Racegoers enjoy punt and pint as Lent ends
RACEGOERS needed little help in casting that air of penitence aside at the end of Lent.
But you had to give it to Dul Ar An Ol, they were being given a firm helping hand.
It was the perfect day for the aptly named horse to kick-off the Easter Festival at Fairyhouse racecourse.
Some had given it up for Lent, along with all those other auld indulgences.
And yesterday they were back with a pint resting snugly in their hand and a racecard in the other.
"My heart nearly stopped," confessed exhilarated trainer John Joseph Hanlon after the second race of the day at the Co Meath venue.
And so did those of the punters, as Cork native jockey Davy Russell just managed to push the favourite, Luska Lad, first past the post for a cheeky win in the Novice Hurdle.
Delighted pub owner Tim Donovan, a member of the winning Magestic Syndicate, revealed that there may even be a few free pints on offer down in Sean's Bar in Athlone as they celebrated the terrific win.
Money these days is hard to come by. So, blinking in the bright spring day, they emerged to study the odds on the bookies' boards.
And, as the day progressed, there may even have been a few free pints on offer from the relieved punters as well to mark the on-form Russell's hat-trick of wins.
There were cheers and whoops for the jockey after he steered the well-backed For Bill to win the Mares Novice Hurdle Championship for the popular octogenarian Donie Sheahan, from Killarney, Co Kerry.
"It was wonderful, as good as Kerry winning the All-Ireland. This was my All-Ireland today," said the former chemist, who shares his 84th birthday in a fortnight's time with Queen Elizabeth.
"I'm shaking with excitement and I'm entitled to be. These things don't happen every day."
The mare will now go out on a well-earned break and so will the owner, quipped the pioneer.
"I've free travel and I'm going home with CIE, and I make no bones about it," said Mr Sheahan, a selector for the All-Ireland-winning 1975 Kerry football team.
"I'm a GAA man to the back bone and a horse man, too."
A lot of the racegoers may have been wishing they, too, had free travel after the favourite failed to take the top slot in the valuable main race of the day, the €100,000 Powers Gold Cup.
Instead, owner Eamonn Gilligan was battling back tears when his son, trainer Paul Gilligan, followed up his Cheltenham success as long-shot Jadanli did the business amid heavy going.
It is truly a family affair as the horse is named after Paul's sons Jack (6), Danny (4) and Liam (8).
"We'll have to get a new horse as we've had Ollie since," said the trainer in reference to his two-year-old son.
"I'm a little bit shaky now. He was a family horse, so it is great," added his father, who hails from Craughwell, Co Galway.
Almost 6,500 racegoers enjoyed the day at the track, about 700 down on attendance figures from the previous year, with many of the younger patrons on the hunt for Easter eggs.
But there were few well-known faces to be spotted as many waited to venture out today for the €250,000 Powers Whiskey Irish Grand National.
Former North Dublin Fianna Fail TD GV Wright was cutting a lonesome figure ringside.
"They'll all be here tomorrow," he said of his under-pressure former colleagues.
A number of TDs were expected to brave the parade ring as the so-called Dail horse, Donnas Palm, owned by the Grand Alliance Racing Club, looks a likely favourite in the Ladbrokes Hurdle race.
And Taoiseach Brian Cowen, a member of the club, may be hoping that a bit of luck will finally shine his way as he visits to present the Grand National trophy.
The glamour stakes are expected to heat up at the track today with a €10,000 prize from Carton House, Maynooth on offer in the Best Dressed Ladies contest.