09/17/2009 3:25PM

Dublin (not D. Wayne)


Drunk with victory, I stumbled out of Boylesports Bookmakers onto Grafton Street, and came face-to-ample bosom with sweet Molly Malone. 

Now, Grafton Street is a virtu..wait a minute...that prior sentence didn't come out right. 

If you're not familiar with Molly Malone, here she is in all her, ahem, glory:

MollyMalone photo courtesy of Wikipedia

The ballad of Molly Malone is the unofficial song of Dublin City.  Here are the lyrics:

"In Dublin's fair city,
where the girls are so pretty,
I first set my eyes on sweet Molly Malone,
As she wheeled her wheel-barrow,
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying, "Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!"

"Alive, alive, oh,
Alive, alive, oh",
Crying "Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh".

She was a fishmonger,
But sure 'twas no wonder,
For so were her father and mother before,
And they each wheeled their barrow,
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying, "Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!"


She died of a fever,
And no one could save her,
And that was the end of sweet Molly Malone.
Now her ghost wheels her barrow,
Through streets broad and narrow,
Crying, "Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!"

Now, I'm sure you're asking yourselves what I was doing in Ireland last week, and I pondered that question for a long time myself. 
I know it didn't have anything to do with Wayne Lukas' Dublin, the winner of the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga, and the final Spa Baby selection of 2009 at an underlaid 3-1 odds. 
It would be easy to say that humiliated, humbled, and financially embarrassed by the last week's Spa results, I fled the country in shame.  
While it's true I needed to escape the emotional toll of one of the worst weeks in my career, fleeing the country in disgrace seems a bit over-the-top.   
And while I like to fancy myself a history buff, a true sightseeing trip wasn't going to cure my racing blues. 
There was one reason I flew across the Atlantic at this particular time.  One word.  Seven letters.


But before we get to that, every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. 

Wednesday, September 9:

6am - Lugging my bags onto the shuttle bus that takes travelers from the airport to the heart of the city, I was surprised to hear the traffic report on the bus radio. 

"God help ya if yer stuck in this traffic," chimed the female traffic analyst.

In a city where churches seemingly rise up from every other block, the name of the Lord was taken in vain during the first 30 seconds of my trip.

Thankfully, I didn't need divine intervention to get us to the destination without much hassle.  The bus dropped me off at Trinity College (more on that later) after a half-hour trip, and I dragged my luggage several blocks to the Raddison Blu Dublin.


Located in the heart of the city, the Radisson offers affordable rates, and is within walking distance of just about everything a visitor could want to see.  In fact, Dublin is mostly walkable with the River Liffey dividing the city into North and South zones. 

2pm - After a break to check in and catch my bearings, I ventured out into the city, and was amazed at the amount of pubs and betting shops that dotted each street.  Punters certainly had their choice as it pertained to their favorite bookmaker.  Besides Boylesports, there was Paddy Power, Ladbrokes, and Hackett's to name a few.  I was amazed to find that each betting shop couldn't have been more different than the New York City OTB's that I'm used to.  First of all, each shop is half-filled to capacity, and a funereal atmosphere is prevalent.  There is no conversation among the horseplayers, and they make no sound as their wager careens across the track.  No snapping.  No clapping.  No rooting.  Nothing. 
You would think there would be at least a group of two discussing the day's racing, but betting and handicapping seem like solitary pursuits.  I honestly think I would have been met with awkward silence if I attempted to break the ice with an American "Who do y'like?"
Despite knowing next-to-nothing about greyhound racing, I did hit .500 in London in 2007 at the Bags so I decided to try my luck again.  (For a blast from the past, check out the London posts from 2007):



I decided to dive into the 15:48 at Hove Bags, and came up with Fivestar Ash. He won, and I tempted the Racing (both dog and horse) Gods by saying the four little words that we've all let cross our lips at one time or another.

"What an easy game!"

Needless to say, I didn't pick another winner at the dogs for the rest of the trip.

