PROUD MOMENT Ballinrobe Racecourse Manager John Flannelly (left) pictured with Racecourse Chairman John Staunton after Mayo’s only racetrack won the ‘Racecourse of the Year’ award at the Horse Racing Ireland awards back in 2012. Pic: Chris Bellew/Fennell Photography
It’s hard to believe, but this is my twentieth year as manager of Ballinrobe Racecourse and while people may think I must be much busier in the days leading up to the racing season, the truth is I am very busy all year round, and there is something important to be dealing with every day of the year.
I’d be up early every morning and down on the track most days, although racecourse managers from all over the country meet on a regular basis, we’d meet up in Kildare once a month, and we maintain a great relationship all year round.
The last few days myself and Anne (John’s wife and Racecourse Office Manager) have been making sure that everything is in place for the new season, which starts on Friday. This morning, I was down early checking that our new entrance to the course will be ready on time for Friday. It is something that I felt the track needed badly and it was our major project over the winter. It has turned out very well and I think the public will be very impressed with it.
This week has really been all about making sure we are ready to go for 2018. I’d be constantly on to the plumbers, electricians and, the catering company, to make sure everything is in place, and of course, we are constantly monitoring the weather, and keeping our fingers crossed that it will work out well for us.
I’d also be liaising with our own staff all the time, we have the guts of 50 people working for us on the course on race-day and it is good that we can provide that sort of employment in the area, as nearly all our staff on race-days are locals. A lot of the staff carry out specific duties and they need training for this, to make sure we have everyone up to standard.
I’m very proud of the advancements that have been made at the track in the last twenty years, and it’s great to receive so much praise from the racing public, especially people who may not have been here for a long time.
We have top-class facilities and we have invested millions in the course, so it a facility the whole county can be proud of. Indeed, I was just off the phone there to Mayo County Council, who held their launch day here last week for ‘Made in Mayo’, which is the main event they are hosting as part of Mayo Day 2018 on May 5. The launch was a great success and it really should be a great day for all the family, where everything good about Mayo will be on display, and the racecourse will be able to showcase this perfectly.
It all started out for me with Ballinrobe Racecourse when I used to work here on race-days, Jimmy Tierney got me involved, and I got to know the ins and outs of what goes on at the track. I did this for a few years and then our Chairman, John Staunton, asked me to come on on a more permanent basis, as we were getting more meetings and the track was getting busier and busier. Back then there were only five meetings a year, but now we have doubled that and we have been given ten meetings again for 2018.
We want to keep things moving in the right direction with the track and we would be hopeful that we would be upgraded in the future. That’s out of our own control, it may or may not happen. We’d hope to get even better quality racing, we have 13 feature races this year, and over €1 million in prize-money, so it’s all good. We also have one of the best level of sponsorship from local business of any track in the country, our sponsors are loyal and they love being associated with the track.
It’s great that my family love the horseracing industry too. Anne, my wife, runs the office and our daughter Claire also works there, heading up our marketing and IT departments.
Cathal, my son, has been out on the course with me since he was 12 years of age, he knows the track inside out at this stage and loves the work.
As I said, everyday brings something new in this job, but it’s all about working together and striving to be the best we can be.
We also have a very hardworking Racecourse Committee who meet regularly, bring ideas to the table, and have the best interests of the course at heart. The industry does face many challenges but I am proud of where Ballinrobe Racecourse is at present, and we hope to have many more successful years ahead, please God.
In conversation with Michael Duffy
If money was no object, what would you do all day?
Travel and see other cultures
Tell us something about yourself we don’t know?
I am Vice-Chairperson of Ballinrobe GAA Club
Where’s your favourite place in the whole world?
Who was your first hero?
Name three things that are always in your fridge?
Vegetables, rashers, ice-cream
What makes you nervous?
Favourite TV show?
Who’s the most famous person you met?
Best advice you ever got?
If you can’t do good for anyone, at least don’t do them any harm.