Tag Archives: Photos

First Impressions: The New Curragh

The new Curragh opened its doors for the general public for the first time today. A new era for Irish (flat) racing. A monstrous project in the making for the last four years, associated with a price tag of around €80 million – it’s better be a success!

Whether it’s going to be a long-term success with crowds embracing the new facilities beyond this opening day remains to be seen. Judged by the attendance today the word ‘promising’ may be on the lips of many, though.

I’ve been waiting for this moment for a good few years: finally back at the Curragh! Driving down the N7, get off at exit 12 and there it is, right in front of your eyes, the imposing new grand stand!

Upon arrival my first thought was: WOW! This is spectacular! Stunningly beautiful from an architectural point of view. I didn’t expect it to be that good. No way! After all, this is Ireland where these type of projects rarely go to plan. This project had its own little issues, but the outcome is magnificent – and that is what matters most.

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What’s good? Great views from the parade ring. Plenty of space. Only short walks between parade ring, betting and the grand stand. First class elevated viewing for the regular racegoer from the stand itself. Everything is shiny, new and gives the impression of classiness.

Opportunity for improvement? Getting your hands on a coffee is a tricky adventure. Long ques for food and drink wherever you go. Maybe I missed them, but there were no mobile coffee vans like they used to exist at the old Curragh.

Food prices are not for the fainthearted. But that’s nothing new. Regular ticket prices are €20. A season ticket is €265 – that’s a whopping €90 more than when I bought one the last time in 2015, the year before construction began. This isn’t a cheap place.

I didn’t go racing at the Curragh during the construction years. I was – quite frankly – pissed off. Holding a season ticket for a number of years, I would have expected some concessions to existing members while racing continued at what was effectively a building site – a decision in itself I didn’t like. It showed a lack of regard for the general racegoer.

Whether the new Curragh will be able to attract on regular basis the sort of crowd that came through the turnstiles today for the more low profile days is a question the future will tell. I’m not so sure, unfortunately.

I hope it does, I really do. This new Curragh deserves it. It’s an amazing place to watch horse racing. It’s the perfect stadium for our equine heroes. Having been to many racecourses around the world I can honestly say the Curragh is right up there with the best.

Now they have to work on service for the general public, think about pricing and any further enhancements that could be made to the raceday experience in order to lure punters to the track more often.

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This Is Turf Paradise

I am over in Phoenix, Arizona right now, so I took the opportunity to pay the local race track – Turf Paradise – a visit!

Now, this is the fourth track I have been able to see here in the United States: Aqueduct, Golden Gate Fields and Los Alamitos the others. In comparison with those three, Turf Parade is small. In fact, much smaller. Why? No casino!

Turf Parade is quite a compact race track, located on the outskirts of Phoenix, easy to get to because of its proximity to Interstate Highway 17.

In saying that, at the other tracks I felt lost… and the day became dull after the first few races. Well, mid-week racing, few people are keen to come racing on a Wednesday – it can be lonely onsite. Casino-race-tracks are often huge places: wide and open spaces add to the feeling of emptiness.

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Turf Paradise is different: smaller, compact, short ways from parade ring to betting to food, drink and good viewing options. I was greeted by a super relaxed, serene and friendly atmosphere on the day.

Sure, splendid sunshine always helps; nonetheless, this place has loads of charme: you’re close to the action, entry is free and fair food & drink prices make it a truly wonderful day out.

There were only a few hundred or so people attending this mid-week race day. But as this is such a compact place, it didn’t feel lonely as it did at bigger tracks I’ve been to.

The racing was nothing to shout about. Low-grade claimers and maiden races. In saying that, most horses turned out looked fantastically well presented. Nice in their coat, clean and fit!

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Unlike recent controversy accompanying the Breeders Cup and a certain French jockey (and something I certainly notice turning in for a bit of US racing in the evening on At The Races), there was no excessive whip use to be seen here – in fact, I felt the whip was used pretty sparingly and a lot of hands and heels riding was going on – to my surprise.

Unlike Aqueduct, Golden Gate Fields and Los Alamitos, If I ever have the chance again I’ll definitely go racing at Turf Paradise – I absolutely loved the day, where a card packed with 8 raced didn’t feel dull at any moment!

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2018 ITM Stallion Trail – Photos & Report

4th October 2009. A day ingrained in memory. For ever. The day perfection in equine form became real. The day Sea The Stars wrote history.

