Above - The Mulcahy family from Ballyclerihan with their three runners for this weekend’s National Coursing Meeting - Please Babe (Horse and Jockey Hotel Oaks), Babes Cottage (Champion Bitch Stake) and Please Marry Me (Horse and Jockey Hotel Oaks). Included are Mary, Harry, John, Emer and Lucy Mulcahy.
The 93rd National Coursing Meeting, which takes place in Clonmel from this Saturday-Monday, February 10th-12th, will occupy its latest-ever date in the calendar.
However DJ Histon, Chief Executive and Secretary of the Irish Coursing Club believes that, if anything, the later date will only enhance the meeting at Powerstown Park.
"This weekend might suit people better", he says.
"It's another week from Christmas when people are starting to come out of 'hibernation'! The evenings will be brighter and the weather tends to improve when you move further away from January".
Mr. Histon explained that the original intention was to stage the meeting last weekend. But once Horse Racing Ireland announced the inaugural Dublin Horse Racing Festival for Leopardstown on the same weekend it was decided to switch the coursing.
"There are people who would have gone to both events, and there would also have been a clash for the bookmakers", he says.
Above - One of the big fancies for the BoyleSports Coursing Derby is Part Exchange, jointly owned by Mary O’Connor, Kilsheelan and Una Creed, Clonmel. Mary accepted the cup from Tom Hayes when Part Exchange won his Derby Trial Stake at the Knockgraffon meeting in November. Also included are breeder Jim Moore from Carrick-on-Suir (on left), trainer Owen McKenna (front), Pat Creed and Donal O’Connor.
Despite the change of dates, ticket sales are up on last year, and bookings for accommodation are once again reported to be very strong in the Clonmel area. Dublin Bus is also laying on two buses in Kerry and Galway to bring coursing fans to and from Clonmel on the same day.
"The lead-up has been good, the weather forecast is also favourable so it's fingers crossed after that", says Mr. Histon.
There will be strong local interest in several runners, not least Part Exchange, one of the favourites for the Boylesports Derby.
The dog is owned by Mary O'Connor from Kilsheelan, whose husband Donal O'Connor is chairman of Clonmel Greyhound Track; and Una Creed, who is originally from Clonmel and is due to return to the town with her husband Pat Creed, who's originally from Burncourt, near Cahir.
Pat Creed is a member of the Irish Greyhound Board, and in his role with Bank of Ireland Finance has been responsible for securing sponsorship for the Produce Stakes at Clonmel Greyhound Track for the past number of years.
Mary and Una also own Alonso Blonde, a contender in the Horse and Jockey Hotel Oaks. Part Exchange and Alonso Blonde are trained by Owen McKenna in New Inn and were bred by Jim Moore in Carrick-on-Suir.
Above - Katriona Bourke, Knockavilla, Dundrum, with her BoyleSports Derby runner Fraggle Rock and his two young supporters, Aifric and Iarlaith.
The other joint favourite for the Derby is Outoftheshadow, which is trained by Kevin Barry in Ballydoyle, near Rosegreen, for owner Ailish Dilger in Ballyclough, Co. Limerick.
John Mulcahy from Clerihan and Jimmy Sweeney from Listowel are joint owners of litter sisters Please Babe and Please Marry Me, both of which will take their chances in the Oaks, and both of which are trained by John Mulcahy.
Other local qualifiers for the Oaks are The Other Tessa, which will represent Killenaule mother and daughter Frances and Jennifer O'Donnell, the daughter and widow of the late Matt O'Donnell; and Tree Top Abbie, which is owned by Bill Lonergan in Cahir and trained by Kevin Barry.
One of the most popular qualifiers for the Derby is Crohane Hilltop, which is owned by longtime coursing enthusiast Tom Simpson, who is looking forward to having his first-ever runner at the National Meeting. There was great excitement when the dog, which is trained by Declan Byrne in Carrick-on-Suir, qualified at Tom's local meeting in Crohane.
Husband and wife Katriona Bourke and Frank Mockler, both of whom are vets in Knockavilla, Dundrum, will be represented by their dog Fraggle Rock.
The big local hope in the Kevin Smith Champion Stakes is Ballygerald Buzz, which reached the semi-finals of the Derby last year. This dog is trained by Owen McKenna and is owned by Noelle O'Brien in Clashaniska, Cashel Road, Clonmel and Pamela Holt in New Inn.
Above - He has been trying a long time and all of Crohane and Killenaule will be behind Tom Simpson (pictured here with his wife Kathleen and Crohane Hilltop) when he has his first Derby runner at Powerstown Park this weekend.
Clonmel brothers Paddy, John and Liam Tobin and John's son Patsy had last year's favourite for Oaks, Dick's Bimbo, which returns this year for a crack at the Champion Bitch Stake. Dicks Bimbo, which is trained by Owen McKenna, has already won three cups this season and would be a popular winner.
She will be up against another local bitch, Tree Top Kerry, which has also been successful in three stakes this season, and which is owned by Bill Lonergan in Cahir and trained by Kevin Barry in Ballydoyle.
After a busy three days of coursing, horse racing will take centre stage at Powerstown Park on Thursday, February 15th, at the Surehaul Race Day, with the first race going to post at 1.20.
Last year's feature race was won by Monalee, which was in the winner's enclosure again in Leopardstown on Sunday when winning the Flogas Novice Chase for owner Barry Maloney, and is now on course for the RSA Chase at next month's Cheltenham Festival.