As well as a trip to the Curragh I had the massive treat of visiting Coolmore and Ballydoyle. How do you describe heaven? I’m sure the stallions at Coolmore perform better because they are inspired by such ravishing gardens. The cherry trees were out in pink, white and crimson but not a petal had fallen on the perfect grass.

I was knocked sideways to meet a real leading sire for four years running, the great Galileo, whose foals won over seven million pounds in prize money last year. He was so friendly, a real gent where his mares are concerned, loved having his teeth rubbed and idly picked blades of hay out of his wood shavings.

When I examined the bridle hanging outside his box, however, hearing the chink, he instantly thrust his nose through a gap in his door: as if to say, “I’m free.”
While we talked to him, other glorious stallions bustled past to the covering barn – really smooth operators, were back in two minutes, with the appropriately named Rip Van Winkle even quicker in 40 seconds, so pas de foreplay. Each stallion has his own paddock and box with his nameplate on.

Afterwards we went onto Ballydoyle where all the horses in training live and where I was delirious with happiness to meet Camelot, winner of the Derby and 2000 Guineas and my favourite horse, St Nicholas Abbey who after a brilliant start, followed by a dip, fought back, became a globe trotter and has won more prize money than any other horse. He had a big white star on his forehead which flows down his nose as though he is spreading light on all the world.

Since then, he fractured his pastern on the gallops, developed colic and nearly died, but is now prayed for by the world, making a miraculous recovery.

We were then driven by Polly Murphy around endless differing tracks and gallops with many different surfaces and could appreciate how meticulously Aidan O’Brien prepares his marvellous horses for every eventuality.

After a heavenly lunch we were given a tour of the famous museum, dominated by Sadlers Wells, Galileo’s mighty sire who had been gloriously stuffed, as he gloriously stuffed so many others. He looked wonderfully realistic.

The whole museum glowed with jockeys’ silks, gold and silver trophies and incredible blown-up photographs of yard and stud’s most illustrious horses. Its magic is summed up by our Queen, who last year fell so totally in love with the place, she asked if she could possibly stay another half hour, to be immediately told:

“Of course, your Majesty can stay for ever.”

Sadly Security put in the boot saying Her Majesty must move on and stick to her schedule, people would be waiting for her along the route.

As a happy outcome, displayed in the museum is a two page handwritten letter from the Queen, saying how hugely she had enjoyed herself.

As a complete contrast the following night my friends, Peter Murphy and his wife, Jacques Malone, (who seems to know everyone in racing and who helped me so much with my book Jump!) had organised a marvellous dinner party to which they invited Irish trainer of the year, Willie Mullins, one of the funniest men in the world and his beautiful wife Jackie. We had such a wonderful evening. I certainly drank too much and sadly couldn’t recall much of the dazzling repartee afterwards.

Jacques Malone

No matter – in the morning I was totally captivated by Willie’s yard, which is completely different from Ballydoyle but just as wonderful: swarming with dogs, crowing bantams and horses in all kinds of boxes but all so happy and relaxed. I was enchanted to hold the great mare Quevega who won five races at the Cheltenham Festival and to meet Simenon, who looked quite capable of writing French novels, and who chivalrously came second in the Ascot Gold Cup in June allowing the Queen’s horse Estimate to win.

Willie Mullins

In Willie’s office hung a ragwort yellow jacket. Willie agreed with Jacques it was not quite his colour, but, as it was the jacket awarded to the winning trainer, he’d very much like the cheque in the pocket ….

Among Willie’s dogs was an adorable Alsatian puppy that joined us on the gallops and then promptly ran into the legs of the horses thundering past.

“For God’s sake Willie,” I protested, “somebody’s going to get hurt.”

“It’s OK,” replied the sublimely pragmatic Willie, “Let them get used to each other,” adding that the champion jockey Ruby Walsh “was in a race the other day when a dog ran out of an estate, panicking all the other horses except ours who our man took straight up the inner and won”.

Back at Willie and Jackie’s lovely house we watched a thrilling film of the Japanese Grand National which is worth £450,000, more than any other jump race except our own Grand National.

With incredible courage, Willie had flown a horse called Black Stair Mountain over to Japan five weeks before the big race where the poor animal proceeded to screw up in a prep race because the track was so appalling.

When Willie, Jackie and Ruby Walsh, who was going to ride him, rolled up in Japan on the eve of the big race, sweet Black Stair Mountain had been so lonely and missed them so much, he rushed over, pressed his face against theirs and wouldn’t leave them alone. Next day he further demonstrated this love by giving Ruby a wonderful ride and winning the race. Fortune does indeed favour the brave.

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