I was still living in Germany. Following the 2009 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on my computer with the help of an almost colourless 240p internet stream. It didn’t matter. What mattered was the race. And the horse with the guy in the yellow silks riding.

It was my first full season following the sport of horse racing. Couldn’t have been a better year to get into it, right? Following Sea The Stars’ progress throughout the year, slowly but steadily understanding the historical importance of his achievements – what a wonderful, thrilling and emotional six months it were to witness. Horse racing at its best!

A Star Too Early

Sea The Stars came too early – or I came too late to party – I never saw him in flesh. It was only a couple of years later that I should eventually end up Ireland, though. I missed him by two years.

Ever since my love for the sport has grown into a passion that saw me creating this website and going racing near and far – from the Curragh in Kildare to Hanshin in Japan.

Still, there was the elusive dream: ever since this magical autumn day in 2009 all I wanted was to see the almighty Sea The Stars with my own eyes.

Trail of Greatness

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An elusive dream no longer. Thanks to the Irish Thoroughbred Trail! An initiative by the Irish Thoroughbred Marketing (ITM), running for a fourth consecutive  year now – though in earlier years I never made it for various reasons such as work- & travel commitments as well as a simple lack of awareness.

This time ITM made a huge effort to put the word out and make sure the message gets through to everyone: breeders and racing fans alike, come and join us for the Irish Thoroughbred Trail; 29 stud farms have taken part on Friday- and Saturday 12th/13th January 2018.

Such esteemed names as the famous Coolmore Stud, the Aga Khan’s Gilltown Stud, Shadwell’s Derrinstown Stud or Darley’s Kildangan Stud all opened their doors for visitors.

Come To See A Star 

Safe to say I didn’t let the chance slip this time. A moment of magic it was, indeed. Eye to eye with the champion. He musters you, a straight look into your eyes; I pick up the camera, holding the big lens right in front of his nose….

Ears pricked, relaxed, standing proud and tall surrounded by an aura of pure confidence. Sea The Stars knows. He’s got the awareness. He’s the king here and everywhere.

The now 12-year-old still looks the part. The most beautiful thoroughbred one can imagine. But it’s his aura that stands out for me – there’s something in the firm, clear, obvious, assured, yet gracious and elegant way Sea The Stars presents himself. I haven’t seen nor felt anything like it in the presence of any other horse.

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A Wonderful Experience

Gilltown Stud is doing a wonderful job. Friendly staff greeting you at every corner; handing out Sea The Stars gift bags for ever visitor; heated shelter and quality refreshments made available. Top class!

Half an hour further down the road is Darley’s Kildangan Stud. The second and final stop on my personal Stallion Trail. The weather turned grim by now. Wind and rain whipping in people’s faces. At the stud they do their upmost to make it the most enjoyable experience, regardless. I can only applaud the studs and their staff for putting in such tremendous effort.

13 stallions parade in front of eager eyes; young and old is here, braving the weather. Exceed And Excel still has the appearance of a racehorse. Beautifully defined muscles – you can see why he was such a top-class sprinter back in the day.

Ribchester has settled well in his new home it appears. He’s one of the more relaxed stallions. Takes it in his stride. The imposing Dawn Approach doesn’t cease to impress whenever I see him. Teofilo, Belardo…. it’s an esteemed list of superb racehorses enjoying their second career here at Kildangan Stud.

 

 

To open the doors, not only for breeders but also for racing fans, has to be applauded. The studs play the vital part here, without their welcoming openness the Irish Stallion Trail would not be a thing.

A Step In The Right Direction

At the same time only this welcoming openness – and I would add transparency which drives education on how the sport functions – has to be the way forward for horse racing.

Irish racing in the past has not only been accused but in fact has neglected the interest of the common racing fan. The most recent example was to continue having the major Group 1 meetings, like the Derby, at the Curragh during the time of its rebuild.

From my own experience, Irish Racing also tends to – or did so at least in the past years for as long as am going racing here (since 2011) – to cater for the casual once-a-year-event-goer rather than the racing fan who’s also there when they run a low-grade card a on a dreary January Sunday.

Thankfully this is changing. And it has to – if the sports wants more than pure survival but also wants to thrive. It is all well intended to try attract new groups of people for the sport. However, don’t forget your existing fanbase.

Initiatives like the Irish Thoroughbred Trail (or the equivalent Champion Trail during Irish Champions Weekend) provide a superb opportunity to do exactly that – exiting new potential race goers and at the same time offering value for existing racing fans alike.

Because think this way: how are you supposed to spark the interest of people who don’t know yet that they might develop an interest for the sport, if you fail to keep the fans you already have interested and excited?

