Racegoers forced to hang on to their hats
THEY were clinging on tight. Those pesky fly-away hats and the lighter-than-usual wallets were being closely guarded as racegoers enjoyed a blustery Grand National Day at Fairyhouse yesterday.
And rocking back on his heels, another well-known figure was keeping his hands stuffed firmly into his pockets.
Taoiseach Brian Cowen cut an unassuming figure as he blended quietly among the punters and the contenders for best-dressed lady on the windswept stand.
He was there to watch the so-called 'Dail horse', Donnas Palm -- it is owned by several TDs -- take on the competition in the Ladbrokes Hurdle.
Alas, Mr Cowen, a member of the Grand Alliance Racing Club, had to keep his poker face firmly in place as the 11-8 favourite settled for second place.
In the end, the four-times-lucky Ruby Walsh steered Mourad past the post to victory. The horse is owned by Paddy Teahon, a former secretary-general at the Department of the Taoiseach.
Yesterday's crowd included a squadron of past and present politicians, but it took all the excitement of the €250,000 Powers Whiskey Irish Grand National to get them animated.
"It's a great story," said the smiling Taoiseach when he handed over the much-coveted trophy to a group of six men from Ballinhassig in Co Cork.
The 25-1 Bluesea Cracker had just come home first, with the gaunt-faced Limerick man Andrew McNamara aboard.
"We are over the moon," confessed farmer Brian Holland, a member of the Note The Link syndicate. They planned to celebrate in The Residents Hotel in nearby Ashbourne, Co Meath, financed by their win off the horse they purchased for a snip.
The Fianna Fail leader was enjoying a day off from the gathering storm clouds, including the Quinn Group being placed in administration.
Earlier, former TD Noel Davern admitted that he wasn't confident Donnas Palm would do the business.
Even the Taoiseach, another owner of a whisker of the Dail horse, confessed that he hadn't had a flutter on him.
"It's the only way you can survive in this business," joked Mr Cowen, as he kept the cards close to his chest on any possible future racing purchases.
"I need to go back and concentrate on the form card for the next three races or we'll go home in deficit," he quipped, after successfully backing Tony Martin's 4-1 shot Hold the Pin in the second race of the day.
"You want to go home with a few bob, any way," he said.
Maybe the punters weren't aware that Mr Cowen was on a day off. As one man quipped when the Taoiseach exited the parade ring: "Did you ask why he bankrupted the country?"
It might have been a fortuitous escape for Mr Cowen. Next into the winner's enclosure was Ryanair's Michael O'Leary, who managed the unusual feat of both sponsoring and winning the €50,000 bumper prize with Last Instalment.
Racegoers have been keeping their eyes peeled for a horse named 'Hanger Six' running in the Gigginstown House Stud colours and named after the rumbling controversy on the coveted space occupied by Aer Lingus at Dublin Airport.
"They won't give me the hanger and they won't give me the name, some very clever lady down in Enniscorthy registered 'Hanger Six' about four days before I applied for it," explained Mr O'Leary.
"If she doesn't use it in the next two months, I get it back and if Aer Lingus don't use the hanger Brian Cowen has promised me I can have that, too," he quipped.
Among those mingling at the track near Ratoath were a number of ambassadors; former Taoiseach John Bruton; RTE newsreader Anne Doyle and her partner Dan McGrattan; TV3's Colette Fitzpatrick and TG4's weatherman Daithi O Se.
A good few pints were sunk in the thronged bars, as more than 13,000 racegoers -- almost 2,000 less than the previous year -- enjoyed the shelter from the wind.