Tuesday, 31 March 2015

125 years of racing in Roscommon

Big celebrations on Monday at Roscommon racecourse

To celebrate Roscommon Racecourse’s commencement of 125 years of racing at Lenabane, a unique festival atmosphere is expected next Monday where the first race gets underway at 5.20 pm.

  Roscommon Racecourse will be staging its first race meeting of its 125th year, a milestone that is a major achievement for the track.

  Roscommon Race Committee is offering a number of special prizes on the evening. The most appropriately dressed couple at the meeting will receive a prize of two All-Ireland Football tickets for the showcase in Croke Park on September 19th plus B & B and an evening meal in the Skylon Hotel, Dublin on September 18th.  

  Second prize is two All-Ireland Hurling tickets for the decider in Croke Park on September 5th plus B&B in the Skylon Hotel, Dublin on September 4th.

  Special guest on the evening will be Ruth Scott of 2FM, who is a well-known radio DJ and a native of the county.

  There is a concession for IFA members on presentation of their IFA membership card at the turnstiles. 

  Adrian Leddy, IFA Regional Development Officer, said it’s a wonderful opportunity for members of the farming community to support the racecourse. 

  The race card competition prizes after the third race will be – 1st: Magee Blazer (value €250) sponsored by Edward Donnellan & Co. Roscommon; 2nd: €125 betting voucher for the meeting; 3rd: €100 voucher sponsored by John Ward Menswear, Roscommon; 4th: A meal for two plus a bottle of wine at Gleeson’s Townhouse and Restaurant; 5th: A  number of €25 betting vouchers.

  There is a jackpot guarantee of €5,000 on the day and once again there will be free pony rides for children. 

  Owen Dervin and Sons are sponsoring a very competitive hurdle race while the Abbey Hotel, Roscommon are sponsoring the Best Turned-Out Horse in each of the seven races. The race programme is made up of four flat races, including the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Fillies Handicap over one mile, two furlongs and three hurdle races. 

  Music in the main bar after the second last race by Henry & the Usual Suspects and there is a free taxi service from the taxi rank in Roscommon from 4.15 pm to 5.15 pm. on the evening, returning to town 45 minutes after the last race. The last race is scheduled for 8.20 pm. Evening meetings in Roscommon are coming to an end for the year so be sure not to miss this special occasion at a very special track.  

  There is a special voucher, introduced by Roscommon Race Committee this year, for €25, which includes admission, race card and a two-course meal. Standard prices remain the same with adults €13 and OAPs and students €8. Discount for groups available. 

  All enquiries roscommonracecourse@eircome.net or 087-2203288. www.facebook.com/roscommonracecourse.Why not follow the Roscommon Races on Facebook where free tickets can be won for each meeting. 

  Any company wishing to sponsor a prize for the racecard competition can contact the manager at the above number. 

* Reminder: Regarding old pictures at Roscommon racecourse….anybody who has any please contact Michael Finneran at 087-2203288 and he will arrange to take copy of same.

Proud history of Roscommon Races

Racing in Roscommon has deeper roots than any other sporting organisation. While the racecourse is looking forward to its 125th year of racing at Lenabane, you have to go all the way back to 1837 to find the first race meeting. 

  That was back in the days when the British Army were stationed in Lisnamult. Divisions of the British Army were encouraged to get involved in local events and such was the case with evidence of racing in Roscommon 173 years ago.

  But it’s not until August 5th, 1886 that the first official meeting took place in Lenabane. Thus at next Monday’s meeting, Roscommon Racecourse will be commencing its 125th year of racing at the track.

  Major Michael Joseph Balfe was on that first committee. He lived in Southpark House and had 70 full-time and 70 part-time staff. He was Master of the ‘Roscommon Staghounds’ and ‘Mid-Roscommon Harriers’. Roscommon had a deep hunt history which continues to this day.  

  The Irish Times reported on the Roscommon’s first race meeting, which was printed in The Roscommon Journal. Barbrook was the winner of the first race, despite an objection. This was the ‘Substitute Plate’ (as the ‘County Plate’ didn’t get enough entries). Regret won the Lenabane Plate Handicap Steeplechase (prizemoney 60 sovs) while Eglantine took the Town Plate with Little Queen winning the Members Plate Handicap Flat Race.    