This is when I met Molly Malone, and buoyed by the greyhound win, I started doing some sightseeing.  Crossing the O'Connell Bridge, I got a good look at the statue of Daniel O'Connell 


The angels on the statue are riddled with bullet holes from the 1916 Rising. 

There were more bullet holes in the facade of the General Post Office, but here travelers could place their fingers in them for luck. LIke a leprachaun desperate to protect his gold, I bumped a couple of old ladies out of the way to make sure I gobbled up all the good fortune.  God knows I was going to need it.

4pm - Time for an authentic Irish lunch so I headed into the nearest pub, and stuffed myself with beef and mushroom pie, a heaping helping of boiled potatoes, another heaping helping of cabbage, and carrots doused with gravy.

The narrow, cobblestone streets of Dublin hide some shopping and drinking opportunities in its various nooks and crannies.  Most pubs offer live music, and are packed with fun-lovers of all ages.  I found the Purty Kitchen, and couldn't have been happier with the authentic Irish Stew, the musicians playing tributes to Oasis and U2, and the friendly atmosphere.  And yes, a pint of Guinness helped settle the meal. 


6pm - The bookmakers close rather early in Dublin so I headed back to try my luck once again at the hounds.  One can play just about anything in a bookmaker's shop in Ireland. Besides the dogs and horses, there is racing from South Africa, France, and the United States as well as Soccer, American Football, Tennis, and various prop bets on who will score first, etc.  There is also virtual racing.  Yes, you read that right.  Punters can place their bets at Lucksin Downs, Steepledowns, and various other "video game" dog and pony races.  I didn't think they'd be popular considering all of the other action, but they were.  One old horseplayer with watery eyes was unhappy with the result of one of the virtual races. 

"That Jimmy Flynn," he said sadly to himself.  "He's not a very good jockey."

Jimmy Flynn is a pixelated character in a video game.

7pm - Dublin is also home to some wonderful parks and gardens. St. Stephen's Green is perhaps the most spacious and well-known, but St. Patrick's Park is also extremely peaceful.  If you're looking for quiet contemplation or a relaxing place to read the Racing Post, I would recommend one of these parks.

Thursday, September 10:

Sightseeing day or the Calm before the Storm.

9:30 am - Opened up Archbishop Marsh's Library.  Built in 1701 by Archbishop Narcissus Marsh, it is the first public library in Ireland.  Walking in, one sees shelves of aging books from the 16th to 18th centuries.  Theft of library books was prevalent in the early days of the building so cages were built to lock readers in with their studies. 

10:30 am - Trinity College received its charter from Queen Elizabeth in 1592, and is still going strong as an academic institution.


Trudge carefully along the grounds, and you'll hear the ghosts of notable alumni such as Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Swift, Bram Stoker, Oliver Goldsmith, Samuel Beckett, Charles Algernon Parsons, and Ernest Walton.  Oh, and Courtney Love supposedly went there as well.

Most importantly, Trinity College is the home of the revered Book of Kells, a thousand-year old tome kept in as immaculate shape as a book that's survived 10 centuries of war, fire, and theft can look.


1:30 pm - After lunch, I walked along the Liffey for most of the day, stopping occasionally to peek in at some historical sights.  The meat and potatoes of the trip was on my mind, however, and I was looking forward to Friday.

Friday, September 11:

10am - Took the Luas Line, the Dublin Light Rail about three or four stops to Heuston Station, where a train was ready to whisk me a half-hour through the Irish countryside to Kildare.  I tried to remember if Luas Line, the racemare, was a good one or a flop.  Here are her past performances:

Download Luas Line

Kildare is home to The Curragh, the home of the Irish Classics, but today's visit was centered around the Irish National Stud. 

"Move along, boy," growled a burly man as I struggled to get off the train. 

Now in New York, a statement like that is a recipe for a knuckle sandwich, but I chalked this one off to Irish charm, and was ready to board the shuttle bus to the Stud without going all John L. Sullivan.  One problem.  No bus until 2pm. 

"It rained here every day in July and August," the conductor told me.  "You must have brought the luck with you."

