Clutching a golden ticket for the ‘Oscars’

The Olympics. The Oscars. Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. They all open in Powerstown Park, Clonmel this weekend.
Clutching a golden ticket for the ‘Oscars’

And John Tobin has one: “A golden ticket.”

John is head of the syndicate that owns Dicks Bimbo, favourite for the Oaks. His son Patsy and brothers Liam and Paddy are also on board.

“Before the start of the coursing season at the end of September, everyone is a film star,” John says. Most fluff their lines at audition, but Bimbo has made the silver screen and word from the mark-ups this week is; The Academy likes her chances.

“We’re living the dream. This is the Olympics.”

After a life in thrall to the thrill of watching two dogs work a hare, John daren’t have dreamed he’d pluck gold first time he sprung for the raffle. Achieve a lifetime’s ambition for anyone with coursing blood in their veins, a runner at the national meeting.

Chairman of Clonmel & Kilsheelan Coursing Club, he’s had the bug 50 years, since his uncle first educated him on the importance of this week in the calendar.

But bound by the neutrality of a slipper’s licence for 22 years, John had never watched a buckle as an owner.

“Normally, you go through a fair few before something clicks. This one clicked first time out.”

The ride began nearly two years ago. They bought Bimbo at 14 weeks from Shane Curtin above in Limerick, then sent her out to Dick Lonergan for rearing. “That’s where she got her name from.”

“Dick has a big farm. They have the whole run of the farm. Huge freedom. He reared her until she was 14 or 15 months. And then we sent her out to McKenna.”

The renowned Owen McKenna, who also trains what the layers consider Bimbo’s main rival, Trillainminella, from his Golden kennels, was making no promises.

“‘This one might be good,’ Dick kept saying. But he didn’t say any more than that. We sent her out to McKenna and he said ‘if she’s no good, she’ll be back to ye within a month’.

“So when he didn’t send her back that was a good sign.”

As the season dawned, giddiness had to be reined in, with John keeping the boys on the same page.

“Owen was getting her ready. But it was a very dry autumn, as you know, and the ground was too hard. We had her entered in New Ross and we had to withdraw her because we were afraid she might get injured.

“And then we were going to go to Kilsheelan with her. But Owen said try and enter her in Listowel and we got her in.”

Word landed in Kerry before her. “When we went down, she opened up at 6/4 favourite. To win five courses, very short odds.”

The whispers about Bimbo soon gained currency.

“After her first course, she went to 1/3, so that will tell you she did an almighty clock.

“And her clocks improved the whole way through. And even in her final, when bitches would be going well back in their clock, Dicks Bimbo held her clock, which is a great sign. She won them all handily.”

A touch for the lads along with the golden ticket?

“The boys had a few quid on her, but I wouldn’t be a gambler.” With good reason. He chuckles a little at the incongruity of it.

“I gave eight years as a track manager inside in Clonmel track. Eight years trying to get people to gamble and now I’m working in Aiseiri Treatment Centre in Cahir trying to get them to stop.”

His work in Clonmel informs his work at the addiction centre, though he is able to separate the two.

“The gambling is gone completely out of hand. Online in particular. But the money that will be gambled over the three days in Powerstown would frighten you. I’m lucky enough I don’t have a bet. But I would be very conscious of it now. I know well the damage it is doing.”

Lucky the thrill of the sport has always been enough. “Mother of God Almighty, it’s absolutely brilliant.”

Lucky, too, that work will keep nerves at bay this weekend. “Paddy is the call steward in Powerstown. I’ll be looking after the officials’ clocks.”

Liam will be down from Bray. John’s partner Linda up from Cork, carrying the sign she’s had printed: “I’m not the bimbo and he’s not the dick….”

Maybe he’s not fully sure about the name.

“We sent four names into the Irish Coursing Club. The four names were gone. She’s out of a bitch called Barrack Bimbo.”

Barrack’s day is done. Now Bimbo stands six slips from inauguration.

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