On Sunday, November 13, the Longford and Westmeath Harriers hosted their third Point to Point at Corbeagh House in Ballinalee.
This year the weather was much kinder and horses from as far away as Antrim, Fermanagh, Tipperary, Wexford and Waterford travelled to the venue for a great day of racing.
The McGreal family, who own the venue, worked with a small and dedicated team of volunteers to get the track ready in advance of the event. The Turf Club inspected the course on Thursday and deemed the going as good. However, heavy rain on Friday left the ground soft.
Final checks were made in the early hours of Sunday morning to make sure all was ready and in place for the final inspection. Happily the Turf Club inspection on Sunday morning was positive and it was ‘all systems go’ for the first race at 12:30pm.
A phone call at 10:30am caused some panic as the catering company phoned to say their van had broken down. Frantic phone calls failed to source a replacement.
Quick thinking and the arrival of the extended McGreal family, who travelled from Galway and Meath, saved the day. A warm fire and refreshments were provided for the owners, trainers, jockeys, stewards and spectators in the Den in the farmyard of Corbeagh House.
Spectator numbers were well up on previous years. It was clear from a quick scan of the crowd that this has become a family event with young and old enjoying the day’s racing.
Cheering, as horses approached the final fence, could be heard in Ballinalee as race goers encouraged their horses to cross the line in first place.
This year Paddy Berry and Liam Dillon, both members of the Longford Harriers, provided an added spectacle for the occasion. They, with their trusted hunting horses, acted as mounted stewards for the day. Their job was to catch any loose horses on the track. Thankfully they weren’t too busy.
Phones and social media were kept busy to ensure those who could not attend were kept up to date on what was happening. Video clips and photos were posted on social media on a regular basis throughout the day.
The Corbeagh House venue is fast becoming the testing ground for potential track contenders. A close inspection of the statistic highlights that winners in Corbeagh go on to win on the track. Since 2014, eleven have won on the track and the twelfth, which hasn't yet raced on the track, has won at several other Point to Points. This meant this year's runners had a lot to live up to!
Race goers were treated to a superb day's National Hunt racing. Each race is run over a distance of three miles, which is three circuits of the course and horses must jump sixteen fences. Spectators can get a real feel for the sport as they can stand near the fences and feel the ground vibrate as the horses gallop by.
Just Don’t Ask was very impressive in the opening race, sponsored by Connolly Red Mills. He ran out an easy winner in a slowly run race and will be one to watch in the future.
Themagicofmelleray, ridden by Noel McParlan, was gifted the second race when Smooth Spoon, trained by local Westmeath trainer Robert Brabazon, fell at the last fence. Robert had trained the winner of this race, sponsored by Currygrane Fishing Lodge, last year.
In the third race, sponsored by Irish Netting Systems & Reilly Structural Steel Ltd. The B won to the great delight of Mary Blundell, a long-time owner and supporter of Point to Points and helped Noel McParlan land his second winner of the day.
Shauna Larkin, the only lady rider to have a winner so far this season, won the Quinns Supply Stores Ltd sponsored fourth race on Rosc Catha. This impressive winner had a 20 length advantage over Lucy Kate trained by Ciaran Murphy.
The Rawles Bar & Lounge sponsored fifth race saw Maple Mons taking the honours. Ridden by Declan Lavery, Mapel Mons knocked her handler in the parade ring before galloping away to the start. However she still had lots left to give and had a 6 length advantage over her nearest rival. This is definitely another to watch in the future.
The final race, sponsored by Haley McCoppin, saw only one finisher. Thornfield set a very strong pace which proved too much for the other competitors.
With bookmakers in attendance and a live commentary on each race, a great atmosphere prevailed on the day. Great credit must go to the McGreal family for providing such a superb and unique venue. The local community again rose to the occasion with sponsors from Longford, Ballinalee and Edgeworthstown. The committee would like to acknowledge all the businesses that provided sponsorship and these were recognised in the published race card.
Niall Rawle invited all who attended back to Rawle’s Pub for complimentary refreshments. Those who travelled distances really appreciated his hospitality and enjoyed the hot soup and sandwiches provided. A great evening of food, drink and craic was had by all.
The comments from owners, trainers and jockeys were very positive. The Turf Club complimented the committee on a well organised event. The committee would like to thank all those who worked tirelessly in preparing the venue, coordinating all the activities on the day and everyone who supported us on the day.