If controversy is needed to create interest, then the Dundalk International couldn’t have had a better start, 50 years ago. No, it wasn’t the race itself that was controversial, rather the treatment that had been meted out to one of the runners a few weeks earlier. This year’s renewal of the annual feature goes ahead at the local stadium next Thursday night.
Not Flashing had been the essence of consistency in the English Derby preliminaries, running a succession of good races for Co. Tyrone owner, Frank Cavlan. He made it to the semi-finals, and here maintained his good White City form, finishing third to qualify for the final.
However, much to the surprise of many, the Stewards held an inquiry into the running of the race. Surprise turned to dismay when it was announced Not Flashing had been suspended for fighting and wouldn’t be running in the final. His place in the line-up would go the dog that had finished fourth, Camira Flash.
The they're-out-to-get-us brigade among the Irish, not to mention the conspiracy theorists, had a field day - Camira Flash was owned by none other than the Duke of Edinburgh.
It got worse - or better, if you happened to be the Duke and his trainer, Randolph Singleton. Camira Flash won the final, at odds of 100/8.
If Not Flashing needed to be rehabilitated - hundreds, if not thousands, of London racegoers believed he didn't - Dundalk's Ramparts track on the August 15, 1968, was the place where he could do it. With PJ Carroll’s providing the financial backing, the race - given the title, The Major Extra Size International - had the Tyrone runner as its star attraction.
Among his rivals was the recent winner of the Dundealgan Trophy, Irish Glamour, and a dog trained by your writer at a kennel at the back of 21, McDermott's Terrace. Mex, coming in as second reserve, was owned in partnership by former Louth goalkeeper, Niall O'Neill, and Paddy Carroll, who would have been largely responsible for having PJ Carroll’s row in behind the International. Breeder was Brian Renaghan, from Haggardstown.
Mex, a 33/1 shot, was no match for Not Flashing, and for that matter neither were any of the others. Cavlan's dog skated up, gaining some compensation for his unwarranted dismissal from the Derby final. He ran as ‘clean as a whistle’, turning his head for the only time when legendary photographer, Kevin McArdle, wanted him to look towards the camera.
The International, marketed for years afterwards as the world's richest single championship, was up and running, and except for the four-year period at the beginning of this century, when there was no racing in town, has been the highlight on the local track’s schedule.
It’s been contested by the fastest dogs in this country and the next in its half-century, some of them scoring, others filling only minor places. There has also been mishaps; twice the hare came to an unscheduled halt, leading to a re-run.
English and Irish Derby winners figure on the roll of honour. Mutt's Silver, a winner at White City, and Hit The Lid, Farloe Melody and Jaytee Jet, who collected their Derby titles at Wimbledon, completed the cross-Channel double. They would almost certainly have been joined by the great Westmead Hawk - twice a winner at Wimbledon - had the Nick Savva-trained dog not been withdrawn, due to dehydration, just before the off in the 2005 International.
More Irish Derby winners have tasted defeat than won at Dundalk. Just two dogs, the Ger McKenna-trained Bashful Man and Cooladine Super, have completed the double, while among those that didn't are College Causeway, Ballymac Matt, Razldazl George, Good News and Lively Band.
The latter, however, would have to be considered a most unlucky loser in the 1974 race, run at The Ramparts.
Two lengths ahead rounding the first bend, the Jack Murphy-trained Shelbourne Park champion was, like the rest of the field, brought to a stop when the hare ground to a sudden halt. His owner, Cyril Scotland, gamely agreed to let the dog take his chance in the re-run; but the fawn had nothing left to offer.
County Monaghan has housed two winners. Forty-eight years ago, Jemmy John won for the noted Jones kennel, just outside Carrickmacross, and there was great local rejoicing when Quail Hollow took the 2012 renewal for the Clonmel-born, Castleblay- ney-based Kieran Lonergan.
Quail Hollow was trained by Mullingar’s Francie Murray, who was also responsible for the only County Louth-owned winner, Hunday Dook. This 1978 scorer ran for Brian McElholm, at the time a Kilkerley-based publican.