Joseph O'Brien, AP McCoy, Ruby Walsh, Paul Carberry and Charlie Swan are pictured together ahead of riding in the Pat Smullen Champions Race for Cancer Trials Ireland at the Curragh on Sunday Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Johnny Ward: Six reasons why this racing weekend will be special

Across Saturday and Sunday, Ireland will host the best in the world at two of the globe’s finest racetracks.

A BUS OF middle-aged East Belfast men landed in Navan racecourse last Saturday for a day out, no doubt to the bemusement of the locals.

They were on a jolly – a help, if not mandatory, on these occasions. Last Saturday, Navan staged an eight-race Flat card at the behest of SIS with 35-minute gaps between races – less gaps than giant holes to suck the life from you.

Perhaps it says a little or a lot about my own mindset but I did put it to friends: how would you get through an eight-race Flat meeting with 35-minute intervals without having a few pints?

There is only so much small talk you can make at a meeting with hardly anyone there. There are a myriad of reasons why going racing is enjoyable and useful – but very many hardcore punters and racing fans rarely go racing these days.

If at all.

We are of a generation or generations who no longer walk down the street content unless gawking rudely at a smartphone; others regularly bring theirs on toilet breaks.

Our attention spans are bad and worsening. The person of our era was not designed for an eight-race Flat card at Navan with 35-minute gaps.

I am not sure how much more attractive Leopardstown and the Curragh could be for Longines Irish Champions Weekend of 2019. Should the racing aficionado be battling indifference, we are facing into a dystopian future where racing will no longer exist.

Granted, Laytown is unique and the sizeable crowd that ventured there Wednesday had fun at the beach. But we are talking about run-of-the-mill horses running midweek.

On Saturday and Sunday, we have the best in the world running at two of the globe’s finest racetracks. If Irish people actually care about a good horse, here are six reasons why this weekend is special.

Money to be made

OK, this hardly is a special weekend in that regard but I have to put a couple of selections in somewhere, commencing with Silverkode (6.00 Leopardstown). Second in the race off 99 two years ago and again 12 months ago when rated 91, this nearly looks too good to be true off 83. He has a nice draw. And things that look too good to be true often come true.
On Sunday, Albigna gets the nap vote in the Moyglare (3.00) – I love how she finishes her races. Her practice this week had Jessica Harrington purring.

The Curragh

Some of the problems that have afflicted the redeveloped Curragh would be comical were the whole thing not so costly. Since Pat Keogh stepped in to steady the ship, things have improved, and when Racing TV contacted the track about staging ‘Luck On Sunday’ there pre-racing, they were reportedly told it would have to take place outside as everything inside was booked out.

The Curragh is a magnificent, somewhat mystical racetrack and, weather permitting, its potential should finally be showcased Sunday. The great and the good can mingle as one, with Keogh keen to give something back to the locals, many of whom have become disenfranchised. And the card there Sunday is pretty much as good as it gets on the Flat in this country.

Dear Deirdre

Not since Coronation Street has there been so much talk about Deirdre in Ireland. Japan is not running in the Champion Stakes but if we do not have the horse we do have Japan in the former of the brilliant mare, who won the Nassau Stakes last time.

Leopardstown CEO Keogh is enjoying his final Champion Stakes and after a dozen visits to the Far East, it is fitting that he finally realised his ambition of a Japanese runner in Ireland. Millions will watch the race over there, Fran Berry recently describing the regard for the sport in the Land of the Rising Sun akin to what the Premier League is to English football fans.

What a boon for Irish racing if Deirdre began a trend. She will certainly be trending on Saturday.

Pinatubo versus Armory

This is a repeat of last year as two heavyweights go into battle: Coolmore/O’Brien versus Godolphin/Appelby. Quorto beat Anthony Van Dyck last year but the feeling is that Pinatubo versus Armory will be an altogether more virtuous joust in the National Stakes Sunday. Galileo-horses Aidan trains hardly ever win on debut nowadays so Armory might as well be deemed unbeaten; Pinatubo is four from four. For many, the race of the weekend.

Kevin Prendergast

He has won Classics – one Irish 2,000 Guineas and then a second 40 years later. He gave up cigarettes at 50, still enjoys Guinness most nights, goes fishing in the west, shooting when time allows and recently flew over to the sales in an attempt to eye the next Awtaad or Madhmoon.

Kevin Prendergast is 87 years of age and Most people of that vintage, if lucky enough to still function, are retired well over twenty years. 

But in Madhmoon on Saturday, Prendergast has a live contender to give him his biggest winner in his career in the Champion Stakes. 

Imagine the scenes were it to happen. Imagine if it did and you were not there.

Champions, legends and Pat Smullen

When word filtered that Pat Smullen was unable to ride in the charity race he organised at the Curragh, racing went into a spell of sorrow – but typically the cancer-stricken former rider has rallied everyone to the cause and we have a genuinely unique scenario this weekend where six Group 1s are subservient to a charity race.

AP McCoy, Ruby Walsh, Kieren Fallon, Johnny Murtagh, Richard Hughes, Charlie Swan, Joseph O’Brien, Ted Durcan and Paul Carberry riding in one race is quite something; for the cause that is in it – The Pat Smullen Champions Race for Cancer Trials Ireland – it transcends sport. 

This looks competitive too and, with no Smullen pinching a soft lead, who knows who will win? In his race to tackle cancer, and how racing has responded to Smullen’s fight, there are too many winners to mention.

As for conveying the emotion that traps all present for this special race, those watching on TV might only know the half of it.

With the warm-up games out of the way, Murray, Bernard and Gavan discuss the renewed cause for optimism, impressive individual player form, and a potential quarter-final versus either South Africa or New Zealand.

The42 Rugby Weekly / SoundCloud

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