I couldn't argue.  The weather was simply glorious throughout the trip with 75-degree temperatures, light breezes, and no signs of the usual Dublin rain and cold.  So, I decided to hoof it the mile-and-a-half through the town of Kildare, past the various betting shops, pubs, and churches, and into the countryside past grazing sheep and cows.  

If you haven't gone to a breeding farm, whether it be in Kentucky, New York, Florida, or abroad, you are missing a true treat.  At the Irish National Stud, visitors have the lay of the land to themselves for exploration before coming together for a guided tour later in the day.  The place is immense, and full of history.  Colonel William Hall-Walker began to breed thoroughbred horses on the site in 1900, and some legends of the turf have resided here.  Sun Chariot, the 1941 Triple Crown winner, was foaled here.  Royal Charger and Tulyar, two of the more successful stallions of their day, stood here.  Blandford, the sire of four Derby winners, was foaled here in 1919.  Oh, and a runner named Sea the Stars was foaled here as well. 
Walking up the lane to Black Cherry Yard, I caught a glimpse of old Vintage Crop grazing in his paddock with a couple of his buddies.  Now 22 years old, Vintage Crop was the first foreign-trained runner to win the Melbourne Cup in Australia.  He still looks pretty spry, and would be paraded the following day at The Curragh. 
The Black Cherry Yard housed some mares and weanlings, and one little fella had wandered away from his dam, and was cribbing on the wooden fencing.  He was a friendly little colt, and I got close enough to give him some playful pats on the neck. 
The Stud is home to stallions Amadeus Wolf, Celtic Swing, Elusive City, Indian Haven, Invincible Spirit, Jeremy, Rakti, and Verglas, and each has his own spacious paddock.  
Indian Haven is the ham of the group.  He'll be a bit coy when you approach, turning around and walking a short while away.  But, just when it appears his visitors have given up on a photo op, he'll turn around, walk right towards you, pop his head over the fence, prick his ears, and say, "I''m here!"
Amadeus Wolf and Jeremy, the two new stallions of the group, are a bit more reserved.  The Wolf stayed on his side of his pasture.  I felt the need to razz Jeremy a bit for his loss in the 2007 Breeders' Cup Mile. As if on cue, he turned his backside to me. 
Invincible Spirit holds the stud record for most winners in a single season, and he came over for a sniff before realizing there was nothing in it for him.
Verglas, the gray, wore mesh over his eyes to protect them from the sun.  He's having a nice year, but looked ready for a long nap, yawning several times as he waited for his handlers to take him to bed.

Here are the past performances for the stallions:

Download StudStallions

To complete your full day at the Stud, check out the beautiful Japanese Gardens as well as Saint Fiachra's Garden, a miniature monastic forest smack dab in the middle of the stud.  There's also a horse museum detailing the stud's history.

Thankfully, the shuttle arrived for the trip back to the city, and I enjoyed some bangers and mash at a local pub while waiting for the train back to Heuston.

Saturday, September 12

In wrestler's parlance, it was time to turn heel as the goal of the trip was to exploit the popular Yeats, arguably the greatest stayer of all time, as he returned to his home country for another tilt in the Irish St. Leger, a 14-furlong marathon.  After Yeats became the first four-time winner in the 207-year history of the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot, I looked forward to beating him when he next appeared.  I tried to read Aidan O'Brien's mind as to where he would resurface.  We both came to the same conclusion.  The Irish St. Leger.  I wasn't really impressed with Yeats' run in the Gold Cup on June 18 as he had to be produced a half-mile out to beat inferior competition.  Add in his advancing age (he's now eight), the "short" distance of the St. Leger (although Yeats won this race in 2007, he may be more comfortable at 16-20 furlongs at this portion of his career), and the possibility of heavy ground (he prefers good to firm), and he figured to be a major overlay.  Earlier in the week, O'Brien decided to pass on the St. Leger with two younger, in-form contenders, perhaps to make it an easier jaunt for Yeats.  The problem was he couldn't control the competition. 
I'd fallen for Alandi after hearing about his facile win over testing ground at this distance in the Ballycullen Stakes, a listed event three weeks prior.  He looked like the sort of up-and-comer that could tackle Yeats.
Now, could I have found a way to place this bet in the States?  Probably, but I wouldn't have seen Yeats up close, wouldn't have pressed my nose to the glass case that enclosed the Book of Kells, and wouldn't have escaped the Saratoga disaster. 

