Ashforth's Angles: Spirit still strong in Ireland

Natalia Lupini: one of several small yards with runners at Leopardstown

  PICTURE: Patrick McCann ( 

 By David Ashforth 3:36PM 22 JUN 2016 

TEN years ago I went on a tour of every racecourse in Ireland. It was a wonderful opportunity to go to courses I would otherwise never have visited.

In those pre-recession years there were new grandstands and new ones planned and average prize-money and average attendances were higher than in Britain, despite the island’s population being one tenth the size. They were golden years in a society with a deep-rooted attachment to horseracing.

What I remember most is the engagingly egalitarian atmosphere at Irish racecourses, reinforced by their layout and by the spirit of the people. At one country meeting I found myself standing on the grandstand steps next to an Irish government minister.

Coolmore stands supreme but not at the race meetings that attract most enthusiasm, jump meetings. They are the heart of Irish racing.

When I started the tour I only knew or could recognise the trainers and jockeys with the highest profiles. When I finished, there were many names that were still just names in racecards, their first names often only initials. Looking at the card for Leopardstown, plenty of mysteries remain.

Is Madeleine Tylicki related to the British-based jockey Freddie Tylicki? I’m pretty sure she’s his sister. Is Nutini (Leopardstown 6.20) her first runner as a trainer? I’m pretty sure it is, in which case good luck.

It’s a big day for her and for J F “Johnny” Levins, whose name has only appeared on racecards since 2013. He is sending six horses to Leopardstown from his base at the Curragh.

The trainer with a psychology degree

Names are intriguing. There weren’t many Luca Cumanis in England when he started training in 1976 and there aren’t many Natalia Lupinis in Ireland. Both from Italy, perhaps they know each other.

Lupini, who started training last year, has a degree in psychology. It might not help too much with the horses but it could be invaluable when dealing with owners and jockeys.

Alnahar gave Lupini her first success when winning at Dundalk in January and she runs Spirit Be With You (6.20) and Blairmayne (8.30). Kieren Fallon has already won twice on Blairmayne and the partnership will be trying to defy a fearsome 12lb rise in the three-year-old’s handicap mark to complete a hat-trick.

In search of a winner

Then there’s Yvonne Dunleavy who brings Nimdani (9.00) from Turloughmore, Co Galway. I’m pretty sure it’s not the same Yvonne Dunleavy as the one who helped Xaviera Hollander write The Happy Hooker: My Own Story in 1971.

Victory would be particularly sweet because, armed with few horses, Dunleavy has not trained a winner since Sports Casual won at Dundalk in 2010, having won at Ayr a few months earlier.

And so it goes on. I should recognise Gavin Cromwell (5.50 Famous Milly and Pandagreen), not because of his horses’ scant appearances but because of the stable star and top juvenile hurdler, Jer’s Girl. What a boost she must have given him.

Then there’s Oliver McKiernan (6.20 Ard Na Carraig and 9.00 Call Me Pj) and Garvan Donnelly (7.55 Plough Boy) and there’s a lot I don’t know about Irish racing.

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