It’s a winner alright

YOU or your other half enjoys horseracing; you’d like to visit a trainer’s yard without actually having to pay to train, house and feed half a tonne of horse; and you’re looking for a different weekend away.

Then the Thoroughbred Trail could be the form choice.

Established by Failte Ireland with support from Horseracing Ireland, The Curragh racecourse and Co Kildare itself, the trail involves a weekend in one of the many comfortable hotels scattered within an easy gallop of The Curragh, a trip to a well-known trainer’s stables; an afternoon’s racing with lunch thrown in; and a chance to take in some other visitor spots. The hotels involved are part of the www.littlebookofluxury.com group.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

When the Irish Examiner embarked on the Thoroughbred Trail, dining and sleeping in the old-school luxury of Barberstown Castle in Straffan, it was Oaks weekend at the Curragh.

Our package included admission to the Curragh and lunch at its Shoehorse Restaurant for racing the day before the Darley Irish Oaks itself.

First things first, however, and the beautifully-appointed room at Barberstown, complete with four-poster bed, had all the space and comfort to be expected from a castle hotel.

The tea-rooms, restaurant and bar all maintain the theme of quiet, understated hospitality.

AMENITIES

After a good-night’s sleep filled with dreams of backing winners, a Saturday morning visit to Copper Beech Stables, the purpose-built yard of group one-winning trainer Mick Halford, is the first of the racing-themed activities.

Mick proved genial and informative and didn’t mind what questions were thrown at him during a tour of his facilities and a look at some of his horses on the gallops.

Throughout the stint at the stables, our group was reminded how serious is the business of thoroughbred horses, behind the sporting front. “They’re Aga Khan fillies,” Mick would say casually, or “he was sent here by Sheikh Mohammed”.

Former classic-winning trainer (and wife of champion jockey Pat Smullen) Frances Crowley is a helpful, patient and friendly host, making sure punters don’t fall in front of a horse at the stables and also ensuring everything runs smoothly for all during racing at The Curragh.

The package even includes the advice of an expert tipster, in this case jockeys’ agent Kevin O’Ryan.

As Frances puts it: “It’s almost like being an owner for the day. It’s not like you’re going to get invited into yards like Mick Halford and Dermot Weld and John Oxx every day.”

WHAT TO SEE

It’s not all about the gee-gees as included is an invitation to avail of discounts at a number of popular tourist haunts around Co Kildare.

So if the battle against the bookies doesn’t go your way, enjoy a cheaper-than-usual visit to the likes of the Irish National Stud and Japanese Gardens; Castletown House, Russborough House across the Wicklow border; and the Kildare Village outlet shopping venue.

THE BOTTOM LINE

There are varied prices across the Thoroughbred Trail card, with a weekend at Barberstown Castle, The Heritage Golf and Spa Resort, Rathsallagh Country House in Dunlavin or The Village at Lyons costing €275 pps; The K Club is €345 while the Keadeen Hotel in Newbridge offers the package for €235. In each case, the deal includes two nights’ B&B, one dinner; Saturday race admission with lunch, along with the trainer’s yard visit and transportation.

ANYTHING TO ADD

The last Thoroughbred Trail of this year’s flat season takes in the Irish Field St Leger weekend, September 9 and 10. Punters and tourists who sign up for the package will get to visit National Hunt (jumps) trainer Dessie Hughes and flat trainer John Oxx on the Curragh, providing a taste of both horseracing codes.

* www.thelittlebookofluxury.com or www.discoverireland.ie/dublinsdoorstep

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