  “It is with much pleasure that we announce that the revival of the Lenabane race meeting, on Thursday last, was a complete success. The weather was fine – the attendance large and fashionable – the racing good – and the conduct of the people all that could be desired. 

  “Some of the turfites complained of the high hotel prices charged to them and we understand the committee will take steps to prevent a recurrence of such complaints by providing suitable accommodation for visitors at moderate rates.” This was taken from the Roscommon Journal while the Roscommon Weekly Messenger also carried a short report. 

  Though the Roscommon Races held an annual fixture, the turn of the century and changing of economic times led to its decline. Racing was hanging by a thread before ceasing during war times. 

  It wasn’t until a few years after World War II ended that Paddy Sweeney led the ‘revival movement’. “There was a big effort to revive it,” recalls Phonsie Nolan, a member of the committee for almost 60 years. 

  Back in those days the facilities consisted of tents and a wooden stand. There were no horseboxes and transport was limited. It meant horses had to be brought the night before meetings on trains and kept in stables on the course until their race. 

  Phonsie Nolan’s first job at the course was at the entrance. He recalls the prices being one shilling, 7/6 pence for the stand. There was a lower price for women – to try and attract crowds. 

  “My memories back then were always about how we were doing everything to get the crowds. We were always trying to increase the attendance,” noted Phonsie. 

  Throughout the racecourse’s most significant revival after the war times, there were a number of key figures who made telling contributions, and who would do for many years to come. Jim White, Paddy Joe Smith, Jim Connaughton, James O’Connor, Cyril Hession, Noel Molloy and George McCourt all were prominent figures. 

  As the decades passed, racing at Roscommon edged ever higher in securing its place as a truly recognised sporting fixture in the county and beyond. But with little money around, there were some difficult times. 

  But the business community always supported the track and almost 40 years ago the late John O’Gara snr. gave the course £1,000 in sponsorship. He became the first official sponsor, followed by Ollie Hannon, who also gave £1,000. 

  Dances were once held at the Hyde Park Centre and by the time Pat Fallon took over, the first paid secretary/manager, the track had set about increasing the number of meetings it held annually. People like Gilbert Barrington, Paddy Guerin and Leo Dolan had joined the committee.

  By the mid ‘70s, Roscommon was staging six race meetings a year and it was one of the first five chosen tracks to stage a Sunday meeting. In 1976, Frank Lannon took over as manager, a position he held until 1998.

  “The crowds were good back then for the summer but we had fixtures in the months of April and May which weren’t as good,” Frank remembers.

  He recalled too how few facilities there were. There was a haybarn of a shed which was replaced. A new stand was erected along with a bar and toilets. The racecourse also purchased 17 acres of land behind the stables to use for a car park. 

  “There was no grant money in those times. We depended on what we got from the turnstiles,” Frank notes.

  Thankfully, in the area of sponsorship, the traders of the town sponsored a full meeting and even though recessionary times hit in the ‘80s, the course always strove to maintain its position. 

  There were a couple of setbacks, though, such as the strike for two years of the ‘whitecoat workers’. This resulted in many racecourses amalgamating for the purpose of running meetings, where committee members from the likes of Roscommon would help out with running a meeting in Ballinrobe and Galway and vica versa. 

  On the track over the years, a high number of quality horses ran at Roscommon that went on to win big prizes. Imperial Call, winner of the Gold Cup at Cheltenham in 1996, who finished third at Roscommon, is one of the stand-out names. Before Imperial Call, a horse trained by John Oxx called Russian Snow was a class act. It won a number of grade A races and finished second in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. In 1998 Enzeli won at Roscommon and a year later it would go on to become Ireland’s first winner of the Ascot Gold Cup since 1969. Indeed the Kilbegnet Novice Chase, a grade 3 race run at the end of September, is a feature race that has produced a lot of top quality horses over the years. Ollie Hannon was part-owner of the famous horse Montelado, who is the only horse ever to win two consecutive races in Cheltenham (Champion Bumper ’92, Novices’ Hurdle (’93). The horse was bred and co-owned by the late Donie O’Rourke. The bar at the course is named after the horse.

