Wait until you hear this one about Rugged Lucy!

The adrenaline is starting to simmer in the veins of many racing enthusiasts with the coming of the great festival in Prestbury Park, followed by the Grand Nationals at Aintree and Fairyhouse, and then on to the marvellous Punchestown.

The adrenaline is starting to simmer in the veins of many racing enthusiasts with the coming of the great festival in Prestbury Park, followed by the Grand Nationals at Aintree and Fairyhouse, and then on to the marvellous Punchestown.

Many thousands will trek to Cheltenham - well maybe not as many as in previous years - but the Irish will throng the enclosures, ready and very able to roar home the expectant Irish winner, be it animal or human. Every stay-at-home pundit will wager some, all or a little of their affordable income on the chances of some Irish fancy.

The core ethic will be the affinity of the Irish people with our racing warriors, and our courage to take risks. It probably is a genetic thing, and if not that exactly, it probably come from drinking gallons of homogenised milk straight from the churn.

We are gamblers!

Can I tell you one of my favourite gambling-on-a-sure thing stories?

Recently, a man by the name of Ger Dunne from Drombane (Co. Tipperary) passed to his Eternal Reward. His passing was a source of great sadness to many that knew him, and particularly to a man who had befriended him when he had a few very decent steeple chasing horses on his farm.

Terrific mare

In 1981, Rugged Lucy was a terrific mare, which had never been off her feet in her career up to then, or thereafter. A group of people - we will call them, Tom, Kevin, Davy, Finbar, Paddy and a few more - were advised by Ger’s in laws that Lucy would win in Killarney at an evening meeting. The lads collected a few bob, and asked the in law who was scheduled to go to Killarney to put on the few bob.

Two of the friends were gainfully employed elsewhere that evening, but while listening to the car radio on their return trip home, they got the early evening results from Killarney. Rugged Lucy had won the 5.30 at 9/1.

All had to collect a nice bundle from the in law, or so it was thought.

On returning home, one of the friends ’phoned the other to inform him that Ger Dunne’s in-law, to whom the money was entrusted for the Killarney race, was in the hurling field watching the lads training.

“What about the winnings,” the friend roared?

“The car broke down in Kilbeheny on the way,” replied the friend. “The winnings are like last year’s snow - gone,” but he didn’t use gone.

Rugged Lucy’s next outing was in Clonmel, and the two friends were driving to a business appointment up country. They had earmarked bookies in a particular town to “have the cut”.

Alas, they had a blow out on a tyre, and were late to place the bet.

Rugged Lucy had again won at lovely odds of 7/1.

Twice down is no battle.

It was onto the Galway Festival, and the most prestigious race, the Galway Plate.

One of the friends was inveigled to travel to Ballybrit to back Rugged Lucy. They had mustered a nice bundle for the job.

Not too highly fancied

‘Twas a coup (or as many say, coo) in the offing. The mare was not too highly fancied, not being in the top ten in the betting, but she was only carrying 10 stone 3 lbs.

Arriving in his bettered ould Volkswagan Beetle, our warrior met plenty of people he knew. There were at least 20 cousins on the stands. He met Kilkenny acquaintances, including former GAA chairman, Mick O’Neill, Ned Conway from Mullinavat, probably Kieran Purcell, and many more. He even told the great Sean Purcell of what was afoot.

Having been introduced to Rugged Lucy’s trainer, compliments of Ger Dunne, the handler said, and we quote: “The horse that beats Pillar Bray, Harnal and Sports Reporter will win the Galway Plate, and I think Ger that you have her”.

I mean what better info could you have?

All of that information was imparted to the above, and many more nuggets too.

Our warrior was on his way into Malachy Skelly with the bundle, when he met his brother.

“What are you backing?” said he, the brother.

“Rugged Lucy is past the post,” said our quiet hero, re-iterating the story.

“Don’t be wastin’ yer money. I was talking to Tommy Carmody last night and he told me that his mount couldn’t be bet”.

“Oh Mother of Jesus in Heaven,” muttered our faltering hero in prayerful petition, “what do I do now”.

Rugged Lucy was 19/1 with Malachy.

I know what you are thinking!

I can see it!

The bundle on Carmody

Yep…. our warrior fired the bundle on Carmody’s mount at a very short 6/4.

The roaring from the stand was ear-drum shattering as T.J. Ryan and the gallant Rugged Lucy stormed up that merciless Galway hill to beat…… wait for it…..Pillar Bray, Harnal and Sports Reporter in that order to win the Galway Plate, a replica of which was placed on Ger Dunne’s coffin during his obsequies some weeks ago.

Our hero was the toast of Ballybrit, and he could visualise the celebration in his hometown hostelry as the friends celebrated their windfall.

The winning figure would have been visualised by the hometown friends at over £19,000 - a tidy bundle in the depressed eighties.

The back slapping in Galway was nearly a form of physical abuse.

He wondered what kind of assault would be inflicted when he had to tell the scéal, as it happened, to his hometown friends on his return.

I mean when you think of it, what odds would he have got if he had forecasted the correct placings of the first four horses home?

It could go to a million quid!

Crossing the Shannon at Athlone our hero was of a mind to end it all by driving the Beetle into the longest river in the British Isles, but he couldn’t do it to his trusty ould banger.

He could hear the celebrations

The Beetle could not have been held responsible for the stupidity of our hero, or the untimely meeting of our hero and his brother.

As our hero pulled into his hometown, he could hear the celebrations on the outskirts of the town as he coaxed the ould Beetle towards the front door of his favourite watering hole. At the front door, roars of go on the Lucy girl, and well done Finbar slithered under the door of the pub.

One even roared: “For the first time in me life I can cheer for a Tipp man (followed by) three cheers for the greatest horse trainer (Edward O’Grady) in Ireland”.

Our hero turned back from the pub door, feeling that a slow death (his) was imminent.

Taking his courage in his hands he went back in.

Met at the front door by the lads, he was carried on a parade of the pub on the shoulders of many.

“Oh Christ,” he thought, “here goes”.

One feinted, while another nearly choked himself by swallowing his false teeth; another cried with disbelief because he had promised his wife an overseas holiday on the back of the winnings.

To this day, the group have remained friends after 31 years. Certainly relationships were a tad strained for a while, but that was overcome over time.

It was accepted that the group were never destined to win on Rugged Lucy.

“It could happen to a Bishop,” said one, “but why were we cast in the role of the Prince of the Church”

I know this story to be true in every sense, because though I am embarrassed to admit it, I was that soldier.