MONDAY evenings in February and March don’t usually fill me with much enthusiasm. However, that all changed this year after I enrolled in Mary FitzGerald’s excellent Horses For Courses, a series of lectures which took place in Dublin each Monday evening from early February until mid-March when the course (almost completed) was interrupted by the Covid-19 outbreak.
As Mary pointed out at ‘the off’, there is no exam and there is no minimum level of experience required to attend, so the most basic knowledge of horses or horse racing is sufficient to benefit from and enjoy each one of the talks. As a lifelong racegoer with no direct involvement in the industry per se, I hoped that the course would give me an informative and fresh perspective on the sport I love, and perhaps introduce me to new and interesting people, and I was not disappointed.
The concept is straightforward – two speakers every week each deliver a 45 to 50-minute talk on a particular aspect of the horse industry in Ireland, with time for questions and answers after each talk. The speakers were all seriously top-class and each one an expert in his/her field.
The chief executives of Horse Racing Ireland, the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association, the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board and Irish Thoroughbred Marketing all attended and participated directly, giving insightful and hugely interesting and entertaining talks on the activity, significance and challenges of their organisations.
Shane Duffy delighted us with a deeply honest and revealing account of his tough but clearly happy life as a relatively small but hugely ambitious trainer.
Sheila Lavery delivered more of the same, including a heartfelt and moving account of her brilliant but ill-fated filly Lady Kaya.
Jockeys Gary Halpin and Siobhan Rutledge will never again be just G. Halpin and Miss S. Rutledge (7) on my race card after their thoroughly enjoyable interview with RACE’s director Keith Rowe. Racing pundit Donn McClean opened our eyes to the significance of getting value when placing bets and explained the important role that mathematics and probability play in trying to profit from betting. At the end of his talk, Donn gave us three tips for Cheltenham - more about that later!
The Irish Field editor Leo Powell presented a very interesting and insightful overview of the role and importance of the media in Irish racing, which prompted an absorbing and lively Q&A. HRI’s Aileen Goatley was largely preaching to the converted with her expert and engaging presentation on the marketing and promotion of Irish racing.
Still to come, once Covid-19 is under control, the great Robert Hall is scheduled to reflect on his remarkable life in racing, and Pat Keogh, CEO of the Curragh, will also make a presentation.
Mary FitzGerald was an excellent facilitator and she ensured that we started and finished just about on time every night. Most of the speakers used PowerPoint and Mary circulated their notes afterwards. Spot prizes such as race tickets and racing books were raffled nightly.
Among the many interesting people I met were a UCD veterinary student hoping to broaden his knowledge of equine sports and welfare for his future career, a lovely lady who just wanted to better understand racing rules and lingo because she plans to go racing more often, and a very engaging gentleman whose family is steeped in horse racing and who could have delivered a talk himself, given his encyclopaedic knowledge of racing!
Included in the very reasonable course fee (less than €200 all-in) is a guided trip to the Irish National Stud and a day at the Curragh races which will take place, we are assured, when racing resumes.
Personally I would have liked more emphasis on National Hunt racing in the course but it’s a minor gripe - this is a most enjoyable and informative series of lectures, affirming the extent and significance of the horse industry in Ireland, its huge reputation worldwide and its crucial importance to our economy. Most of all, it was the incredible and lasting love affair we have in this country with the horse that permeated the entire course and was so enthusiastically depicted by every speaker.
I strongly recommend this course to anyone with even a passing interest in the horse industry - and if you think you know it all already, I’ll bet that you will learn something new and interesting.
Speaking of bets, Donn McClean’s three tips all had very good Cheltenham form going into the Festival, and all ran well again this time, but none could get its nose in front at the line, finishing second, third and fifth. Horses for Courses almost, but that’s racing!
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