsor Town with long-time friends, Kerryman Steve Barry and wife Ann, a Roscommon native, and land in their sitting room for 2pm. The lads live right in the heart of the town so it’s a hop and skip to all the amenities.
We head to the races up the road for the evening meeting and as always it’s a great way to spend the few hours.
The Lawn Bar is our base and by the time the last race is done we are joined by pals from Armagh, Derry, Tyrone and Kildare with all the chat and banter about the All-Ireland.
I rock up this morning at 9am and collect my accreditation and get my pitch in the media marquee which is situated behind the winning post.
Between journalists and photographers there are 110 of us parked up with great Wi-Fi and air conditioning.
On the track, the meeting kicks off with a bang with the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes and the appearance of the highest-rated horse in the world Baaeed. He doesn’t disappoint the 42,000 in attendance with his eighth win in a row and comparisons to the mighty Frankel being spoken about now.
We have an Australian win with Nature Strip for trainer Chris Waller and jockey James McDonald in the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes marking him as the best sprinter in the world, and Godolphin, Appleby and Buick bag the other Group 1 with Coroebus in the St James’s Palace.
We have no Irish winner on the card, but Cork native David O’Meara bags the final race with Get Shirty completing a double for jockey Danny Tudhope.
After wrapping up in the media tent I head to the car park after 7pm and the place is buzzing with picnics.
The first man I meet is Mark Gittens and he is serving bottles of beer from his jeep where I catch up with Patrick Mullins, Sonny Carey, Davy and Edelle Russell, Gordon Elliott, Joey Logan, Alan Harte and first-time visitors Philip and Anne Reynolds.
Anne is loving her maiden voyage and is all excited about her daughter Stephanie’s upcoming wedding to Charles “Chuck” O’Callaghan.
We have two Irish winners on the card today with father and son, Aidan and Joseph O’Brien, training them.
Joseph bags the feature the Group 1 Prince Of Wales’s Stakes with State Of Rest and registers his first Royal success as a trainer making him the first person to both ride and train a Group 1 winner here.
When they write the book on Joseph, there are going to be a pile of “firsts” and records, that’s for sure. It’s also a first Royal success for jockey Shane Crosse who claims the plaudits for his brilliant ride and brings his Group 1 total to four.
Racing and life is a funny auld game and we look back and smile now when we think of poor Shane missing out on the St Leger winner Galileo Chrome due to catching the Covid.
He is a lovely kid and keeps his head down working hard and please God, he will have more big days ahead of him.
While photographing the presentation, I can earwig Rathbarry Stud’s Catherine Cashman’s (who secured the horse for stud) conversation with Prince Charles. “Where is your stud?” he enquires. “Yerra, we have a small operation in Co Cork called Rathbarry,” Catherine replies. “Rathbarry?” The Prince says “I’ve heard of Rathbarry, that’s no small operation!”
Fair play to her, she had Charles and Camilla laughing away for the few minutes and I was thinking if Irish racing ever needs to send someone into battle for us, Catherine would be top of the list.
The car park is rocking this evening with Peter Kelly and Dermot Cantillon looking after the huge Irish contingent. It’s their 21st year having a marquee here, fair play to them.
The best dressed man award has to go to Kieran “Shaggy” Leavy whose waistcoat is tailor-made in his racing silks and Portarlington GAA club of maroon and green.
I end the evening in The Two Brewers Pub in town where I met a lovely lady called Penny. She worked as a “bunny” in The Playboy Club in London back in the day and even this evening she takes the eye.
She recalls story after story about the celebs that would frequent the place with George Best being her favourite along with Alex Higgins and Richard Harris. “George just had a way about him,” she tells me, “all the girls loved George.”
Of course I’m curious to know more “and did ye ever have an aul fling?”
“Ah Pat, a lady never reveals her secrets. Then again, if you get me another gin and tonic…!
Ladies Day today and the weather does the occasion proud. ‘Tis pure Ballybunion sunshine and I take in the sights and sounds ahead of racing all the way down the course at the three-furlong pole in The Five Shillings Lawn.
At 12 o’clock, the place is buzzing and there is a DJ blaring out the tunes in the Danedream Bar.
There are groups of ladies everywhere all dressed to the nines with runners being the fashionable choice of footwear and already they are up dancing to the Mark Morrison hit “Return Of The Mack”.
At the bar a pint of Lager is £7 and at the “Kwackers” takeaway you can dine on a classic duck wrap for £8.50 with chips an extra £5.
On the track, we have an Irish victory in the Gold Cup with the Aidan O’Brien-trained Kyprios for joint owners Coolmore, Westerberg and Moyglare Stud.
Magical Lagoon wins for owner Zhang Yuesheng, represented by Michael Donohoe and wife Sarah, giving trainer Jessica Harrington her third Royal success and a first for jockey Shane Foley.
Another Irish jockey, Ben Curtis rides his second Royal winner when Inver Park wins the last, and it’s great to catch up with his wife Shauna who is a Ballybunion native.
Over in the car park after racing I have a beer with Olive Walsh, Lesley Campion, Adrian Regan, Jamie Magee, Willie Mullins and “Trigger” Plunkett before heading to William and Nolan Byrne’s picnic with Mark and Jane Dwyer.
All the Kerry crowd are here with some of the boys even saying they wished they brought “the Mrs” and will next year.
Please God, we will be around to see if they do!