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Washington Lad


(An extract from Cloonfad Parish Magazine 2011)
In October 2003 two men, Bernie Slattery, Cloondalgen and Mark Quinn, Garrafrauns, decided to buy a racehorse. It was in the boom times and everyone had money, and, if you hadn't, the banks were prepared to give it to you. Work was plentiful and wages were good.
Washington Lad winning at LeopardstownWashington Lad winning at LeopardstownBernie and Mark knew plenty about the pedigree of horses. So Bernie, his son Gary and Michael Duignan went to Martin Cullane, a dealer in horses, and bought a four year old racehorse for €18,000. It wasn't pot luck; they knew his bloodline, but it was a big undertaking so they decided to form a syndicate locally. The syndicate consisted of Michael and John Duignan, Bernie, Gary and Paddy Slattery, Willie and Declan Costello, Sean Healy, Mark Quinn, Mattie and Aidan Keenan, Gerry Kelly, John Knightly and John Vahey (R.I.P.). They got Pat Fahy in Carlow to train the horse. Sadly John Vahey passed away and the syndicate was reduced to thirteen members.
The syndicate members got together to pick a name for the horse. A lot of names were mentioned until someone said, "Washington Lad". Local lore has it that Mullarkeys, who owned a lot of land around Garrafrauns, had a falling out with the priest in Dunmore. The Mullarkeys were nationalists and the priest was considered to be pro-British. In a fit of defiance Mullarkey named his pub the "White House", in honour ofour American cousins who had won their independence from the British. As a result Garrafrauns came to be known locally as "Washington". So Washington Lad it was.
In his first race on the 21st April,2004in Gowran Park he was beaten in a photo finish. A good start. He was placed in the next few races and went on to win in Fairyhouse in January 2005. The prize money was almost €10,000. He won again the following Sunday, another almost €23,000 and, best of all, he beat the nine-to-one on favourite, Mighty Maze.A winner at FairyhouseA winner at Fairyhouse

He ran in Cheltenham in March 2005 and picked up a virus and in October 2005 he hurt his tendon and was out for a while. He was placed in a few races and won in Fairyhouse in February 2007, adding another €12,000 to the kitty.On Easter Sunday that year he came sixth in the Powers Gold Cup.
His tendons got hurt again in September 2007and he did not go back into training until September 2008. He ran again in Limerick in March 2009 and on Easter Monday 2009 he ran in the Grand National. He didn't do any good but it was greatexperience according to Bernie. He came fifth in Punchestown and later on won in Killarney, getting €16,000prize money.
So, at this stage, he had won five races and was placed in eight. Then, in July 2009, he was placed in Cork and in August made his debut in the Galway Plate, winning €25,000 for coming third. He fractured his jaw in Listowel and was out of action until 2010. Sadly on the 9th July 20l0 he fell and was badly injured. The vets wanted to put him down but Bernie and Chris decided to bring him home to Cloondalgan.
I was passing on the bicycle when Bernie was letting him off into "Farrell Nestor's Land", as we called it one time. He cantered around the field as his two new friends Molly and Meg, the Washington Lad in RetirementWashington Lad in Retirementdonkeys, watched in wonder. He had won a total of €150,000  prize money but as Berniesaid, "We didn't get rich but we had great times; he brought us to places we would never have gone to, only for him."
As we sat around the table at Chris and Bernie's home you could see the pride they had in the horse. As they say, you only go through this life once so you may as well enjoy it and owning Washington Lad was a great adventure. The only sad thing was the passing of John Vahey and Noel Flanagan (R.I.P.)
Chris has a record of all the races he ran and cuttings from the newspapers in a big album.On the back page is written "Thank you Washington Lad".
I want to thank Bernie and Chris for telling me the story of Washington Lad and letting it be published in the Cloonfad Magazine for our many readers to enjoy.                                                                 by        Eddie Bermingham