Saturday 20 January 2018

Punchestown dream a step closer to reality TV

For the past five years, I have had an idea for a racing documentary sitting on a desk in RTE. It's an ambition of mine to ride in the Punchestown Festival's kidney research charity race, and I reckoned the only practical way for me to make it happen was to pitch it as a documentary.

The arc of the story would be my saga, from never having sat on a horse to actually taking part in the biggest National Hunt festival in the country.

As a backdrop, I'd get the opportunity to reveal the kind of life a jockey leads, which is not something racing fans really know that much about. Anyway, this year I finally got a provisional yes for a four-part series.

It will be into the New Year before any shooting starts so we are probably looking at Punchestown 2014 rather than 2013, but the dream is at least getting closer.

Racing has always been a passion of mine, something that I inherited from my father. The sly dog used to connive to have our holiday coincide with the Galway races every year.

For a long time, because he was a garda, we had as much a garda-suspect relationship as a father-son one, but we've become great friends through the game.

When I was doing the international circuit as a stand-up comedian, I would try to tie my dates in with the big racing days -- the apple didn't fall far from the tree! -- and dad would ride shotgun.

We got to see Sakhee win the Arc in 2001 and in 2002 we took in Media Puzzle's Melbourne Cup heroics and Best Mate's first Gold Cup win.

That was never going to last, though, as it became harder to justify hauling a camera crew around the world so that I could indulge my love of racing.

"Ah, how do you fancy Kentucky in May, lads?" You get my drift.

If it wasn't for my dad I might never have taken an interest in the game and tonight -- provided I can get away on time from the spooky flick 'The Exorcism Diaries' that I am shooting at Ballintubbert House -- I am taking him to Dundalk for a treat. He's from Dundalk but has never been to the new track so he's dying to see it.

Getting youngsters into the game is always a challenge, and I have recently teamed up with Horse Racing Ireland to take an interactive roadshow around some of the country's third-level colleges. This week we were in Trinity and Dublin Institute of Technology.

Trinity was a real blast, specifically because Mick Kinane came along to help out. The last time I spoke to Mick was when I was hosting the 'posh' tent at the Irish Derby in 2001, prior to his winning the race for a first time on Galileo.

Put it this way, he wasn't the most forthcoming interviewee then -- although he did give us a bunch of winners -- but he was a different man at Trinity.

He was really engaged and seemed to enjoy talking about his life in the game. That was nice to see.

When we were at UCC, Jane Mangan -- who, being a CIT student, dolled herself up for the day to see how the other half lived -- and Davy Russell were enormously entertaining, but the funniest episode so far was at DIT on Wednesday.

Bryan Cooper was on duty there, and I think the already red hue to his cheeks became embellished when a girl in a skirt the length of a belt threw her leg over the horse simulator.

She was sporting a cowboy hat as well so I'm not exactly sure what plans she had for the day, but it was real skit. And that is the general idea behind the roadshow.

Bryan also confided that Lyreen Legend would win in the beginners' chase at Galway on Monday -- though I did say I wouldn't tell another soul. Mum's the word!

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

Irish Independent

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