12pm - The shuttle was waiting at Galway, and your party host, along with a slew of older locals, crammed on for the trip to the Curragh.  We had to weave our way through roads filled with grazing sheep, but got to the track without incident.  Again, the trip was silent.  No one talked about the race.  No "who do ya like" talk.  Extremely odd. 

1:45pm- Eating a granny next to the statue of Vintage Crop outside the parade ring, I felt some worries about the ground dissip...wait a minute... that didn't come out right. 

A "granny" is a type of sausage sandwich, and it is absolutely delicious. 

The Curragh doesn't look like much from the outside, and the grandstand area is a bit bland as well.  The track is your typical European fare, with undulating bends and straightaways.  The last furlong is extremely testing as it is virtually uphill.  The parade ring and saddling enclosure are absolutely beautiful, however.  One can get right up and touch their favorite superstars (I would advise against it) 
As the last Irish Classic on the calendar, the ladies came out with their hats.  Going racing in Europe is a sporting day out.  People look good and, as with the bookmaker parlors, there isn't a ton of rooting once the race has begun. 

The track announcer gave us the non-runners shortly before the first race, and North American racetracks could take a lesson here.  Not only are the scratches announced, but the reason for said scratch is given.  For example, a non-runner would be explained with "temperature," "sore shins," "injured foot."  This information is invaluable for horseplayers that follow these horses on a regular basis. 
With O'Brien's major riders at Doncaster for their St. Leger, he turned to Seamus Heffernan, a 4% rider this year, to ride Yeats and Alfred Nobel, the expected favorite in the Group 1 National Stakes.  Seeing Heffernan listed to ride lifted my spirits, and despite the great weather, the ground was still considered heavy in places. 

The 2:10 handicap held no interest for me, but Chinese White, a Dalakhani filly trained by Dermot Weld and owned by Lady O'Reilly, the headmistress of the Irish National Stud, looked like a solid play in the Blandford Stakes, a Group 2 event at 2:40.

2:40 - Godolphin has been on quite a roll over the last few weeks (they would run 1-2 in the St. Leger at Doncaster later in the day), and I was hoping the fans would fall for Lady Marian, the winner of the Group 1 Prix de l'Opera in 2008 over the imposing Lush Lashes.  Lady Marian was coming into this race off a runner-up effort in the Group 1 Prix Jean Romanet, but she has a tendency to throw in some stinkers, and I didn't trust her.  Chinese White, like Alandi, looked like the "now" horse.  She had won her last two, a listed race and the Group 3 Dance Design Stakes at the Curragh twelve days previously. 
I was ready to make a bet, but I soon learned that the sharp bookmakers give nothing away.  While Lady Marian took money at 11/8, Chinese White was hammered to 11/10 favoritism.  I couldn't chalk out on her, had no confidence in playing in Exacta or Trio, and merely  watched as she drew away from the O'Brien/Heffernan contender Roman Empress in the final furlong.

3:20 - The watchful eye of the great Nijinsky glares at the St. Leger entrants as they cross from the saddling enclosure to the walking ring.

photo courtesy http://theland.farmonline.com.au/multimedia/images/full/547621.jpg

I expected Yeats to get a rousing cheer as he walked into the ring, but the reserved Irish fans looked at him as if he was an ordinary handicapper.  Alandi looked good, but so did Schiaparelli, the Godolphin runner entering the race off a pair of Group 2 wins.  I hadn't traveled this far to wimp out, however, and confidently strode to the bookmaker's ring to bet Alandi.  Certainly, Yeats would go favored, right?  When I looked at the various prices, my jaw dropped.  The bookies couldn't give Yeats away.  He ended up at 4-1.  Alandi was trading between 3-1 and 7-2, the second choice behind Schiaparelli at 2-1.  Disappointed, but undaunted, I did what I came to do. 

