We’re told every year that people come from the world over to attend the national coursing meeting in Clonmel, that they pile into Powerstown Park from all corners of the globe.
Don’t believe it? Well, Viara Gatcher from the Finland Greyhound Association is here to tell you.
“Last year a group came from Finland but they missed the final day when the course froze so they didn’t risk it this year.
"But there are a few here from Sweden, a few from Germany.”
Coursing isn’t allowed in Finland but racing is quite popular, with four tracks across the country, while Sweden has about a dozen venues.
Viara herself, over for a few days to take photos for the Finns’ greyhound publications, has some track dogs in training but would plump for coursing if given the chance.
“Love it,” she says. “If I lived in Ireland I would only have coursing dogs. I’ve been coming here for about five years and I’ll keep on coming. I come to watch the dogs.”
Last year a travelling party of 19 made the journey from Finland but were unlucky to miss out on the postponed finals day.
“It was a big group and they were super-excited, they wanted to see the final, but the track was frozen.
"They were here for the second day so at least they saw something. But they were so gutted.”
Travelling to Clonmel for quite a bit more than five years is Sir Mark Prescott, the Newmarket-based flat trainer who first ventured to Powerstown Park “with Jack Chadwick in 1968… or 1967,” he recalled yesterday.
This year Sir Mark is more than an interested spectator, with his Parlour Game safely into the second round of the Boylesports Derby and Melting Pot through to the second round of the Horse & Jockey Oaks; both greyhounds trained by the great Michael O’Donovan in Tipperary.
“Just about,” he said of Melting Pot with a smile yesterday as the opening round of the Oaks came to a close.
“She’s alive but in a really hot quarter.”
This morning she’ll be up against the pre-meeting favourite Graceandglamour who ran 12.46 yesterday, with the winner likely to face Skellig Jewel who ran a hot 12.24.
“It’s good to be in it,” he said.
“I was over for the trial stake in Abbeydorney but not at Abbeyfeale. It’s hard to get away.
"With Clonmel and Limerick you can put it in your diary and you know you’ll be there, but the other ones, if you’ve got horses running, it’s difficult.”
Parlour Game takes on Mr Orange, owned by the Cork-based Redondo Syndicate and trained by Brendan Matthews.
Sir Mark confessed that he preferred the national meeting “during the week,” just as he preferred when the Epsom Derby was staged on a Wednesday, “but if it’s good for the game, it’s good for the game”.
One trend he approves of is the proliferation of syndicates, “hopefully one or two of them will get to the finals”.
Whether Melting Pot progresses today or not, Sir Mark will be back next year, all going well. “I don’t think I’ve missed one in all that time.”
By the way, not only is Mark Prescott a racehorse trainer and greyhound owner, he also breeds the odd dog.
Three of the four pups he had a hand in breeding ended up at Clonmel this week, he told the Irish Examiner, with the other owned by Jimmy Barry Murphy unlucky to lose out in the trial stakes.
One in which he was involved, with Shane O’Gorman listed as the actual breeder, was Clodagh River, named after the river flowing through west Waterford and through, among other areas, Portlaw.
She is owned by the Déise-Banner Syndicate from Portlaw, namely Fine Gael TDs Paudie Coffey and Joe Carey , Coffey hailing from Portlaw and Carey from Clare.
Clodagh River duly prevailed in the Oaks first round, clocking 12.67 against Cooneen Kylie, owned by the O’Donnell Syndicate from Cappamore, and will face Skellig Jewel, one of the most impressive of the day, later this morning.
Unsung heroes of the coursing are the hares, and this year those in the know say they are of the highest quality.
“I’ve never seen hares as good,” said one experienced and shrewd observer as the Derby was progressing through its first round yesterday. “The dogs aren’t getting anywhere near them.”
Another wise man said he heard of an inquiry made during the week about the hares, when “they’re good,” was enough to satisfy the questioner.
“They’re [the dogs] hardly getting any turn on the hares at all,” was another comment and about as high a compliment as you can get in these circles.
One hare even had the audacity to sit up in the middle of the hill once the cover had come over to indicate he wouldn’t be coursed, before making his way to the escape in a leisurely fashion.
Meanwhile, commentators were also complimentary about the condition of the Powerstown Park sward, particularly after the recent wet, to put it mildly, weather.
Irish Coursing Club president Brian Divilly, who had more than a passing interest in the opening round of the Boylesports Derby.
Crafty Toro, owned by the Divilly family syndicate from Claregalway and trained by Brian himself put up a nifty 12.25 to beat Ashwood Casanova in his buckle.
They missed out when Crafty Tonino was outmuscled by Bower Wonder, trained by Michael Dunphy, while their third dog in the draw Crafty Gonzalo put in 12.21 in the closing duel of the first round. Could be an interesting presentation ceremony tomorrow evening…
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