IRELAND: The centre of the (Racing) Universe
Flying into Ireland is always interesting. You’re never quite sure if the glutinous grey clouds will break before you land, or if they will stick to the sides of the aircraft all the way to the tarmac. In my case this week, it was the latter. Cork greeted me on Saturday night with cyclonic gales and a fog thicker than cake mix. The glorious, stinking humidity of Los Angeles, Lexington and Saratoga was a wide, wide world away.
Since then, I’ve paid acute attention to the weather forecast. ‘Intermittent sunshine with patches of cloud, a chance of showers with heavy rain expected, thunderstorms possible.’ That covers just about every possibility, doesn’t it? I stopped listening then. If you follow the Irish forecasts, you’ll slip into deep depression.
It takes all of five minutes to get my groove in Ireland. The morning after my arrival, I slid down to the local and stared at the magazine rack. In a single eyeful, the Racing Post, Irish Field, Racing Post Annual and (former) Pacemaker. There is racing on the front page of Ireland’s Own, and racing on the front page of Weekender. On the radio, the SPs are listed in the sports bulletin. Racing, here, is accessible and popular. From the sales of Deauville to the goings of the Curragh (pictured above), this place is the centre of the racing universe.In a quick glance around my end of north Cork, there is Coolmore’s Castlehyde (right) and Grange studs. Rathbarry is a short way east, along with Glenview, and Kilshannig is a little further south. Thoroughbred country stretches all the way from Cork to the pastures that pad Kildare. It is green, freshly watered (back to the rain again) and priceless thoroughbred country.
My travels have taken me on a vastly varied itinerary, from the urban sprawl of Hollywood to gorgeous Saratoga and Kentucky. And just when I thought it was over, after I had woken from jet lag and settled into the European clock, I learned that Frankel was running in the Juddmonte next week. Frankel. The highest-rated racehorse of all time. In a flurry of excitement I patrolled for flights to Leeds-Bradford. I checked the London connection, Belfast connection. I even checked the Holyhead ferries. Eventually I tied myself into a Dublin-Leeds day trip… a 3.45am drive to Dublin airport, a plane, car hire, York racecourse, then a return trip of car return, plane, Dublin airport and three-hour drive to Cork. ‘It’s a lot for a horse,’ my father said, and I forgave him. He didn’t know who Frankel was.
That’s the thing about Europe, you can get anywhere within its boundaries rather easily. After my US travels (and driving in hairy LA), a day trip to York is an easy jaunt. I will spend the next few days begging of the gods that the Juddmonte field stand up – St Nicholas Abbey, Cirrus Des Aigles, Frankel. But more of that soon enough…