I dropped the hammer.

Schiaparelli went right to the front under Olivier Peslier.  Considering the ground and distance, the Godolphin runner set a fast pace with Yeats and Heffernan tracking on the outside.  Alandi and Mick Kinane tucked in behind the leaders in third.  Yeats was a beaten horse entering the straight.  He would finish last.  Schiaparelli may have set off for home a bit too soon, but he made Alandi come and get him, and the Galileo colt was still two lengths behind Schiaparelli with two furlongs to go.  He collared the Godolphin colorbearer with an eighth remaining, but longshot Clowance was putting in her run, and we still had the testing final furlong to go.  Clowance tried her heart out, but Alandi always found just a little bit more.  Victory was mine!

3:50 - Alfred Nobel looked like a sure thing on paper as he'd won three in a row under Johnny Murtagh including the Grade 1 Phoenix Stakes over this course on July 26.  Still, this was Heffernan's show now, and he was hard to trust with his poor win percentage.  Also, a War Chant colt named Kingsfort beat a pair of next-out winners in his career debut at this seven-furlong trip at the Curragh on June 26.  I usually don't like playing maiden graduates stepping up to face winners fro the first time, but I vowed to leave my American racing biases home.  Kingsfort was the light play. 

Alfred Nobel never was comfortable under Heffernan at even-money, and finished last.  Kingsfort stayed close to the pace, took over with a furlong to go, and held off fellow maiden graduate Chabal up the hill.  Although I beat the favorite, I was disappointed in the price.  Kingsfort was no bargain at 9/4.

4:20 - Didn't have many opinions for the rest of the card, but the next race was an intriguing two-year-old maiden that featured a field of 15 going seven furlongs.  The horses with established form didn't look good so I landed on a pair of Galileo first-time starters.  Crystal Gal and Leo Gali were fillies from good barns, and the former's second dam won the Irish 1000 Guineas at the Curragh in 1997.  Crystal Gal took lots of money, and went off at 5-2 on the tote.  Leo Gali was 10-1 on the tote, but I got 12-1 from Tommy Barrett Bookmakers, and I don't think they were glad to see me back for more.  They were glad after the race.  Crystal Gal won nicely, and my Each-Way (Win-Place) on Leo Gali went up in smoke as the filly rallied belately for fifth.  I thought Leo Gali gave a good performance, and I'll be looking out for her on the Racing Post site. 

4:50 - Threw a few Euros at Baron De'l as he attempted to win the ladbrokes.com Handicap for the third straight year, but the off-form six-year-old faltered badly after showing the way for five furlongs.

6:25 - Just missed the train back to Dublin, and I was upset.  I had planned to go to Shelbourne Kennel Club later that evening for the Irish Greyhound Derby, perhaps the richest six-dog race in history.  But after missing the train, and waiting an hour for another, I gave up all hope of making it.

It was the biggest regret I have of this trip.

9:25 - Back at the hotel, I turned on the telly, and was absolutely shocked that there was live coverage of the Irish Greyhound Derby.  About 8,000 fans crammed into the small track to witness College Causeway, the odds-on favorite, and one of the more popular dogs in the country, attempt to win the Derby. 
After a brief interview with the new "Rose of Tralee" pageant winner (who immediately killed her gimmick by revealing that she had a boyfriend), the dogs loaded into the kennels for the 550 yard heat.

What followed was the greatest comeback since Lazarus, and College Causeway became Ireland's Best Friend..   

College Causeway breaks from Trap 5 

You don't have to be a greyhound afficionado to realize that this was an unbelieveable performance. Shuffled back to last going into the backstretch, he simply has no chance to win. No one told him that. He lengthed his stride, cut into the gap, and inhaled the leader to win by two. That sport has a fan for life in me.


 I've taken too much of your time today. Back tomorrow with the Sunday Curragh card, and the final part of the trip.

 *** Take it easy.