Sharpeangle Makes Arty Irish Debut
AS A RESULT of my first ever racing trip to Ireland I found myself a few days later waiting in Terminal three at Heathrow Airport to meet the man who had painted three racecourse scenes, featuring bookmakers, tic-tac men, punters and mysterious fur-clad femmes-fatale from the 1930s or forties which had so caught my attention that I was desperate to own them.
Despite having been racing on five different continents, I’d never done so in Ireland – but was being pressurised by friends to do so.
I weakened and agreed to accompany them to see the Irish 1000 and 2000 Guineas. The flight over was uneventful, apart from having to wait patiently as an entire orchestra also boarded the flight, clutching their instruments in bizarrely shaped containers – and I’ll never work out how they managed to get a Grand Piano into the overhead locker, and as for the place that young lady managed to stash her Piccolo – well…
Having arrived at Dublin airport we were transported to a hotel called The Horse And Jockey, which appeared to be located in a village in which every shop and amenity also boasted that name.
The walls of The Horse And Jockey, its restaurant, and bar were all covered in fascinating racing memorabilia . The place also boasts a gallery cum gift shop, in which I spotted a brilliant framed print featuring the characters I mentioned at the top of this column.
Hidden away in a small gallery annexe I found what seemed to be a companion piece, albeit larger but featuring much the same mixture of atmospheric characters.
The pictures were too large to take back on the plane – even if I had pretended they were instruments!
I was distracted by the appeal of sitting out in the unexpected sunshine of the afternoon quaffing a glass of something white and dry, which I was enjoying when I was approached by a barman, who handed me a fiver he told me I’d dropped in the bar.
Later we had a huge, hugely enjoyable meal before a good night’s sleep dreaming of what might have been depicted in the paintings.
Next morning we set off for a trip to Coolmore Stud, where everything was immaculate. We saw serial Ascot Gold Cup winner Yeats; we saw Galileo, recently described as ‘the centre of the universe as far as today’s European breeding industry is concerned’ by Andrew Caulfield of the thoroughbred Daily News, and we also saw Canford Cliffs, and Pour Moi, the Derby winner on which baby-faced jockey, Mickael Barzalona announced his arrival on the international racing scene as he stood up waving a victory salute even before he had passed the Epsom winning post.
We saw many other stallions, and we also met Red Bishop, unrelated to my accompanying pal, Mike Bishop, who did express great interest in his equine namesake’s employment – he’s the stud’s teaser!
We were then shown around the massive grounds, where mares were grazing contentedly with their foals. Truly an idyllic location, from the statue of Danehill (there’s another of the recently deceased Sadler’s Wells, not far away), which greets you at the entrance, to the most welcome (and complimentary) tea and cakes which are dished out as they welcome you into the impressive trophy room, outside of which we looked sadly at the final resting place of George Washington, whose harrowing end we had witnessed some years before at a sodden Monmouth Park racecourse in New Jersey where the Breeders up was being staged. It was unexpectedly emotional.
Then we were surprised to be told we were going to get an unscheduled chance to snoop around Aidan O’Brien’s Ballydoyle stables. We didn’t actually have permission, and if we were spotted we should claim invisibility or ignorance!
Aidan didn’t spot us – probably otherwise engaged polishing up his sunglasses or re-charging his many mobiles. We did, though get to spot the replica Tattersalls Corner they have there on the gallops to prepare any Epsom bound inmate for the unique rigours of that track.
Next morning we were at breakfast at our next hotel, preparing for the day at the Curragh when I heard a voice behind me say hello as I was pouring out some orange juice. I turned round and nearly spilled the juice in surprise – there was my former boss, John Brown, who was managing director at William Hill and the man who permitted me to pull off one of bookmaking’s biggest coups by ‘disallowing’ the infamous Maradona ‘hand of God’ goal against England in the World Cup back in 1986. It was the first real bookmaker concession as we not only paid out on the official score of the game, but also refunded punters who had backed the draw.
John was a little under the weather for some while recently but now he and his lovely wife, Chris are both in good form – apart from giving me a duff tip for that afternoon’s racing!
The Curragh was a surprise to me – inasmuch as the crowd was not much bigger than the one at Kenilworth Road when Luton play at home – around six and a half or seven thousand – and the course’s buildings are not much less rickety than the football ground, either. But they both have a great deal of undeniable atmosphere , intimacy and sense of history.
One winner over the two days’ racing was not much to get excited about, but I was interviewed by At The Races; had a brief chat with a fag-puffing Richard Hughes, one of my wife’s favourite jockeys, who happily signed our racecard; had my mobile handed back to me when I left it on a bench and enjoyed some excellent people-watching and a decent racecourse meal.
However, returning to Blighty there was something nagging away at the back of my mind. Those pictures. I wanted them. I looked up David Dent online and discovered via his website that he had done three works in the same style.
I contacted him and agreed to buy all three. But there was a snag. He is based in Wales and it would cost a small fortune to post the framed pictures. Would I like to meet him at a point to point in Glamorgan to collect them? Mm, not really.
Well, he was coming to London briefly to see his girlfriend who, it transpired, is the femme fatale in the pictures, and who was off on a scientific trip to Greenland where she would be prodding the ground, examining stones and other such geological stuff.
That was more like it. Which was how my wife and I came to be in Heathrow’s Terminal 3 waiting for two people we had never met. Being a little brighter than me, Sheila spotted a man and woman lugging a couple of hefty packages and looking around as though waiting for someone.
David was satisfyingly bohemian and artistic; his muse,the lovely Eliza appropriately alluring. The deal was done, the pictures are mine.
If you fancy seeing what they look like, just go to www.dentfineart.com and find the ‘Racing Noir’ section. But be careful – I bet you’ll fancy buying a set, too……