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Embrace The Fans

Racing needs to embrace its fanbase. It’s their enthusiasm that fills racetracks with life on those low-key days that aren’t part of Festivals. And they do so because racing provides a unique experience that makes it so inherently different from most other sports.

Where else can you get so close to the stars, equine and human alike? Where else can fans become an actual part of the sport? Racing it is! You can’t have a chat with Jose Mourinho or pat Lionel Messi without being dragged away by some heavy security guard.

But you might be able to give Sea The Stars a pat on the head when you visit him at stud – or, as one of personal favourites – discussing with Tom Queally at Wolverhampton the Champion Stakes a day before the biggest ride of his career on Frankel.

That is what I love about horse racing. You are so close to the game – if you want. For some it is a mere betting medium with two handful of nags running around in circles. But for many others it’s so much more; passion – a sport that sets raw emotion free in us.

So, it was certainly great to see ITM making such a big effort with the Stallion Trail this year. There was a real buzz, certainly on social media – racing fans got the chance to meet their heroes but it as also a superb opportunity to engage new people and excite curiosity. This is the way to go. We need more of these initiatives that show horse racing in a different light apart from gambling and drunk ladies in short skirts.

Thank you ITM for making this possible. For giving me the chance to meet my all-time equine hero. I had some tears of joy in my eyes.

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Photos: 2017 Birdcatcher Day at Naas

A few of my images from the Birdcatcher Day at Naas, featuring the similarly named Premier Handicap plus two Listed contests with the Garnet & Bluebell Stakes.

Been a wet day. Desperate conditions made it hard work for horses and jockeys. Still some good performances. Most notably the ones of team Lyons/Keane. Trainer and jockey teamed up for a hat-trick on the card.

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A Day Out at Los Alamitos Racetrack

Better late than never my piece on Californian racecourse Los Alamitos. Not too long ago I had the chance to visit this racetrack located in Orange County, in the outskirts of Los Angeles.

Truth told I never was US racing’s biggest fan – and maybe never will. It probably doesn’t help that my visits to the racetracks of Aqueduct in New York and Golden Gate Fields in San Francisco turned out to be rather bleak and dreary affairs. Those huge places, with the appearance of ghost towns, a couple of hundred souls spread across the stands – it was sad to see.

So far so bad – but stay with me – this is not another “Europeans bashing US racing piece”.

When I turned into the parking lot of Los Alamitos racecourse my expectations were clearly low. It was a mild winter day, mild for Californian standard, piping hot if you live in Ireland.That clearly helped to lift the initial mood, whatever happens next.

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Now, let me write the most important sentence right here: Los Alamitos rocks. It really does. Okay, it might be easy to exceed expectations if there are none, but seriously, this place just works.

The beautiful historic grand stand with three levels, fine seating and viewing, is not dramatically oversized as I found it  to be the case at Aqeduct. It’s certainly not small, but not overwhelmingly huge either, no danger getting lost inside as it can easily happen at Golden Gate Fields.

What is most important: you’re close to the horses. Saddling area, parade ring, track… all close, easily accessible. So let me use one word to describe this racecourse – and I wouldn’t have thought to ever use this word to describe a US track: beautiful.

Los Alamitos is beautiful. A place where racing comes alive. There was a “feel good” atmosphere in the air, everyone’s relaxing, enjoying a fine day out and – last but not least – watching an exciting sport. I loved it.

But let the photos speak for itself:

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Photos – 2015 Grand National Weekend

WOW – It’s been a massive weekend! I’m just back from Aintree… and sorting my photos. That says, the National day started with a huge disappointment for me personally actually, when I was refused entry with my camera. Though, I got lucky at the end, when after the last race – I was handed back my cam by this time – they paraded Grand National winner Many Clouds in front of the stands once again – so I took the chance, went back in and got my lucky snaps of the champ!

The day before I had a quick stop-over at Leicester Racecourse. A beautiful track. Cosy and relaxed. It was from there where I got to know the big result from South Africa & Saratoga Dancer – my 10/1 Friday selection at Greyville! It’s going well in that sense lately. On the other hand my ante-post National fancy Rocky Creek didn’t do the job. But that’s alright, the National was won by an absolute superstar!

So, here’re some photos from Leicester, The Grand National and of course Many Clouds. Hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed taking them!

Grand National winner Many Clouds

Aintree Grand National

Leicester Racecourse

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All Photos: Credit Florian Christoph

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