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Dublin: 1°C Thursday 15 April 2021
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'Well done, young man! That stuff about your granny, not so much.' A farewell to the face of RTE's racing coverage

The much-respected Robert Hall will wrap up his time in front of the cameras this weekend, writes Johnny Ward.

robert-hall Robert Hall: will bow out at Leopardstown. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

THE CIRCLE KEEPS turning.

This weekend, the iconic Hiberno-English voice of Robert Hall will air on live racing coverage on RTÉ for the last time. It is somewhat bemusing, if a little saddening, that the state broadcaster effectively compels its pensioners to take a hike should they so desire or not.

You will hear little mention of same as our political parties bicker about an acceptable pension age in the populist stakes.

I did a little work with RTE in my mid-20s and memorably or otherwise told the national audience that if my granny had balls “she’d be my uncle”.

It might have been my first time on RTE; it might have been my last too. Robert rang that evening or the day after.

“Well done young man, well done! That stuff about your granny, not so much.”

Robert was the voice of reason with the authority of the auctioneer he revelled in too. Ted Walsh was the horseman with lyric plucked straight out of barn in the home of racing in Ireland, County Kildare.

Robert’s knowledge on pedigrees shone like a colt’s coat in the heat of the Curragh summer. Some would argue that the national broadcaster’s racing coverage erred on the side of friendliness; if that were a flaw in Robert, he may wear it with pride.

Even so, he could grill. Brian Kavanagh, Horse Racing Ireland CEO, was very much taken to task one evening in Galway when the rest of the county was partying.

Kavanagh said yesterday: “Robert has been the face of Irish racing on RTE for a long time; his love of the sport comes through in every broadcast. I am sure he will finish up in style at the weekend.”

Robert is one of life’s more fortunate people, something he acknowledges in his aid of the remainder. Last year he was pivotal in the the development of a new Horse Welfare Centre located at the County Roscommon prison of Castlerea.

The centre will see the introduction of a new prisoner programme, where prisoners, many of them Travellers, will learn practical skills that will assist in securing employment as stable hands and other such positions in the equine industry post release.

Most settled people barely give a second’s thought to the plight of Travellers. “It’s a hugely exciting project that should have real benefits for so many,” he enthused.

I was at the funeral recently of Ivawood’s breeder, Mary Davison, who only last year had gone into partnership with Robert to send a filly, Shorter Skirt, to Jack Davison, Mary’s nephew.

Robert had the misfortune of finding his old, dear friend passed away some weeks ago. They were to meet for dinner and discuss the filly.

Robert delivered the eulogy and missed neither a beat nor a word, breaking down towards the end. “Mary might have chosen to leave this world with a foal in hand,” he told the congregation.

Robert will leave our screens, microphone in hand. For over 30 years, for as long as yours truly remembers, turning on RTE racing meant inviting Robert and Ted into your living room. It will not be the same without him.

Hugh Cahill will bring vigour and energy as Hall’s replacement, commencing with the Irish National meet Easter weekend. This weekend is all about the Dublin Racing Festival, the prevailing narrative of British indifference usurped by the very opposite when it comes to Willie Mullins.

The great man, long criticised for being at pains to keep his best horses apart, is doing anything but that Saturday: just the 21 runners. Whisper it: that Gordon Elliott is a couple of lengths ahead in the title race may be playing on the champion’s mind: over €2million is up for debate.

There’s no getting away from the mess that the Dublin Racing Festival became on the Sunday last year, the prevailing relatively fast terrain resulting in over 20 non-runners. With the bluff of mass Irish entries for Cheltenham last weekend, but hardly any runners, it was no surprise that watering had already taken place in Foxrock.

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Watering in January is patently absurd but clerk Lorcan Weir had no choice. When Sharjah won at Christmas, the time was less than three minutes and 49 seconds; Leoparstown officials will not be boasting if any course records are broken this weekend.

Presenting Percy certainly adds to the spectacle and owner Philip Reynolds is insistent he will run in the big one Sunday, though the hope is that the ground will have enough dig.

Robert Hall will give his voice to two tricky enough cards for punters but Buildmeupbuttercup, available at 9/1 with five each-way places, appeals in Saturday’s Ladbrokes Hurdle (3.45).

Whilst JP McManus has a strong hand in the ISF EBF Paddy Mullins Mares Handicap Hurdle Sunday (12.55), the chance of Ena Baie looks rock-solid. She can show the British why more of them should come over.

This is a hell of a weekend, with almost every top Irish horse in action. Robert Hall’s nap, he tells me, is in the very first race of the weekend, Saturday’s Nathaniel Lacy Solicitors Novice Hurdle (12.50), in the shape of Latest Exhibition.

“The only decent people I ever saw at the racecourse were horses,” said James Joyce. Plenty of decent horses this weekend, plenty of decent people, and a fitting send off for Robert Hall.

“There’ll be an official opening in Castlerea in the spring which I hope you’ll come to,” he texted recently. The next project.

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