  Micheal Finneran took over the reins as secretary/manager in 1998. Since then, the course has continued to blossom. One of the most satisfying aspects the current manager experiences is the amount of compliments the course receives. 

  “The whole committee work very hard to ensure we have the course turned out as well as possible and it’s wonderful when owners and trainers make contact to thank us for having the track in perfect condition,” Micheal commented. 

  The progression of Roscommon Racecourse as the most highly regarded country track is backed up by the awarding in 2004 of the Stable Staff Award for the Most Improved Racecourse in Ireland. 

  “For my first few years we were blessed with the weather. The other side of the coin is what we experienced in the last few years. Sometimes you know at 6 am in the morning you’re doomed; the lads are working so hard on the track to try and ensure the racing goes ahead. I’ve seen good days and bad days.

  “The pressure of losing a day’s racing here is immense. I appreciate a day’s racing at Roscommon much more than ever now,” said Micheal.

  The current manager has overseen a lot of work at the track, as Roscommon continues to improve it facilities. 

  There was been a lot of draining work carried out, the enclosure was re-tarmacadamed, seats were fitted in the parade ring along with the erection of new stables, wash bays for horses, concreting of the stable yard and a canteen, shower and toilet facilities for the grooms.

  The bars and toilets were renovated also. “Of course, nothing would be possible without the backing of the people and we have been blessed in Roscommon over the years with the support of the community, both the business people in the area of sponsorship and the public at large who always turn out to support the track. We have a hard-working committee and we’re happy to keep the flag flying for Roscommon as we commence our 125th year at the track,” the current manager added. 

Discount for IFA members on Monday!

Mr. Adrian Leddy, IFA Regional Development Officer, (right) said this week he was delighted with the response from IFA members and their families to Roscommon Races next Monday evening.  IFA are glad to be associated with Roscommon Races on this special evening to mark 125 years of racing.

Mr. Leddy said IFA members in the county fully appreciate all the voluntary work Roscommon Race Committee have put in over the years in developing the racetrack and facilities to the current high standard.  IFA acknowledges the very close relationship Roscommon Races have with the farming and rural community and its part in contributing to the local economy.

In the current challenging economic environment support for this industry is important in order for it to continue serving as a showcase for Ireland. Along with other rural sports, horse racing and breeding is a major part of the local rural and agri-economies and is a valuable source of rural tourism with 80,000 visitors annually at race meetings, horse sales and stud operations. 

Adrian encouraged all IFA members to avail of the discount on the tickets, as it will be a great social occasion.

Great entertainment after the races on Monday night

Next Monday (16th) is a very special day for all Roscommon racing enthusiasts, as it’s the start of an amazing milestone – 125 years of racing in Roscommon town! 

  As such there’s going to be an even bigger buzz than ever both at and after the races, and not surprisingly a number of local pubs and nightclubs are putting on special entertainment. 

  Providing race night music in Regan’s on Monday night are ‘Acting Da Maggot’. This band are already very well-known in the town, and it’s guaranteed to be a great night.

  Meanwhile Regan’s Bar provides live music every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and with ‘Chase the Ace’ taking place every Friday night with a jackpot of €400, it’s never a night to be missed! 

  The race dance series in the Abbey Hotel continues on Monday with entertainer Patrick Feeney and his spectacular band. 

The Race Dance in the Abbey Hotel is now the biggest dancing festival in the West of Ireland. It continues to attract the biggest dance fans from all over Ireland! The fun continues on Monday with popular entertainer Patrick Feeney and his spectacular band providing all the hits! Doors open at 11 pm. Dancing each night from 12 to 2 am.

  Recently-opened P. Kelly’s, which caters for all parties and specialises in BBQs, is always bustling, with a great atmosphere. Located on Castle Street, if you’re looking for a place to go for craic after the races, then you’ve found it here!

  The Coachman’s Inn will be having live music after Monday night’s meeting. ‘Dave and the Blue Tax’ will be performing with dancing from 10.30 to 12.30.