Wednesday, January 27, 2021

GOWRAN Park stages its flagship event on Thursday when the Thyestes Race Day takes place at the famous racetrack. The white flag will be initially raised at 1.15pm in a seven race card which includes the prestigious Grade A Goffs Thyestes Handicap Steeplechase while the Grade 2 John Mulhern Galmoy Hurdle is a much sought after prize on the day. The Connolly’s Red Mills Irish EBF Ladies Auction Maiden Hurdle will once again be included as part of the Ladies National Hunt Series. Launched last year for the first time this initiative creates opportunities and heightens the focus for female riders in a series of races which takes place over the course of the season.

Five years ago, Willie Mullins may have created history, when Djakadam secured a sixth Thyestes Chase success but the big talking point was the thick fog which enveloped the course. It was touch and go whether the meeting would survive but General Manager, Eddie Scally, pulled out all the stops to make sure racing won the day.

Willie Mullins is interviewed by RTE in front of packed stands after Total Recall won last year’s Thyestes Chase but there will be no crowds to welcome the winner home on Thursday
Photo: ©INPHO/Tom O’Hanlon

Now Covid has created an entirely different type of problem. Again, Scally has met the situation head on to ensure Thyestes Day goes ahead.

We know ourselves how much a privilege we are in to be able to continue racing. It is disappointing and tough to be behind closed doors on our biggest days at the year. At the same time it is all about public health at the moment and we are delighted just to be able to keep going,” he said.

Because of the pandemic the usual Thyestes Day launch did not take place. Scally improvised.

We use social media channels an awful lot. Because we can’t go to people and they can’t go to us we have to use the worldwide web and try to do things via Zoom. Over the next few days, trainers are sending us videos of their horses working, talking to us about specific horses,” said Scally.

Jessica Harrington sent me a video of Discordantly with a little brief telling us how things are going. Little things like that that we can do safely and stay within the guidelines is getting the message out that the big race is coming. It gives punters and friends of Gowran Park a sneak preview of what is in store on the day.”

The Gowran Park manager says local and national media have embraced the day once more.

RTE are covering four races on the cards. They are going with the Redmills trial, they will take the Galmoy Hurdle and the Adare Manor. Then the big race itself. It is great that people will be able to tune in and watch it. Then RTE Radio will cover the Thyestes Chase and KCLR will cover all races on the day. There are loads of way to see or hear it if you are not there.”

Scally paid tribute to Horse Racing Ireland Chief Executive, Brian Kavanagh, who got to grips with the problems facing racing during the pandemic especially when racing didn’t take place when restrictions were introduced last March.

Brian Kavanagh has been a real leader in all this. From the very start, he lobbied government and showed how racing could be done safely behind closed doors. In fairness to Brian he got us back as quickly as he could. As soon as we got back he put that on to the tracks, the trainers, the jockeys, the stable staff to say this is the tight rein we have. Let us not have any bumps on the road.”

The Gowran representative also lauded senior medical officer in HRI, Doctor Jennifer Pugh, who offered the guidelines while insisting everyone observed them.

Racing came back to Gowran Park last June but Scally was cautious.

I went to Naas the day before. Gowran was the next day. It was nerve wracking. It was a two day meeting for us. Any issues we had the first day were ironed out the second day,” he said. Eddie helped pull it together in Gowran and racing, even without the crowd, continues to do as well as it possibly can in the circumstances.

This year Willie Mullins is going for a ninth Thyestes Chase success. The Mullins name is synonymous with racing at the track but Scally says it goes far deeper than just one man and his family.

We know the connection of the Mullins family which goes without saying. Every one of them from the late Paddy Mullins right down to the young lads today, Patrick, David, Charlie. The connection between the two is phenomenal.

Not just the Mullins are on our doorstep. There is Pat Fahy, John Hanlon, Jim Bolger. And the breeding areas. Ballylinch Stud and Ballyhane Stud, There are so many people relying on the racing industry in our catchment. I would say Gowran is unique. Only in The Curragh and Tipperary have they the catchment that are so engrossed in racing. I would say one in five people in this area are involved in the equine industry in some shape or form,” stressed Eddie.

By Kieran Murphy

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