Emma on the Curragh
©Healy Racing Photos
BLOG POST 7. Meeting David Donohue and Michael O'Callaghan.
July 2014. We are in the middle of a week's residency at VISUAL, Carlow. Where we have been working in the GB Shaw Theatre. It's a great facility; as theatre makers it's such a privilege to be able to work in a theatre space at this developmental part of the process. We are in the perfect geographical location for meeting racing professionals and creating a show. Caroline Hutchinson has tea with us outside Lennon's in VISUAL, where it seems there is a collection of racing agents gathering. We are introduced to some of the lads, and it feels like we are getting closer to this industry. Talking with Caroline is always an uplifting experience; she's an inspirational speaker. Unbeknown to her, she instigated this whole project with a brief conversation about horseracing and a connection to horses being 'in the blood'. The seed was planted.
She asks questions about where my instincts are taking me on this journey with my grandfather, and urges me to keep focussed on the Curragh, this huge expanse of space where the first racing took place. The High kings of Ireland saw horseracing as a spiritual pursuit. This always strikes me as something very significant in my research.
Caroline discusses the history of the Curragh and why it is such an important racecourse, beyond the simplicity of its fame. The landscape of the Curragh holds a mythological weight; St Brigid and her cloak. This week, on the way to my riding lessons, we stop and watch the horses going up the Old Vic. I take a moment to think of all the amazing horses and Jockeys that have ridden the Curragh racecourse.
We are also introduced to a Carlow regular and local racing expert, David Donohue. David's passion for racing is clear. He straddles both worlds - that of racing, of which he is very knowledgeable, and also that of art. David is a musician, writer, performer and racing journalist. He can speak both languages - of artistic form, story and also racing, betting, and horses. I am interested in David reading Phillip's articles, from one racing journalist to another.
The first thing David does is teach us to read the form. He gets out the Racing Post and goes meticulously through every little symbol. It is like another entirely new language opens up to me. It is the possibility and backbone of the industry. I know the difference between a grade one race, a horse that wears blinkers, and a handicap. Will I remember it?
David then takes us to meet young trainer Michael O'Callaghan. From the moment you drive into the yard you feel a sense of calm, work and ambition. Dogs run around the place delighted to see a few visitors. It's clear that Michael has a very organised set- up. He has a horse, Indian Tomahawk, racing this evening at Leopardstown. Although there is hustle and bustle with Siobhan and the rest of Michael's dedicated team preparing the horse for his journey, Michael shows us around and is very generous with his time, like so many other racing people that I have met thus far. It's really fascinating listening to Michael talk. I feel I'm really getting to see how this industry works from the inside out. It's no different to theatre, it's fuelled by passion. He seems pretty calm for someone who has a runner in a few hours. He shows us the yard, walkers, solarium (which would be fantastic for a dancer!) and when I ask him about Nijinsky, he doesn't particularly remember the horse as it was before his time, but knows of his legacy. "He was the best of his time, one of the all-time greats. He was obviously very well balanced, the dancer, and obviously a racehorse is very well balanced. You cannot teach it to horses. To win an Epsom you have to be very well balanced. To win a Triple Crown you have to have everything: athletic ability, strength, balance and frame of mind and the right attitude. Horses have to have the want to be the best."
We meet a few horses that I specifically remember. Queen of Power - a big grey filly. She stands in her stable with a calm and underlying strength to her. Her name suits her well. She's a real beauty. Then there is Fastidious, who seems tall, calm and strong with the manner of a true gent. We also meet Aggression, who also serves his name well by not being the first horse you'd want to go in and cuddle in the stable. I keep my distance from him! Do they all want to be the best? No doubt in Michael's hands they will be.
BLOG POST 8 will be - watching Indian Tomahawk race at Leopardstown. The thrills of being a punter at the Curragh.