Savouring the 'Sport of Kings'

Claire McGovern

Reporter:

Claire McGovern

Savouring the 'Sport of Kings'

At the National Stud

It's not too often that we get the chance to follow in the footsteps of kings, walk in the shadow of princes and travel in the path of queens but an invite from An Bord Failte gave this reporter and her family exactly that opportunity.
When your trip is entitled the Sport of Kings you know you're going to be in for a good one. Our destination was Newbridge and if you haven't already guessed this trip was to focus on horse racing and all that entails. A trip to The Curragh, the National Stud and the Japanese Gardens were on the agenda and let me tell you we couldn't have envisaged just how enjoyable these two days were going to be.
From hearing about a €65m euro development, to the stories of a man who choose his horses on the basis of star signs and the alignment of planets to meeting some of the greats of the racing world, this was packed schedule.
Our first port of call on hitting the vibrant town of Newbridge was to check into the very fine Kaedeen Hotel.
Established in 1970 and still operated by the O'Loughlin family, The Kaedeen Hotel is an AA 4 star Grade A Failte Ireland approved hotel with an unsurpassed reputation for delivering traditional hospitality and professional service. We were in elite company as over the years they have counted among their guests movie stars; famous musicians; international sports stars and managers; Presidents of Ireland and Taoisigh; Tánaistí and many more dignitaries and we received a most wholesome welcome from the staff.
The rooms offer deluxe accommodation and we settled in quiet happily before taking a wander around the beautiful gardens and of course, popping down to the pool with our two children for a much anticipated swim. Any parent will tell you that if there is one essential when booking a hotel for a family is the inclusion of the use of a pool. This is indeed a bonus when faced with rainy days or fighting siblings, no matter what the age.
Our next port of call was to The Curragh Racecourse. Acre upon acre of verdant grass greets you on entering the concourse with workers busy ahead of that weekend's meet. This course has played host to some of the biggest names in horse racing but the passage of time has taken its toll and some of the buildings are looking the worse for wear. However plans are afoot (excuse the pun) for a €65m development which will transform the racecourse into a world class facility replacing the structures which have been there from the 1960s. This is regarded as the most important venture in the modern history of Irish racing and when completed will act as a benchmark for other courses around the world.
The work is due to take place on a phased basis so it won't interfere with race days and the enjoyment of a day at the races.
Check out http://www.curragh.ie for details of the next meetings and all this beautiful course has to offer.
It must be said that the highlight of our trip was our visit to the National Stud. One can truly immerse oneself in the world of horse breeding and all that entails. We were treated to the most fascinating tour by the equally fascinating Tourism Development Officer David Wardell who certainly knows how to spin a tale or two.
What we now call the National Stud is a state owned farm that was originally The English National Stud. The property was run by William Hall Walker (later Lord Wavertree) who owned the farm from 1900 -1915 before handing it over to the English government.
This was a truly astonishing man who was no stranger to a wealthy lifestyle, he inherited most of his fortune from brewing. Having returned from India as a Colonel in the army he set about breeding racehorses with a very eccentric method of astrology which proved surprisingly successful.
One of his horses, Ruminant, was leased to the King of England (Edward) who won the Derby 1909. It might seem strange to run your business on the basis of the stars and the planets but the many books which are on display at the Stud give testimony to that and the successful outcome on such a unique entrepreneurship.
The one thing that had eluded Walker was a title but he was eventually knighted he settled near Liverpool in Cheshire. It wasn't until the mid 1940s that the Irish government took over the farm which remained The English National Stud within The Free State. It was a brave move to eventually re stock the farm after the English moved all the stock to England. In today's money it would be around €2 million. The Farm today is still government owned and run as a semi state body with eight resident Stallions and  around thirty brood mares.
Around 120,000 visitors visit the farm however the majority of it's profits come from being a fully commercial farm. 267 foals were born this year for clients throughout the season.
The breeding season is from January until June. This is very important as every thoroughbred in the northern hemisphere has one birthday, January 1st (August 1st in southern hemisphere). If a foal happened to be born before this he would be one year old on January 1st and therefore a year younger than all of its racing age. Gestation is 11 months so they open the breeding shed on Valentine's Day, February 14th (very appropriate) expecting their first foals the following  January. They foal right up until the end of May and sometimes there are one or two in June.
David was highly entertaining in his actual descriptions of how the farm is run, within in the presence of relatively young minds of 11 and 12. Suffice to say, covering, the ban on AI, teasers and the stock exchange all made for a brief but insightful picture of how money is made from the running of the Stud.
We were also fortunate enough to see a number of geldings who were retired National Hunt super stars, the most famous probably being Hurricane Fly who was born at the Stud in 2004. He was well bred to run on the flat and achieved a few wins on the continent. However he didn’t win enough to become a stallion so he was sold back into Ireland and after being gelded (castrated) he won 22 grade 1 hurdles and nearly €2.5m.
Also in the field were Hardy Eustace (another champion hurdle winner) Kicking King, Moscow Flyer, Beef or Salmon and Rite of Passage (who ran on the flat as a gelding).
Of the eight resident stallions the most talked about is Invincible Spirit who has worked he way from charging €10,000 for every mare to €120,000! He has produced multiple black type winners and 12 stallions of his own. His yearling average €250,000 at the sales.
The Stud is also home to the Japanese Gardens. Now when you think of gardens which are open to visitors you automatically idea of a large space simply filled with flowers and trees and well, normally a bit boring. However the Japanese Gardens offer walks along stepping stones though dark tunnels, up craggy rocks, alongside waterfalls, a stop off in a tea house and a trip across a unique bridge.
Also devised by Colonel Walker, the gardens were laid out by Japanese master horticulturist Tass Eid and his son Minor. Their aim was, through trees, plants, flowers, lawns, rocks and water, to symbolise the 'Life of Man'.
That plan was executed to perfection and Aida's legacy is now admired by the 150,000 visitors who soak up the peace of the gardens every year.
For more details see: www.irishnationalstud.ie; http://irishnationalstud.ie/Visitors/Japanese_Gardens
Now no mini break would be complete without a veritable array of food. At the Kaedeen we were offered a veritable feast of food, many dishes having an oriental flavour. It was definitely a case where our eyes were too big for our bellies.
If you do happen to visit Newbridge or are just passing through can I recommend that you stop off at the All Seasons restaurant. Tucked away down a side alley the food enjoyed in this friendly establishment is some of the finest I have had the experience of savouring. Once again the table was under stress with the myriad of dishes offered up and sadly a great deal were returned but this was simply due to being incapable of eating any more.
Established on Limerick Lane, just off Edward Street in Newbridge in January 2013 it is owned by local Ronnie Delmer. Having spent 16 years working in the kitchens of some of the top hotels and restaurants in London, Ronnie returned to Ireland, eventually to start his own business. And judging by the crowd present on the night is certainly enjoying a well deserved success. You can find their details on Facebook,
And so at the end of two days where our knowledge of all things horses received quiet an education, where the thoughts of ever being hungry again were a far off idea, we left the town of Newbridge.
The journey is just under 100 miles from the town of Carrick-on-Shannon but proves that sometimes we really don't know what we have on our own doorstep. This area offers not just something very visually different to our hills and valleys, being flat and agriculturally rich it also entices us to venture into something different.
We might have horses in these parts but let me tell you you will never see anything like those we encountered on our trip to Kildare.