“Oliver’s ready for Cheltenham, but I’m not sure it’s ready for him”!

Being acquainted to folks well connected to the Jim Bolger yard has afforded yours truly the opportunity to develop more of an interest in flat racing in recent years than would have been the case when first becoming enthralled by affairs of the turf a dozen or so years ago. Honestly, though, the heart lies elsewhere.

Aside from knowing more of the protagonists in and being better informed on matters over the jumps, the more fundamental element of the attraction was the fact that ‘ordinary’ people stood more of a chance of experiencing the unique joy that racing can bring in National Hunt than on the level.

Granted, a few prominent owners have stamped more of an influence on proceedings where the obstacles are in the last few years – something which, it could be argued, will only increase with Ballydoyle back in the mix – but nobody will realistically have such a vice-like grip as the aforementioned and the Arabs retain in the other sphere.

Jump racing has, however, seen numerous small trainers and/or owners prove they could studiously mix it with their more affluent counterparts when the opportunity has arisen to do so. People such as Tom Foley, Mick Winters and the Bowe family. Their achievements merely underlined the belief that quality of material is a bigger determining factor than who has it.

Whatever about the smaller operators mentioned above, for many reasons, Oliver Brady shone like a beacon for them all. There were so many strands to the Brady story – all of them compelling – it’s hard to know where to begin. Hardly surprisingly, mind you, the first thing that put him on the radar here was hearing that his horses were – reportedly at least – trained on a ploughed piece of ground on the side of a mountain.

Then there was Pablo, the high class flat performer he acquired from Barry Hills and tried in vain to win a hurdle race with. Baron De Feypo was eventually the steed that shot Brady into the limelight. ‘The Baron’ relished heavy ground (hardly surprising) but proved his adaptability by running with great credit when finishing fourth in the Coral Cup at the Cheltenham Festival in 2007.

Oliver’s ‘performances’ whenever he had a winner were a large part of what endeared him to the Irish racing public – and some thereof overseas as well. Most notably At The Races anchor Matt Chapman. They didn’t, mind, sit too well with the hierarchy in Cheltenham. After the Baron’s commendable exploits there, there was palpable scorn as King Shabra himself – bedecked in his beloved Monaghan jersey – informed perplexed onlookers that “It’s Ballybay for drinking tae…” and off he went!

Ebadiyan was probably the best horse he ever trained. Like so many of Oliver’s, the grey was a recruit from the John Oxx yard. Having been central to many of the juvenile hurdles here in 2009, Brady headed for Prestbury Park convinced the apple of his eye would reign supreme in the Triumph Hurdle.

Mindful of the reception Oliver’s showmanship received in the Cotswolds previously, Noel Meade – a columnist in the Meath Chronicle at the time – quipped “Oliver’s ready for Cheltenham, but I’m not sure it’s ready for him”! Alas, there was no need to put on a show. The reality that dreams very seldom do come through filled the air as, with the race seemingly there for the taking, Ebadiyan ran out off the last bend.

The horse was never the same thereafter but his trainer – by then seriously ill for a long time – kept plugging away. Both in racing and for charity. Bringing joy, happiness, entertainment and inspiration wherever he turned up. And plenty of winners too. The Shabra silks – whether Rita Shah’s own black and red or the blue and white of Monaghan and his charity – are regular fixtures at Irish meetings and collect their share of prize money. Hopefully that’s continue, it would be a poignantly fitting tribute.

Personally, I had the pleasure of meeting Oliver a couple of times. A man who was instantly likeable and an inspiration to be around. Our last encounter was at a meeting in Fairyhouse some time back, he’d had a winner earlier in the day, and was his usual ebullient self regarding his chances in the race due off minutes after we met.

What really surprised me was that he remembered us meeting previously. He proceeded: “Let’s go round and have a bit of craic with the bookies”. Upon arrival, he proclaims to the nearest rails bookie “Lads, I might be sick, but this man’s in a wheelchair, give him 100/1”! They didn’t, and the horse ended up tailed off, but having that short while in his company was victory enough for one day.

He’s probably on the gallops above now, directing them all to Ballybay for a cuppa!

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