First steeplechase to be re-enacted 260 years on

A horse racing tradition that has endured, and blossomed, since it first took place in north Cork, in 1752, will be re-enacted on Saturday, Oct 13.

The Doneraile Development Association and Doneraile Point to Point Committee will host the 260th anniversary chase re-enactment of the first recorded steeplechase match, from Buttevant Church to St Mary’s Church, Doneraile.

The race, from steeple to steeple, gave birth to steeplechasing — now known in the UK and Ireland as national hunt racing, and also popular in Canada, the US, Australia and France.

Declan O’Keeffe, of Doneraile Point to Point, says the re-enactment course will follow the original as closely as possible.

In 1752, when Edmund Blake and Cornelius O’Callaghan raced along the banks of the Awbeg River, over stone walls, ditches and hedges, little did they know their sport would still be thriving 260 years later.

Q. Can members of the public take part in the 260th anniversary chase re-enactment?

A. Yes. The chase will start at 2.30pm, and is open to all horses and riders.

Prizes will include a commemorative cup and €500, for first, €200 for second, and €100 for third.

All riders will be required to wear racing colours and riding attire, for an entry fee of €50.

Apply before Tuesday, Oct 9, to regional point-to-point secretary Mary Hickey (058-47155, see (www.corkwaterfordp2p.com).

A fun run will start at 3.30pm, open to all horses and riders; entries on the day. Participants are invited to wear period costume (with appropriate safety gear).

Q. Point-to-point racing is a local facet of national hunt racing, an important annual event in rural parishes. How popular is it?

A. Point-to-point racing is often described as the lifeblood of the racing industry in Ireland.

There are about 100 point-to-point meetings annually, much enjoyed by thousands of racing fans, and vital for the breeding and training aspects of racing over the jumps.

Many horses that start in point to points graduate to the highest levels in Ireland and the UK.

There is a valuable export trade of these horses, mostly to the UK.

Almost all of the world’s great jump races have been won by former point-to-point winners.

The 2012 autumn season commences this weekend at Athlacca, Co Limerick, and Toomebridge, Co Antrim. Point to points continue weekly until June; the details are on the turfclub.ie website.

Q. How have the steeplechasers of north Cork done since 1752?

A. Con O’Keeffe, of Crobeg, Doneraile, trained horses like Gold Nugget and Southlander (a Kerry National winner). He broke, and first trained, Silver Birch, an Irish point-to-point winner that won the Aintree Grand National in 2007.

Con was known as the king of the point to points from the 1950s to the 1970s.

The late Michael Neville trained Galway Plate-winner Hamers Flame, owned by Castletownroche man, Eddie Farrell.

John Joe Walsh, of Kilbyrne, trained Propunt to win the Kerry National.

The late Ted Breen, of Hazelwood, owned Irish Grand National winner, Timbera.

John Joe O’Neill was champion national hunt jockey in the UK.

Now a trainer for JP McManus, he is fourth in the UK trainer rankings.

Brian and Richard Harding, from Castletownroche, have ridden winners at Cheltenham.

The O’Sullivan family, of Lombardstown, have also been successful at Cheltenham.

Willie and Paddy Cronin are both respected breeders and trainers in Doneraile.

Doneraile also has great connections with flat racing. Jimmy Eddery rode many winners in Ireland and England, and his son, Pat, was an exceptional champion jockey on the world stage.

His wins included the Doncaster St Leger, which is named after Anthony St Leger, an army officer and nephew to Arthur, the first Viscount Doneraile.

Anthony devised a flat race, which was to set the pattern for classic racing throughout the modern world.

First run in 1776, it is the world’s oldest classic race, and was in the news recently for the narrow defeat of the Irish-trained Camelot, bidding to be the first classic Triple Crown winner in 42 years.

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