Is that a jockey on his back?

For the last few years I have been meeting a couple of friends in Dublin at the end of October to go racing; John is from Northern Ireland and Bernard is English but both live in England. They will appear in later segments as they are also my Cheltenham pals but, for now, it is enough to know the following:

Bernard used to report to me when we worked in the pub business, I used to report to John at the same company, Bernard and John used to share rooms until Bernard’s snoring got too much, John would then want to share with me, I have a recently implemented policy of not rooming with previous bosses, we now have separate rooms. We sometimes drink too much, we always bounce back the next day and every day is a repeat of the previous day. A bit like Edge of Tomorrow if you like; a great film with a lousy title. Obviously we don’t die like Tom Cruise but we sometimes feel like we might.

Anyway for our October 2013 trip we were going to change it up. Instead of arriving on Saturday morning John and Bernard would come in on Friday, we would give Dundalk a crack on Friday night and go to Leopardstown on the Saturday. We would also, and this is the important part (or relevant as you may be thinking), meet Peter at the Curragh to watch Bay of Freedom gallop.

I had explained to the guys that Bay of Freedom had only been broken a few weeks earlier so I wasn’t expecting much to see but it would be fun anyway. When we got there the horse was just being unloaded (it’s about 15 minutes from the stables to the Curragh) and so we piled into Peter’s SUV (does he have one of them as well as the Mercedes?) and went to the end of the Old Vic gallop; an all-weather gallop; I think Peter likes this gallop as it’s 7 furlongs (7/8 mile) and pretty much uphill all the way. It’s pretty famous and good test. I forget who Bay of Freedom was working with but he worked well upsides and looked good considering he had never had anyone sit on him until two months earlier. I assumed that was it as we got back in the SUV but was I completely wrong?

We went to the schooling grounds and the horse trotted around to us and it looked for all the world like he was going to jump a couple of hurdles. Obviously, with him only recently having been broken, that was out of the question so I just waited for Peter to tell us what was going on. A minute later after Bay of Freedom had jumped the three hurdles in front of us I had my answer! What was Peter thinking? Was he crazy? Turns out that he had been jumping hurdles on a couple of occasions now and was considered pretty good (I almost said a ‘natural’ but will leave that judgement to his first hurdle race). It was pretty brave of Peter to not only have had him jumping so quickly but also to have him school in front of me. In all honesty, it was a little underwhelming: he was looking around a lot, taking it all in and then proceeded  to try and kick the first hurdle out of the ground . Second time down the line of three hurdles he was a bit more fluent but nothing that reminded you of Istabraq ( a 3-time Champion Hurdler and one of the greatest hurdlers ever). I almost wished we had left it at the gallop as the jumping left me a little deflated; but, being me, I had decided that he must really be a natural jumper if Peter was happy to let him jump when I was there and that it was obviously stage fright rather than any lack of aptitude that had overcome him. In fact, by the time we sat down for coffee I was starting to dream of him hurdling pretty soon after his first race (which, based on initial conversations, wouldn’t be until the following April anyway).

Bernard and John loved the entire experience and it was wonderful to be on the gallops again. It’s too easy to forget what a privilege it is to be able to get close to these horses and  to be at the Curragh.