Uncle Gerry died on Saturday. Another good ‘un gone.
Gerry, Dublin born and bred, loved his racing, as I found out on a family holiday to Ireland a few years ago. My mate Bacchy had been put on to this horse called Down To The Woods. One of the best two-year-olds in Mark Johnston's Middleham yard at the time. We had won on the colt more than once already.
So, come late August, I'm telling Uncle Gerry about this in his local bar in Raheny, a decent enough suburb in north Dublin.
“Oh yes, it's running at Doncaster tomorrow.”
“Is that so, now?”
“It's already won there, so it should go well.”I've had a Guinness or two so the bullshit is beginning to flow quite nicely.
“As long as the ground doesn't come up too soft it's a real contender.”
You would really think I knew what I was talking about. I frighten myself sometimes.
“D'ye hear this, Michael? We have a tip for the races tomorrow.”
The landlord leans over and pours us another smooth one.
“Ah, I like a bet myself on the horses from time to time. What's the name of yer fancy?”
I was purring now. Seamlessly shifting though the gears like a Bentley.
“Down To The Woods, Doncaster. Two-thirty. Can't lose. I know the partnership that owns it”.
A needless flourish. But I think I got away with it. There was a metaphorical wink and tap of the nose. I wince just to think about it.
Gerry was one of the most quietly spoken, gentlest and understated guys I knew. Possessing enormous integrity and naturally garnering respect. We had a good banter in his local that night. There was a lot more to him than met the eye. It was obvious from the tone of the conversation how highly he was regarded by his friends. Passionate lover of Gaelic football, he talked me through the subtleties of the game; former golf club captain, we reminisced about Ryder Cups.
I’d not spent much time with Gerry away from his lovely wife and he was more animated than I'd seen him before. Like he’d been let loose. Aunty Carmel is spectacularly generous and warm-hearted. She does like to talk, though. These facts are not unrelated, I suspect.
Gerry sidled up at breakfast, next morning. In no more than a whisper, he said,
“Now David. Would you be thinking of having a little bet on that there horse you mentioned?”
Ah. I’d forgotten about the big talking holiday punditry, fuelled by good Guiness and better company.
“I’ll check to see if he’s a runner”,...and nipped out to buy a paper. Down To The Woods was declared alright and in no time at all Gerry whisked me down to the local Ladbrokes. As if by telepathy, Michael from the boozer was in there too. I grinned and he exchanged knowing glances with Gerry.
Gerry played it cool. I had no idea how much he and Michael put down. I wouldn’t have dreamt of asking. But I got a tad nervous. My credibility was at stake here. Wish I'd kept my gibbering stout-loosened tongue still.
The family and I were off to a holiday cottage in Wexford for the week, so I knew I wouldn’t see the race. We bade farewell and struggled through heavy traffic heading south out of Dublin. Soon I realised why. We passed Leopardstown. The place was mobbed with punters queuing to watch Giants Causeway edge another epic struggle in his glittering career. Today was Irish Champions Day. I could see the towering Grandstand from the car. My thoughts turned to Doncaster, but I couldn't pick up anything on the radio.
Hours later we saw the other extreme of Irish racing as we snaked past the ramshackle Wexford racecourse perched on a rise overlooking the coast outside the town.
The cottage was a few miles down the road and was fantastic, set next to a ruined castle overlooking a perfect horseshoe harbour. And the telly had teletext! Down To The Woods won at a miserly 2-1. The morning prices were a touch more generous. I was saved! “Pissed it”, Bacchy told me later.
Sometimes the smallest victories are really the biggest.
Gerry said I was welcome back any time and especially if I'd got some red hot tips. There was free Guinness in his bar whenever I chose to collect.
We met a few times since, but I never did quite manage to cash that one in.
Rest in peace, Gerry. Much respect.