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End of Downpatrick era

The Scotsman who made a major impact on Irish racing and Northern Ireland in particular ... that’s Iain Duff who retires as manager of Downpatrick after next Sunday’s meeting.

A highly popular figure, especially with the media, Duff (pictured below) joined Downpatrick in 1984 and in the 26 years since then, has seen mind-boggling improvements to a course which was once regarded as one which was very much in the past and down at heel.

Among the improvements he initiated include the new grandstand, weigh room and jockeys’ changing room plus a major upgrading in the medical facilities. He was also responsible for what is regarded as the finest stable block in Ireland.

Downpatrick has its own characteristics as a track and is home of the Ulster Grand National.

For years it lived in the shadow of Northern Ireland’s only other course at Down Royal but Iain, along with others, played a major role in enchancing Downpatrick’s status especially for National Hunt fraternity.

Much of the achievements were accomplished with financial help from the Irish horseracing authority and our own government.

“I will miss Downpatrick after all these years,” said Duff, regarded by many as ‘Mr Dowpatrick.’ Whenever there was a story or a comment to be made about the track, it was Iain who dealt with the questions and media queries.

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“I can’t think of any real highlight as, generally speaking, I’ve just done my best to bring the course into the present century and this includes the actual turf of which everyone can now be proud.

“I wish my successor Richard Lyttle every happiness in the job which has been part of my life for so long.”

Course chairman Paddy McGinley said: “We will miss Iain because of his expertise and the way he has helped put the course on the map, thanks to his endless PR work.”

Meanwhile, the Curragh is the place to be next weekend as Classic honours are on offer in the Irish 2000 and 1000 Guineas.

The former spearheads a brilliant card on the Saturday, although the big race loses a little of its lustre as Newmarket winner Makfi is not even entered.

Nevertheless, the English Guineas form is sure to be well represented with the fifth, Xtension, just one of those set to make the journey over the Irish Sea.

Aidan O'Brien has plenty of firepower to choose from with last year's much-vaunted Dewhurst fourth Steinbeck pencilled in to make his seasonal bow following a setback earlier in the campaign.

Supplementing the 2000 Guineas is the Weatherbys Ireland Greenlands Stakes and the Ridgewood Pearl Stakes, which honours the great John Oxx-trained mare.

It is the girls' turn on Sunday with the 1000 Guineas and here Kevin Prendergast has high hopes of his filly Termagant, easy winner of the Moyglare Staeks last year.

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