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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Trip of a lifetime to Ireland for four steeplechasing youngsters

UNIONVILLE, Pa--Skylar McKenna of Unionville and Virginia Korrell of West Chester are two of four girls chosen to travel to Ireland to learn about steeplechase racing in that country.

Skylar McKenna and Kathy NeilsonSkylar McKenna and her mother Kathy Neilson"It was such a cool experience," said McKenna. "The amateurs in Ireland ride like professionals. It was so cool to ride with them and to watch them and learn from them."

"I loved it," said Korrell. "It's interesting how different steeplechasing training is in Ireland. We got to work with a lot of jump jockeys."

"I couldn't believe all the places we went and the people we met," said McKenna.

McKenna, Korrell, Chloe Hannum of Marshall, Va., and Elizabeth Scully of Owings, Md., accompanied by Regina Welsh, left for Ireland July 23.

"It was a nice flight over," said McKenna. "We landed on Wednesday, July 24 and went straight to Ballydoyle Racing. We toured the whole facility. It is so clean and prefessional. We go to see all the horses, but we weren't allowed to touch them. Ballydoyle has 15 turf tracks and 10 dirt or sand tracks."


"BALLYDOYLE is amazing," said Korrell. "There are separated barns for the 2 year olds and the 3 yeat olds to keep germs out. Every horse has his own set of tack."

Virginia Korrell West Chester Pa. Tod MatksVirginia Korrell at Willowdale Races (Photo by Tod Marks)"On Thursday, we went to Pat and Mary Doyle's farm," said McKenna. "That's Jack Doyle's parents. They train horses before they go to sales. They think a 4-year-old is young.

"That evening we went to Limerick Races," said McKenna. "There were hurdle races."

In Ireland, there are still hurdle and steeplechase races, as it used to be in this country before the National Fences were introduced to make holding a steeplechase meet less expensive.

Hurdles are smaller than the big, and permanent, natural hedge steeplechase fences, and the racing over hurdles is faster.

"Every horse was braided at Limerick," said McKenna. "We had a tour of the jocks room.

"On Friday we went to Jessica Harrington's, and we got on two sets of horses. That was way cool. All the horses jog for 10 to 15 minutes in a ring, and then the riders get their assignments and they go to the gallops. When they're finished, all the horses get turned out together in a big field.

"Next we went to the Irish National Stud and we toured Race, which i the academy for young riders. We each go a lesson on the exerciser.

"On Saturday we went to Willy Mullins. Saturday was a work day, and we got on two sets there. We had tea with Willy."

"At Mullins, we got to work with a lot of the jump jockeys who were there because it was a work day," said Korrell. "Robby Walsh, Rachel Blackmore and Paul Townend were there. Rochel Blackmoetold us a lotof race riding tips."

Then we toured Coolmore Stud," said McKenna. "We saw all the studs and went into the trophy room where they have the trophies of all the famous races they've won That was super cool. There's a statue of Sadler Wells that has his actual coat and hooves. I couldn't believe that I was in the same room with the actual coat and hooves of Sadler Well.s

"On Sunday we went to Shane Flavin's. He has a fe horses he trains, and he sell event horses. He free lunged a few hoses for us. After  lunch, we went to Pony Racing at Cahersiveen. The riders are in their 20s, and they're al very professional.

On Monday we went to Edna Bolger's. He has a huge field and there are huge fences in a row in is gallops, fences and ditches and hedges. We wenton a 12 mile hack on his race horses, and when we go back we jumped all the ditches and hedges in his gallops. that night we went to the opening day of the Galway Races. Davey Russell gave us a tourof the weigh-in room and we went into the Steards' room. Galway had a $120,000 amateur flat race.

On our final day, Tuesday, we went to Gordon Elliot's, and we saw Jury Duty who won the G1 Grand National," said McKenna. "He has over 200 horses. Then we rode Charles Noell's foxhunters, and we went on a long hack on his big Irish hunters."

"Oneof the interesting differences in Ireland is how big the sets are," said Korrell. "Gordon Elliott had 50 go out in one set."


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