Sport Horse Racing

Sunday 23 July 2017

Tom Burke: My New Year's wish? No more snow please!

Little did I realise when we got an inch and a half of snow at Leopardstown on the morning of last Monday week that we'd end up in the predicament we found ourselves in over Christmas. When that first fall came, there was a threat of frost for the next few days and I actually felt that the snow would help to keep the worst of it out of the ground.

By the time we had four inches on the ground later that afternoon, I was beginning to think the track was getting a bit more insulation than it needed. When I finally left the course at 10.0 that night, my car had to be pushed up past Bewley's Hotel towards the M50 by three kind young gentlemen.

That was how quickly things had deteriorated.

On the Wednesday, we got to the point where we knew St Stephen's Day wasn't going to happen for us. With snow still falling the following morning, we then had to do away with Monday's planned card as well and thoughts of 1995, when we got only one day of the Christmas Festival run on New Year's Eve, began flashing through my mind.

While all of this was going on, I was coming home every evening to a family that had been cooped up in the house for long periods. My wife Cora and I have 11 children -- nine of whom live at home -- aged from 30 to 10, so it was a pretty tense week.

To top things off, a number of them, including Cora, were suffering from a cold that was doing the rounds. I tell you, there were evenings when I came home and felt like I was getting a glimpse of what life must have been like for the Chilean miners!

With all the uncertainty surrounding the racing, credit must go to the team at Leopardstown. I am the manager, but I am ultimately just another cog in the wheel as it is the ground staff, the admin people and the maintenance workers who put down the hours to ensure that the meeting went ahead. That shouldn't go unnoticed.

We had arranged for an inspection to be held on the morning of the 27th. When I left the racecourse on St Stephen's Day, I honestly didn't hold out much hope, so I was astonished to see that snow had disappeared when I arrived in on Monday morning.

We then had the issue of waterlogging to deal with. That was a slight concern but by the time the ground staff had done what they could with it on Monday confidence had risen that we would be able to race the following day. Thankfully we did, and the Festival subsequently went off without a hitch.

Needless to say, losing the St Stephen's Day fixture was a horror of horrors for us, as it is a day that draws a huge crowd, many of whom would be people who might only go racing once a year.

Once that fell, those punters were unlikely to re-schedule, and I'd say we were down around 18,000 people over the course of the Festival.

Still, we had some wonderful racing here, especially on Wednesday when Big Zeb and Hurricane Fly won impressively. Both of them were fantastic and we were blessed to have horses like that on display. All's well that ends well, I suppose.

relax

Back home, it was a nice change to be able to relax and enjoy Christmas Day a bit more than might normally be the case. With no racing on Sunday, I was able to savour a glass of wine and I didn't have to retire to bed at 10.0, as I usually would when I have to be up at 6.0 on St Stephen's morning.

Of course, the house was typically frantic (15 for dinner), though the dynamic was slightly different this year. For the first time in 30 years, we had no Santa Claus -- no believers anymore! It was also the first time we didn't have everyone at home.

Mark, our second eldest, is in New Zealand for a year, so Skype was our friend. It was funny; we were here envying him, just back from the beach lapping up all of the 23 degrees, and there was he, disappointed to be missing a white Christmas at home. The grass is always greener, eh!

Speaking of which, I dearly hope that the Leopardstown grass remains green for the foreseeable future. We've got our MCR Hurdle meeting coming up on Sunday week, the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle card two weeks after that, and the Hennessy Gold Cup another two weeks later. More snow would not be welcome.

For more information on racing in Ireland this weekend check out www.goracing.ie

Irish Independent

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