Ballinrobe Racecourse - Michael Joyce's association with Ballinrobe Racecourse dates back to his childhood

Photo:Two of the Greats!  The late Tommy Joyce is pictured with Lester Piggott during the jockey's famous visit to the Ballinrobe Races in 1991

Two of the Greats! The late Tommy Joyce is pictured with Lester Piggott during the jockey's famous visit to the Ballinrobe Races in 1991

Healy's Racing

With the kind permission of 'The Mayo News'.

By Daniel Carey

THERE’S a picture hanging in the Ballinrobe Racecourse photo gallery.  It shows the late Tommy Joyce, who worked at the course for 35 years, alongside Lester Piggott on the jockey’s 1991 visit to the Mayo track. “My dad was the track manager at the time, and he happened to be in the right spot at the right time when there was a cameraman around,” Michael Joyce, now a member of the Racecourse committee, told TheMayo News.

It was a once-off. The picture is up in our own house too, it has pride of place.”

The Joyce family has had a long association with the Racecourse. Tommy was there from a young age, and only finished up in the mid-1990s. Michael followed in his footsteps, “painting and filling the track after races” as a child.  Living across the road, they had “a bird’s-eye view of the place” and when they saw trucks arriving the evening before a meeting carrying horses, “you’d hop on the bike and you’d shoot up and book them into a shed”, Michael Joyce recalls. “You knew where every trainer had a horse,and you’d be looking out fortips. We were getting theinside info!”

When the races were over, Joyce would help fill the holes in the track – using a donkey and cart. “It was all manual,” he recalled. “You’d put up a sieve and you’d throw the clay against it. The stones would come away and you’d keep the fine clay.” Nowadays, a “great team” – track foreman Tony Walsh, John ‘Deora’ Donnelly and Noel O’Malley – look after that end of things with “a big tractor and electric sieve”. Portable fences have changed what’s possible too – “They’ve improved things no end up there on the track,” he explained.

A keen golfer, Michael Joyce also has fond memories of Ballinrobe Golf Club’s old home at the Racecourse before their move to Cloonacastle in 1994. “There were four holes on the oval and the other five were on the perimeter,” he recalled. “Even on the day of the races, there were 40 shades of green, because you had the greens, and the rough, and the fairways. It was a lovely contrast in colour.”

Race meetings in Ballinrobe were less frequent than now, though Corpus Christi meant Mass and a procession in the morning and horses in the afternoon.  The possibility of closure was raised at one point, and Joyce says the late Jimmy Tierney was “a major mainstay” in keeping Ballinrobe open, along with Barney Daly. Since then, it has gone “from strength to strength”.

Lester Piggott’s victory in 1991 was a highlight. Rite of Passage won at Ballinrobe in September 2009 before victories in Punchestown, Leopardstown and Royal Ascot. Dermot Weld “used to always send” Ansar to Ballinrobe for schooling before Galway, where he won a Plate and a Hurdle.

Michael Joyce would like to see “a higher grade of race” with “a better quality of horses” for Ballinrobe – a Connacht National or Connacht Champion Hurdle, say. “It’s always said that if a horse wins in Ballinrobe, he’ll win anyplace,” the Eircom employee concludes. “It’s a tight, right-handed track and if a horse gets around the corners here, he’ll get around the corner anyplace.   It’s a great indicator if a horse wins in Ballinrobe that they’ll go on to bigger and better things.”

This page was added by Averil Staunton on 11/08/2011.