Point-to-point riders Ed Bailey and Zac Baker have spoken enthusiastically about the reception given to them and two colleagues during a 937-mile sponsored cycle ride to each of Ireland’s 26 racecourses.
Bailey and Baker were joined by fellow amateurs Ed Henderson and Hugh Nugent to create a team of four who completed the task during 11 long days on two wheels. Their aim to raise funds for the Injured Jockeys' Fund and mental health charity Mind has far exceeded their aspirations, with more than £11,000 having been gained in bucket collections and on-line giving, in addition to a further €2,000 raised in donations on their journey.
The quartet visited from two to four racecourses each day on their trip, enduring an unexpected heatwave. Bailey said: "It was amazing to spend so much time in Ireland and not see a drop of rain, but that also meant it was pretty tough going at times. The hardest day involved 170km from Down Royal to Sligo in 30 degrees – there was a lot of sense-of-humour failure."
Sore bottoms and tired legs apart their injuries were few, although Baker said: "We were 10km from Gowran Park and going around a bend when I reached down for my water bottle, hit a pothole and was thrown off. I suffered a bit of gravel rash to my arm and went steady away for a while after that."
Their bikes performed well, and could not be blamed for a double puncture to Henderson's machine – Bailey said, "We were pledged to help the weakest link, so couldn't leave Ed behind," – while an App failure resulted in one unplanned detour down a country lane which petered out and resulted in the foursome negotiating two ploughed fields, a ditch, hedge, and farmyard before getting back onto tarmac.
Yet it was the hospitality they received en route which left such an indelible mark. Baker said: "We were so spoilt – they treated us like kings, and there was a reception waiting for us at all but two of the courses.
"One reason for doing the ride was to keep fit and lose some weight over the summer – we're fitter now, but we haven't lost any weight. One morning we had breakfast at a hotel that put us up, then rode to the Curragh and were given breakfast there, then onto Navan, Leopardstown and Punchestown, and were fed at all those courses, too.
"On another occasion we arrived at Listowel, where we were greeted by [committee member] Dave Fitzmaurice, who then rushed us off to the local pub for a meal and to watch England play Columbia in the World Cup. At half time he dashed off to another pub for the second half, and seemed more excited about the England goals than we were. It was great fun."
(From left) cyclists Ed Henderson, Zac Baker, Hugh Nugent and Ed Bailey with back-up driver Martin McIntyre
With fellow riders Stan Sheppard, Charlie Todd and Martin McIntyre taking turns to run the support vehicle – aided by Bailey's dad, Pat – the cyclists coped well with the heat and the mileage, helped by Nurofen and Guinness, but not necessarily in the same glass. Sir Tony McCoy and Davy Russell helped with contacts and/or accommodation, and they were given welcome receptions at the yards of Shark Hanlon and Enda Bolger. In Tipperary they visited the Jump stallions at Castlehyde Stud and met the legendary Flat sire Galileo at Coolmore Stud, while at Tattersalls Ireland's Derby Sale the consignors and buyers chipped in generously to their bucket collection.
Baker said: "Visiting those places really added to the experience, but cycling was a great way to see Ireland. The views along the West Coast were amazing. Killarney became my favourite track because of the incredible scenery and mountain backdrop."
Their journey finished at another seaside venue, Tramore, in County Waterford, where they were presented with a memento of their mission, and Bailey said: "We all had a huge sense of achievement, pain, relief and desperation for a beer - it felt great to have completed the journey."
The team's money-raising efforts are ongoing, and anyone who would like to donate can do so via the Virgin Money Giving website. Simply search for any of the quartet's names and the slogan 'Cycling to all 26 Irish racecourses'.
It might encourage them to tackle Britain's 60 racecourses next year . . .