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On days our horse ran without us

South of the border
On days our horse ran without us


Willie McHugh

We were born into the turf club. Unfortunately it wasn’t the equine association. We didn’t need binoculars where we were going. Our interest was confined to the turbary course of Dalgan Bog. Saving turf in the fosslough or the annach was our winner’s enclosure. It was the days of the slean, the pitchfork and the wheelbarrow.
We hadn’t time for racing. May the devil mend the bloody bog? It deprived us of a fortune. On the day our horse romped home we weren’t even at home. Although the memory still pains me I’ll explain. Kevin Sheridan, Meath’s finest and probably their only decent gift to Mayo visited our village on his weekly vegetable round. Such was Kevin’s popularity we always bought his curly cabbage, lettuce and turnips even though we had our own variety in the back garden. We purchased the few oranges, seedless grapes and ripe bananas from him also. That was only because we didn’t have that produce growing in the back garden.
Kevin attended the class on customer satisfaction in marketing school. One summer day in 1985 he arrived with a racing tip. His brother-in-law John Mullin from Kilmaine owned a horse called Time Machine (also the name of Kilmaine’s first and only rock band as it happens) who was running in Ascot that afternoon.
A certainty Kevin assured all customers he encountered. He was on the nose but we missed out. We returned that evening to a village celebrating an unexpected windfall. Bad enough to be waiting at the airport the day your ship docks but we were in the bog. No mobiles or iPhones either and Blackberries were only found on hedgerows then.
By way of redemption Kevin arrived a few weeks later tipping a horse called Scamall. I placed a substantial wager with Ballinrobe Turf Accountant Ken Murphy who ran a lucrative betting business above his select drapery. I’m still adamant Ken shouted Happy Christmas after me as I made my way down the stairs that June afternoon. I had no reason to return. Kevin Sheridan franchised his veggie round and went on to become the Calor Kosangas Housewife of the Year in 1998. There’s equality in the kitchen for ya!
My next racing dalliance was on the famous March day in 1986 when Jonjo O’Neill rode Dawn Run to victory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. The magical powers of Des Scahill’s brilliant commentary transported Tony Jordan and me to a field in the Cotswolds that afternoon. We’re convinced we were there as John Joe fought off Wayward Lad, Run and Skip and Forgive n’Forget. Between us, Dessie and John Joe we managed to get Dawn Run past the post. It’s also a mystery I wasn’t hauled before the stewards for over imaginary use of the whip.
Only recently I renewed my interest in racing. I had my maiden run in Ballinrobe Racecourse a few weeks ago. It was the same day the fella from Galway almost won the Best Dressed Lady competition. My absence wasn’t because the committee took umbrage with SOTB a few years back when I took a swipe at them. I felt they were in danger of selling their soul to Corporate Ireland.
They didn’t deal and they’re the better for it. It would have been an injustice to hinder their inherited view of Mayo jewels like Croagh Patrick or Nephin with any eyesore. Big business has no purchasing right on such vistas. To his credit, Racecourse Manager John Flannelly immediately lit the pipe of peace between us next time we met and we’ve enjoyed many a good puff on any meeting since.    
Although I’ve not been to any other race track I doubt if there’s a better appointed venue in this country. During their progressive development they still managed to pencil the maintaining of tradition into the planning. It boasts that country feel you seldom find at any sports gathering nowadays.
Ballinrobe is a unique. It’s the parish pump of Irish racing.
Oh if only Time Machine could run again.