WORKING TOGETHER John Flannelly, Manager of Ballinrobe Racecourse (left) and Pádraic McHale, Managing Director of McHale, are pictured at the racecourse last summer.
Next Sunday’s McHale race day at Ballinrobe takes place behind closed doors
WHEN the horses bolted for the start of the July 20 meeting at Ballinrobe Racecourse, it marked the first time in the course’s 99-year history that racing had taken place behind closed doors at the picturesque South Mayo venue. Indeed, horse racing without spectators would’ve been once considered unthinkable up until recently.
However, as with other areas of life, horse racing has had to adapt to the new Covid-19 public health regulations which govern almost every aspect of our lives.
Gone are the cheering and chattering punters, and instead all that remain are the horses, jockeys, trainers and other essential staff. Nevertheless, a near-century of tradition continues at Mayo’s only racecourse, widely regarded as one of the finest in the country.
Next Sunday a tradition that hasn’t been around for quite as long will see one of Ireland’s most successful companies, McHale Engineering, extend their sponsorship of one of Ballinrobe Races’ flagship meetings.
Eoin Clarke, head of marketing at McHale Engineering, explained the background to the successful partnership between the two organisations which began back in 2014.
“We had been sponsoring races for the racecourse, but then they approached us with the idea of a ‘McHale Race Day’ and I suppose it fitted in well with the brand,” he told The Mayo News.
“We’ve a big global presence as 90 per cent of our machines are exported. It fitted well that we were going with the racecourse as a neighbour while they were getting coverage in the UK and everywhere, so it tied in well together.
“We sponsor the entire day,” he added. “HRI look after the prize money and we contribute to that. We rowed in behind the racecourse. They’re very good to us and we’re very good to them. We’ve a great relationship.”
While McHales will receive substantial TV coverage around next Sunday’s meeting, Clarke says that their main objective is to support the local racecourse, which is situated next door to their Ballinrobe factory.
“First and foremost, it was to support the racecourse and help them out, and to give back to the local community.
“We don’t get much out of it, or sell any machines, but we’re supporting the local community. If there’s any bit of TV coverage, it’s going out to an audience that mightn’t know us. They might buy the haylage, but they don’t know what’s making it.”
BALLINROBE Racecourse manager, John Flannelly, has made no secret of his admiration and appreciation of the support that the facility receives from local businesses, right across the county.
This year especially, with no revenue being generated from attendances, that sponsorship and support is more valuable than ever.
“It has been a very strange year. Our first meeting was Monday, July 20 when we should have started in April – this threw our season into disarray,” he said recently.
“This is the seventh season that McHale has been our main sponsor. McHale are the ideal race sponsors for Ballinrobe. They are our neighbours, literally a slingshot away from us, a highly successful company, trading worldwide, producing high quality machinery for the agri-industry. They also have horses in training and have a key interest in racing – an ideal partner you might say.
“McHale race day is our ‘hang your hat on’ race day at Ballinrobe of which we are very proud. “2020 is the first time we have a graded race, which is the McHale Mayo National worth €40,000. We also have the McHale Mayo Hurdle worth €30,000.
“One race that has proven very successful for us, is the McHale Tiger Roll Beginners Chase, renamed after Tiger Roll won it in 2016. Our season highlight next Sunday will unfortunately see no crowds gather at Ballinrobe, but we are still looking forward to great racing.”
The racecourse, which attracts large local support during normal times, has also been frequented by many local McHale employees over the years.
But all of this season’s meetings have taken place in front of an empty grandstand, and next Sunday will be no different.
“You’d see locals at it; familiar faces from around the town, guys from the factory would all take a trip down,” recalled Eoin Clarke.
“In the factory we’d always give the staff a ticket if they wanted to go racing.
“There’s none of that this year but we’ll decorate the place as best we can to let the broader community tuned in on TV know that we’ve put in an effort and [that we’ve] done our bit to make the most of the day and make it as natural is it can be.”
Looking to the future, John Flannelly said he hopes that racing will continue in Ballinrobe regardless of the crowd restrictions in the months ahead.
“Looking forward to the reminder of the season, I don’t honestly see crowds returning to racing. No one knows what will happen in 2021 but you would hope to see race goers back in our enclosure once again enjoying our wonderful sport.
“Racing has survived wars and plagues over the centuries, and we’ll come through this pandemic as well.”