25 SEPTEMBER 1976, Page 12



Jeffrey Bernard

There are things and people that can only happen in Ireland. I went over there for the Irish St Leger last week and the place is still the friendly madhouse it's always been. At Waterford, where I first stopped fora couple of nights, I visited a golf club and saw a painted notice at the entrance of the place that would make an English golfer turn pale with horror. The notice said, 'Members are forbidden to train greyhounds on the links'.

It was wonderfully typical of the country. Inquiring about the notice I learned that the procedure was one of gett ing the dog you really wanted to work out to run with two others. What they do is to get someone to Stand on the green and wave a handkerchief at the men holding three dogs on the tee. The men on the tee let one go and then another and when the first one's gone fifty yards they let the important dog go another fifty yards later. Apparently the third dog tries like a lunatic to catch up the other two and the gallop, as it were, brings him on a ton. When I asked the man who took me up to the place whether the other members got annoyed at this sort of activity he told me that, no they didn't, they just leant on their clubs and made rapid bets as to whether the third dog would catch the other two up.

What was so Irish was the fact that the man who introduced me to the place was a local and highly respected doctor who had been temporarily barred from my hotel for three months for breaking a chandelier in the restaurant. You could look for years and sadly without success in England to find a doctor like that. The good doctor also happened to own a load of property and a bar that I reckon was one hundred yards long. He told me that he thought it would be a nice idea to have his own place to drink in, had bought it for 05,000, spent another £35,000 on it and was now going in for breeding cattle. Someone else said that they thought he'd be a millionaire within five years and then they introduced me to the local big deal dentist.

By the time I met him, there'd been three races at Newbury, he was £150 down and he couldn't stand up. He mumbled something about wanting a `getting out' bet and so I told him what I thought might win the next. It lost. He lost another £50 and staggered off into the early afternoon. Just after that bit of disaster someone else came into the bar and told me that the waiter in the hotel had been eavesdropping on our conversation over breakfast and, thinking that three English racing journalists might know what they were talking about, had followed our tips. He went down by no less than £300.

I couldn't believe it at first. I mean, can you imagine an English waiter with enough nerve to bang on £300 on hearsay? For that matter can you imagine a waiter with £300 to spare? Anyway, the two days in Waterford ended in disaster. We drove up to the Curragh on Saturday morning with emOtY pockets and sore heads. Both were soon revived. At the Curragh I got treated like visiting royalty in the way that the Irish always treat nonentities. I was taken to the oak-lined, champagne-filled, private rooms occupied by the men that run the course. Compared to England, it was an unbelievable scene. They wouldn't even let the Stewards of the course in the place it was so posh and yet there I was drinking what they called shampoo with the director of the course, Joe McGrath, and his brother, the director of the Irish Hospital Sweeps, Paddy McGrath, who is reputed to have £150 million in his current account. He turned to me, half way through the afternoon and said, 'I can't understand why they call us the McGrafia.'

Slater, Walker suddenly seemed quite ordinary as Paddy McGrath told me that he couldn't sell or buy shares without the knowledge of it sending firms broke or ridiculously up market. For the two hours preceding the St Leger itself we all scanned the form to try to find something that would beat the odds-on favourite Meneval. I opted for Navarre. Meneval won easily, smoothly and by eight lengths. Piggott won three races altogether during the afternoon and I wasn't on a single one of them.

Lesson. Don't be greedy. Short-priced winners are better than any kind of loser and it's as well to remember that not only do you win a little, but you actually get your wretched stake back. That night in Dublin the doctor came to the rescue with a financial injection. I said that I was a bit sick of racing and just wanted to go out and have a drink in those haunts where I'd drunk with the likes of Behan years before.

'A drink,' he said, 'Well, you'll be needing £20.'

`No,' I said, 'a drink means about £5.' 'You might run into trouble,' he said and pressed the £20 into my hand. 'And when will you be wanting it back ?' I asked, slipping into Irish.

'Next Year at Royal Ascot,' he said.

They really are remarkable hosts are the Irish. The hotels may be ghastly since theY play tunes like `The Sound of Music' on a never-silent tannoy at 6 am, but the people make up for it all with a non-stop lunacY that you can't be bored by. Meanwhile, In England, Rose Bowl should win on Saturday if she's anywhere like back to her best.