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'He would have been a proud man, my Dad. I call it a memory stir'

Racing photographer Pat Healy on his new book ‘Thrills and Spills’.

Silhouettes in flight at Fairyhouse.
Silhouettes in flight at Fairyhouse.
Image: Healy Racing

OUT OF LOCKDOWN, some sporting opportunities arose.

Like many Pat ‘Cash’ Healy saw his way of life swerve off course last March when normal activity in the country ground to a halt.

The Listowel-based horse racing photographer saw tracks around the country shut down and with plenty time to kill, there was a chance to get a project going.

“We started out, we wanted to do a history of Healy Racing which would be 40 odd years to the present day. It was just too complex and then I was conscious of leaving people or a picture or occasions out. We decided to make it simple, the last decade. It’s not meant to be a defining chronicle of the last decade in photos.

“We left it up to a committee at O’Brien Press. I would have loved to have 500 pages, as it is there’s 205, but I think they’ve done the last decade of jumps racing justice. I was thrilled with it.

“The idea was there a couple years. Susan Houlden in O’Brien Press and myself had discussed it a couple of times. Of course getting around to it and the time to devote to it was a bit of a problem.

“And then lockdown happened. Sure I had plenty of time, we had no racing for 80 odd days. I put the head down, myself and Susan we got it done.”

The result is ‘Thrills and Spills’, a celebration of irish jump racing. Healy delved into an archive of thousands of images, covering the marquee meetings at Cheltenham and Aintree, alongside racecourses and point-to-points scattered around the country.

ThrillsAndSpills Source: Healy Racing

His father Liam senior began the photography business in the 1970s and it has been carried on by his family.

“The thing that makes me proud is my Dad has pictures in it, Lord have Mercy on him. Of course my brother Liam, my son Jack, my nephews Kevin and Sean. He would have been a proud man, my Dad. I call it a memory stir.

“Obviously the rest of the team have an image or two in it as well. It seems to be going well, I think O’Brien Press are happy. Hopefully that if it does go well, we’ll get one out next year on the last decade of the flat which would be great.”

Page 51 Ben Crawford and Let Me At It go their separate ways at The Pigeons point-to-point in Westmeath. Source: Healy Racing

A couple snapshots spring to mind of particular prominence.

“For me, one that my brother Liam took of Annie Power at the last hurdle at Cheltenham (in 2015) because of the theories and the debates. Obviously I wouldn’t believe them for one second, I think the picture just shows what she did. She caught the top bar of the hurdle and that was it. There was no way out.

“I love the picture of Mouse Morris and his son Jamie embracing after Mouse won the English Grand National with Rule The World. It was less than a year since Mouse’s son Tiffer had passed away.”

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There is no escaping the dominant theme of 2020. The images from the racing decade conclude with the eerie sight of deserted tracks, something that will be conspicuous for the traditional Christmas meeting at Leopardstown.

“It’s gas, the first image you see is 2011, Gowran Park past the parade ring on Thyestes Day, an iconic day in the calendar, and then you sign off with Galway this year and the empty stand,” says Healy.

“Who would have predicted it? From my point of view, we’re just delighted to be working. HRI and IHRB have done a fantastic job, running racing and everybody is adhering to the protocols. But the big meetings do hurt you. Galway was the first, then you’ve Listowel and Champions weekend, and now you’re on to Leopardstown at Christmas which you should be having a huge crowd at on Stephen’s Day.

“Again it’s going to be strange but racing is going and there’s people making a living. “It doesn’t really change, you just miss the crowds. We all love horse racing, I love it more than anybody. So the glass is three quarters full.”

Page 46-47 Jumping the last and facing the crowds at Kilbeggan in Westmeath. Source: Healy Racing

The different atmosphere was striking for the festival closest to Healy’s affections, the Listowel gathering in September. He’s been on the committee since 2004, this his first year as chairman.

“I’m always building up the crowd, telling everybody how big a crowd they get for the Harvest Festival. Now everyone around the town is slagging me that I was chairman of the smallest crowd ever at Listowel!

“But look it’s a pleasure and a privilege to be chairman of Listowel Race Company at any time. Something I always wanted. It was a challenging year, of course it was. Listowel this year pulled on the heartstrings a lot.

“Will next year be any better? I don’t think so. I think it’s going to be a while before we get capacity crowds back to whether it’s Listowel or Leopardstown or Croke Park. But look we’ll get back.”

And there’s plenty images to reflect on this publication he’s involved in, each one sparking memories.

“I think if you look every picture does tell a story. I love the scenery shots. I think the book is so well produced by O’Brien Press. The one there of Killarney at the start of 2015 with the mountains in the background and the horses running down the back straight, it’s a fantastic image. There’s loads and loads of them.”

Screenshot 2020-11-24 at 9.04.07 AM

About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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