While 2022 already looked set to be a much brighter year for Irish horse racing, last Sunday was the definitive proof that the wonder had returned.
As the crowds returned for the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown last weekend, the packed stands brought back that extra energy that had been absent while the action took place behind closed doors.
That little extra spark made jockey Mark McDonagh’s day all the sweeter, as he rode home on Birchdale to win the Bulmers Secret Orchard Leopardstown Handicap Steeplechase.
Birchdale, owned by JP McManus, had just enough to pip Winter Escape, another McManus horse, and earn McDonagh his first win over fences.
McDonagh joined Ger and Johnny on Friday Night Racing this week. He was asked whether the magical atmosphere served to enhance an already memorable triumph.
“Definitely,” McDonagh said. “The stands were full, and it was probably a big help that everybody wanted the horse to run well.”
“It was a good build-up from the minute you walked into Leopardstown that day. The atmosphere was everywhere - people wanted to watch the parade ring as much as the race.”
McDonagh: "You dream of days like last Sunday"
McDonagh also described just how much it meant to guide Birchdale to such an incredible victory in Leopardstown.
“You dream of days like last Sunday. When you’re growing up, they’re the days you think: ‘I’d love to be riding there - you’d love to be winning there.’”
“For that to come along is just great.”
McDonagh explained that he did not let the occasion or the atmosphere get to him before or during the race.
“When I get to the races every day, I go out, give the track a quick jog, then just come in and get changed.”
“I kinda have my own routine, so from walking in, it was just doing the normal routine and just treating it like a normal day at the races.”
“Now, it helped that there was an atmosphere there, and I was probably a little bit more excited to be riding on a day like that day.”
“But keeping the head is important too.”