DECADENCE and depravity were nowhere to be found at the Gowran Races last Thursday, and unlike in Dr Thompson’s famous Kentucky Derby article, good humour and drama on the track were very much to the fore.
It was the 60th anniversary of the Thyestes Handicap Chase, and the dry weather ensured the event was attended by a large crowd fitting for such an occasion.
In its first year, 1954, the winner’s prize total was £286, but now tens of thousands of euros were at stake over the three miles and one furlong.
I had a month ago previously marked out (who turned out to be the winner) Jadlani, a 25/1 outsider who the crowd didn’t like but the bookies soon would.
He hadn’t registered a win since 2010, form had slowed, and few thought this one was in his grasp. He had come in third in the same race last year.
Ruby Walsh on Bishopfurze (heavy) and AP McCoy on The Westener Boy were joint favourites – both fell in the end. Outlaw Pete was a close 9/1 second, and had been built up by many authoritative voices in the preceding days.
Barely in the gate and we met Anne Neary. She was with her husband Tom and they already had their bets marked.
One young man, Shane Cleary, was no stranger to the Gowran Races. We found him eyeing up the ponies at the paddock, where he had come to see his hero Tony McCoy.
AP had been looking good during the race until the last furlong, when he seemed to pull up suddenly. It was not to be his day; The Westener Boy tumbled in the Thyestes. Jockey was fine, horse was brought to Fethard for medical attention.
Young Shane was clutching his form card tightly as he surveyed the finishers from the Langton House Hotel Maiden Hurdle. He was a circuit veteran by now.
“Ask him anything about the races and he’ll know it,” his mother assured me, looking on as Eamon Langton arrived to greet the winner of the sponsored race.
At this point, pangs of hunger creeping in, we went to get chips and sausages. The staff attested to being fed up of hearing horseburger/shergar jokes.
Michael Fitzgerald and Bertie Tobin were roughly breaking even so far. I gave Michael a chip and a tip; he raised an eyebrow on my recommendation of Jadanli.
We spotted a man, sitting alone near the finish line, meditatively puffing on a pipe and scrutinising his form card.
Billy Bolan was enjoying the pageantry and the drama of the day.
He had won in the first, but hadn’t had anything since. He had ShesOnlyaHorse backed in the fifth. It didn’t work out.
Then came the big event. We waited down at the finish line for them to come in.
Jadlani hurdled well and stayed all the way. There was never any doubt.
When AP McCoy and his mount tumbled, the shock was palpable; when Ruby Walsh’s Willie Mullins-trained Bishopsfurze did likewise, the tearing up of betting slips was audible.
I went to collect my winnings, and with €5 loose change in my pocket, made a bet on 6/1 LookOutNow in the day’s final race. The horse won by three lengths.
As I was headed for the gates, Michael Fitzgerald bumped into me again by chance. He was beaming.
“Ha,” he said. “We stuck a fiver on Jadlani each way – only did it because you said it to us.”
A good day all round, then.