A grim Sunday almost gets worse as ‘Eggo’ looks to have run his last race

Vinnie and the gang nervously make their way to the Curragh for an equine vigil

It had been a grim Sunday, only a part of which was to do with the mauling suffered by the Dublin hurlers in Thurles, a result which cost Vinny a score, as he felt evens on a plus four-point advantage was worth a punt. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

It had been a grim Sunday, only a part of which was to do with the mauling suffered by the Dublin hurlers in Thurles, a result which cost Vinny a score, as he felt evens on a plus four-point advantage was worth a punt. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Wed, Jul 30, 2014, 06:00

The Angelus had just started to chime when there was a shout from the far end of the bar in Foley’s to switch channels and see how far Bernhard Langer was ahead in the British Seniors Open.

“Almost as far as Tipp against the Dubs,” sighed Vinny Fitzpatrick as he sat with his pals in their usual corner, where the mood was melancholic despite the finest of porter.

It had been a grim Sunday, only a part of which was to do with the mauling suffered by the Dublin hurlers in Thurles, a result which cost Vinny a score, as he felt evens on a plus four-point advantage was worth a punt.

The chief reason for the gloom followed a phone call that morning by trainer Mincer Mulrennan concerning the well-being of Eggo Bleu, the four-year-old of immense promise bought by the lads for a snip.

A fractured pedal bone sustained on the gallops in Mincer’s yard near Naul had left Eggo Bleu fighting for his life at the equine hospital in the Curragh and the Hole In The Trousers Syndicate clinging to their Cheltenham dream.

Mincer had warned the lads to expect the worst. “Even if he comes through, it will be a miracle if he races again. If I may, I suggest you consider the alternatives,” said the trainer.

The word “alternatives” as passed on by Charlie St John Vernon had caused cold shivers to shoot down their spines, for each member of the crew held the headstrong Eggo Bleu in fond esteem.

A winner of his two racecourse appearances, both bumpers, Eggo Bleu was being aimed at the Supreme Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham next March and the lads had already had a few quid on at 66/1. Now, all bets were off.

“Are we talking about a bullet here?” asked Brennie quietly. With that, there was a collective shake of heads and an involuntary shudder by the middle-aged crew .

Wobbly bits

The hurling had passed by in a blur and when the golf from Royal Porthcawl popped up, not even the sight of Colin Montgomerie’s wobbly bits could lighten the mood.

Of all the lads, Vinny was most upset as he had picked out the name, Eggo Bleu, which reflected his regard for the late Everton winger Tommy Eglinton, who used to run a butcher shop around the corner in Dollymount.

And then, a little before half six, Charlie Vernon’s phone buzzed. “It’s Mincer,” he said solemnly. Immediately, antennae twitched.

“Mincer, what’s the story?” said Charlie as casual as possible. “What? Hang on, I’ll pop outside, the reception is terrible here.”

For the next couple of minutes, the other syndicate members waited in silence, like expectant fathers used to in Conway’s pub across the way from the Rotunda.

The news, as relayed by Charlie, was not encouraging. “Mincer says the next couple of hours are crucial. Even though the operation to mend the bone was a success, Eggo Bleu is weak and may not last the night.”

As the lads digested the update, Vinny piped up. “Right, that’s it settled then. We’re heading to the Curragh for a vigil. If ‘Eggo’ is running his last race, we owe it to him to be there. Someone call Barney.”

Soon, Barney’s Bus, a rickety, rattling, 24-seater which had seen better days, was belching along the M50 with seven fretful passengers and Barney Malone, an ex-priest, whistling at the wheel.

As they rolled up to the Curragh, it struck Vinny this was the week when the focus of the Irish racing world was on the grinders of Galway, chasing huge prizes on a quirky track way out west, rather than the blue-bloods pounding the pure Kildare turf for grade one glory.

The hospital had been alerted to their arrival and as the lads disembarked, stretching ageing limbs, they were met by a bespectacled doctor, in his early 30s, whose name tag identified him as Dr Julius Hayden.

“This is most irregular,” said Dr Hayden. “I am against your visit but it seems Mr St John Vernon has, er, influence in high places and I must co-operate fully. This way gentlemen and please, be quiet.”

The medic led the way past reception, down a corridor and into a room marked “Recovery Ward”. Inside, the lads were greeted by an extraordinary sight.

Suspended, as if encased in a giant four-legged hammock, was their unconscious equine hero. He had tubes stuck up his nose, and his near foreleg was sheathed in plaster.

The room was quiet, save for the rasping breath of the four-year-old charger the lads had all come to love. “Good grief, Moncrieff,” whispered Brennie. “The poor wretch.”

Said a prayer

The seven men, Vinny, Fran, Macker, Kojak, Brennie, Charlie Vernon and Two-Mile Boris took their places directly in front of Eggo Bleu. As a mark of respect, Charlie even removed his deerstalker. Together, they bowed their heads and said a prayer which was devoted to Saint Francis, the patron saint of animals. Vinny then spoke aloud, on behalf of ‘Eggo’.

“We don’t care if he never runs again; just let him feel the sun on his back and enjoy the grass in his belly,” said a a solemn Vinny.

Watching from a corner, Dr Hayden was struck by the piety of the seven middle-aged men. He was brought back to his childhood and the scene in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs where the little men folk gather by their stricken heroine, overcome with grief. The medic was startled to see one of the visitors, a fat chap with a few strands of hair plastered across a large head, step forward and approach the patient.

Standing on his tippy-toes, the man whispered a few words softly before blowing loudly from his own nose into the nostrils of Eggo Bleu, who stirred involuntarily. At that, Dr Hayden cracked the whip. “Please, away from the patient. In fact, I must ask you gentlemen to leave the room. You can wait outside for news.”

Suddenly, there was a gentle neigh and everyone in the ward turned to Eggo Bleu. His eyes were open, his head lifted and his hefty frame began to squirm as if seeking an escape from his entrapment. Even Dr Hayden was stirred. “Well, I never,” he said aloud in wonder. Around him, the seven members of the Hole In The Trousers Syndicate hugged one another, their eyes shining. Against the odds, Eggo Bleu had just won his greatest race.

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