Agile but fragile, a dodgy combination in dogs

Hot toddies were the order of the day again in Clonmel yesterday, another fresh morning.

Tim O'Driscoll couldn't find it in himself to straighten his elbow once he started pouring, so I found myself gripping what was described as ‘a bulky one’. Firewater, the American Indians call it, and Tim's measure certainly lived up to the name, day-long central heating.

Of more serious concern, the cold left the ground in a frosty grip, and as 11.30 approached, first course, concerns were being expressed in the lower carpark, where gather all the trainers and their charges.

“You'd be slow to run a horse in that!” was the outraged opinion of one who favoured a half-hour postponement (for obvious reasons, he preferred to remain anonymous). In the field just off the course where the dogs are walked, warmed up, the surface was indeed frozen, hard, uneven, not the kind of place you'd consider racing a valuable animal.

Nevertheless, 11.30, off they went, and in the commentary box, steward Billy Walsh, veteran of nearly half a century of Clonmel meetings, was in full agreement with the decision.

“Firm,” he said firmly, of the going. So, it was just a co-incidence then that just five courses into the morning, we had three byes in a row, three dogs pulled out, injured from the previous day's early-morning exertions?

“Next in slips, a bye for the red collar, Crafty Loo,” the crystal-clear tones of announcer Sean Doherty, then again, “a bye for the red collar... a bye for the white collar.” Most unusual, surely. “Yes,” agreed Sean, “but co-incidence is all it is, it just so happens it fell that way. Injuries; these dogs are no different to the top human athletes, they're superfit, push themselves to their limits, and sometimes beyond. That's all that happened.”

Agile but fragile, a dodgy combination. In fairness, and justifying the decision to go ahead on schedule, there were no obvious injuries during yesterday's coursing.

Well, apart from one. Paddy Moriarty, former Kerry senior football captain, catcher for Pa Moriarty, did pull a hamstring early on in the day but, typical of the man, wouldn't quit, was still going as hard as ever in the afternoon, ignoring any pain 'til his dog was secured.

Speaking of pulled hamstrings, no sign this year of the guys in wellies and overalls whose job it was to sprint to the middle of the field and frighten off the crows, crows whose distracting presence ruined many a good buckle, disrupted every meet.

Replaced, they are, by something entirely different. Falcons, four of them, hooded, menacing, controlled by Tom Clancy of Bird Control Ireland. “Peregrine/Saker hybrids, actually,” he explains; “that makes them a bit steadier, a nice size bird as well. The theory is that they're a predatory bird, and the crows are frightened off by them. We flew two of them through this morning, early, before coursing, and all the crows and magpies in the area see them. That acts as a deterrent. After coursing, we fly two more of them again. We were here for the week before coursing, doing a lot of preparatory work, using the distress call, which is connected to the PA system (disconnected during coursing, obviously), the guns, the birds, establishing a pattern.”

Fine, Tom, but how do you control those birds? Release them, and if they love you, they'll come back? Hardly. “It's the food,” dummy.

“You've got to keep their body-weight controlled, or they won't come back. We do, and 99% of the time, it works.” It's certainly working in Clonmel, not even a black feather to be seen on Monday or Tuesday.

To the coursing, and woe is me. One thing for certain, I'll never make a living from punting, or from tipping either. Most of those mentioned yesterday, Crafty Loo, Musical Time, Honest Opinion, Doonard House, Dawn Air, Village Rover, Chelsea Girl, Tequila Lady, Tyrone Again, Megan Be Nice, gone, beaten, all over for another year anyway. With them, my entire Clonmel float.

In desperation, during yesterday's 5-star Quinlan car-boot luncheon, I turned to Lisa, someone who, from years of Clonmel experience, actually understands form, clocks, character, what it is that separates the best from the rest at this great and colourful annual congregation of human and animal.

Four tips she gave me for the Oaks quarters, four for the Derby; so hot were those tips that the bookie wouldn't even take my money on four, “not worth winning,” reckoned Patrick Desmond. The other four? Not telling, not even going to breathe their names, in case of the hex. But, listen to me, Callura Hunter (Oaks) and Bexhill Eoin (Derby) still look to be the ones to beat.

Finally, mentioned Denis Fielding of Mooncoin in the report of Monday's action, his bitter disappointment at the injury to Moat Elsa, after she had won her buckle in the Oaks.

Yesterday, in the bosom of the Quinlan camp, Kilkenny-man Denis was in better spirits. “A group of Waterford supporters were complaining after last year's Munster final,” he told Ann and company, all of them Waterford, “that as they were coming through Mooncoin (Waterford had lost), stones were thrown at their cars. But sure it wasn't stones at all, those were All-Ireland medals!” Ah yes, the human spirit, in all its virtue.

And finally, finally; Sean Kerrins, felled in the field on Monday during the course of his duties as catcher for Barney Mooney kennels, heart attack, is on the mend.

Deo Gratias.

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