TOP Limerick-based trainer Enda Bolger brought schooling horses to a new level this week when he took superstars On The Fringe and Gilgamboa to Athlacca NS.
After triumphing in the Foxhunter chases at Cheltenham and Aintree – the first horse since 1993 to complete the prestigious double–- it must have felt like the winner’s enclosure again on Monday for On The Fringe.
Nina Carberry, who rode the horse to both victories, was also in attendance. In pride of place was the enormous Cheltenham Foxhunters cup. Enda actually won the same prize as a jockey 19 years ago on Elegant Lord, which he also trained.
Breda Lehane, principal of Athlacca National School, said they were delighted to have the opportunity to meet this trio and to “acknowledge and celebrate their great victories and achievements”. The school was decorated in the colours of JP McManus’s famous colours, as he owns both horses.
Enda addressed the packed hall, saying: “The only thing I wish is that in 20 years time that cup will be back here again with another Nina or Enda and it will be one of ye out there, so keep your heads down, work hard and it will happen.”
Not only did Enda bring the horses and cup, he also arranged for an ice-cream van and the children to get off homework!
Nina thanked everybody for their support.
“It is absolutely unbelievable to see all the colours on the doors and windows. It is very humbling, thank you very much,” said Nina.
Enda and Nina then faced a grilling from the children that would put Racing Post reporters out of a job.
“Do you have horses that are very hard to train?” asked one.
“The odd one but, obviously, On The Fringe was pretty easy. The easier they are the better they are later on in life. If you treat them nicely they will come around – just like kids!” smiled Enda.Nina revealed her only worry was making a mistake as On The Fringe is such a good jumper.
“Which race did you enjoy winning more?” was another question.
“Aintree because the fences are much bigger and there are 30 runners in the race so Nina had to stay out of trouble. The fences are much bigger than they were in Cheltenham so Aintree is the toughest one,” said Enda.
“What’s it like to be a trainer?” was another probing query.
“Stressful! Broke! But it is great when it all happens and to be able to bring this back home makes it all worthwhile,” said Enda.
On The Fringe’s next engagement is in Punchestown where he will go for the treble. He was well backed on both previous occasions and sources say the pints were flowing in Pa’s in Athlacca once he jumped the last – and long after!
“Being a local horse I think everybody got around him. Once the locals get the same craic out of him that I do, that is all that counts,” said Enda.
Gilgamboa may have been overshadowed on the day but he is a superstar in his own right and will go down in the history books too.
“He was Tony McCoy’s last Irish winner [The Gold Cup at Fairyhouse]. That was a double thrill. I didn’t realise until two days after the race it was his last winner in Ireland and it was his first winner for me,” said Enda.
And very nice for Mr McManus as well? “Without a doubt. AP made a difference on the day, he rode down to the last fearlessly. The jump he got at the last made a difference,” said Enda.
The trainer and jockey both sent their best wishes to Robbie McNamara.
“Everyone is thinking about him,” said Nina. “We couldn’t believe the news when we heard it. We are keeping our fingers crossed for him.”
Enda, who knows Robbie well, spoke to him last Thursday.
“He is in good spirits. Every day with his injury is a big day so we are all keeping our fingers crossed that the improvement keeps coming,” said Enda.
As well as pupils and staff many locals came along for the rare occasion, which Ms Lehane said epitomised Sporting Limerick.
“The term really fits our parish of Dromin-Athlacca as in this locality there has always been a keen interest in horses, greyhounds and GAA. In particular, the Dromin-Athlacca countryside has long been famous for its horses, horsemen and racing.
“From the end of the 19th century to present day, point to points races are held at various locations in the parish. Rathcannon, the townland in which the school is situated, boasts of three families who were prominent in the bloodstock world namely the O’Regans, Powers and Hogans,” said Ms Lehane. It must be in the blood as pupils Kate Mary O’Leary, who presented a bouquet of flowers to Nina, and Evan McAuliffe are both keen young horseriders.