MAKE your hobby your job, they say. And you’ll never work a day in your life. Ah now, hold that thought! Been there, done it, still flat out working!

For these weeks before and after the Cheltenham Festival, everyone working in racing media finds themselves in a spin of previews, reviews, reading, writing, picking winners, cursing losers…until exhaustion carries you out from the Martin Pipe into Friday night.

Glory be to the days when this was a hobby and the first thing you did on the January new holiday roster was book off that second week in March.

It was far away from these frenzied weeks, sitting back and rolling blissfully into that first Tuesday.

You didn’t grow up in a border county in the 70s without having a strong sense of us and them. And long before we got the notions around the soccer team’s success and embraced the likes of Jack Charlton and Andy Farrell, us Irish getting one over on those uppity neighbours was the desire for many occasions, and racing annually offered one.

You read tales of old on how peed off they were over there, buying a champion young horse only to find we had kept one better at home, in the reports on the Mill House/Arkle days.

Those days, before we stored our memories in virtual clouds, something much more basic was the keeper of things precious for young fans. For a racing mad kid, in a very non-racing home, the combination of a shoe box and stored newspaper photos and cuttings kept many big moments alive.

There was a photo, cut out and saved, of the last fence in the 1974 Gold Cup that captured the mood of the time. Captain Christy, it appeared, heading towards the turf after an error at the last fence, handing the race to Britain’s The Dikler. A lady in the crowd has a smile on her face. I focused on her as the British enemy.

With glee

And she bore all my patriotic aggression as I imagined with glee, the smile being wiped off her face when Bobby Beasley and ‘The Captain’ recovered and surged back to win.

Going back a step to those early days, with a father not particularly enamoured with racing, and a mother who would let you off school for just one day, there was stress and strains too.

You had to pick a Champion Hurdle day or the Gold Cup day to get the nasty cold. I still regret having to go to school and never seeing Golden Cygnet’s Supreme Novices’ as it happened, nor the Monksfield versus Sea Pigeon battle in 1979.

Indeed, there were many spanners in the works of a young fan’s plans. For the Davy Lad/Tied Cottage Gold Cup I was home but the new parish priest was making visits and I was banished with a portable radio to the back garden - “you can’t be watching racing and the priest coming”, the mother would not relent. Oh for one like the Breener up our way.

I strangely seem to have memories of pretty much all the Champion Hurdles while a batch of Gold Cups are blank.

Ten Up, Royal Frolic, Alverton, Master Smudge, who takes Tied Cottage’s rightful place for 1980. Blank. It must have been easier to get a Tuesday off school than a Thursday!

Then there were those years Paddy’s day hit in the middle of Cheltenham – all good, you think. But in a house where GAA took precedence, with matches being rarely televised, there were goddam Railway Cups thrown in on a Paddy’s day. Who cares if your province won when the Gold Cup was on?

It often meant pleas to friends if I could go to their house to watch a Paddy’s Day big race. I watched the Dickinson ‘Famous Five’ in someone’s front room.

Own control

Becoming a member of the work force, (which I did the week after Dawn Run won the ‘86 Gold Cup - all things in life connect to a race!), finally put things into my own control and holidays could be booked, decks cleared.

Though for Thursday Gold Cup in ’87 for The Thinker, I don’t easily forget taking a half day that day and belting home on a bike for nine miles, (lots of hills!), I’d done my own stamina test for the Gold Cup before finding out it was delayed and delayed and no half day needed!

And there are the curious things that stand out in the memory. Remember the dog in 1988? My instant reaction was ‘Oh no, some fool let their dog on the track, Forgive N Forget’s been frightened and run out.’ But then came the realisation that it was more tragic than that.

By the time you had wages and winning more money was the added incentive, even if it meant a dreaded venture into a smokey, smelly bookmakers, it was no problem when the teller was counting out note after note from your 33/1 Cool Dawn win. Lesson for punting life. Always take advantage of bookie overreaction to one bad run when a legitimate excuse is offered. Robert Alner’s gelding had been progressive until one bad run at Sandown.


Even when working and you had control of your destiny, spanners still had to be deflected.

A call for jury service? You cannot be serious on a Champion Hurdle day? Let them all off, judge. Can I do my constitutional duty in the flat season?

“Your uncle has a hospital appointment, you would mind driving him to Dublin?”

“Sure, when?”

“March 14th.” Aggh. Not again. Wandering around Beaumont Hospital in angst in 2000. Trying to find a radio to hear if Istabraq’s nose bleed had ruled him out. Breaking the speed limit back home.

Your friend calling at lunchtime on Wednesday, March 6th 1994, upset and looking for comfort because she’s been made redundant. An hour before Danoli carries the hopes of a nation.

The one good thing about working in racing media is that finally the coast is clear. Watching Cheltenham is your job, even if that last winning post on Friday will be more than welcome and you are glad it’s 365 days to doing it all again.