With exactly 12 minutes to go in what turned out to be the middle of three championship clashes between Meath and Westmeath in 2001, a group of supporters from another county – who shall remain nameless – were heard to observe: “It’s great to be here to see the end of (Sean) Boylan”. Now read on…
Much to the chagrin of my father at the time, that little salvo wasn’t taken sitting down, so to speak! I politely reminded our detractors of how much time remained on the clock. Thereafter, Ollie Murphy filled the Lake County onion bag twice and thus pulled off the sort of comeback that wasn’t so much familiar as openly expected.
Such mindsets may be part of the reason things are as they are in certain places presently but that’s a topic for another day. Maybe the shifting of the sands is unstoppable. That is not to say, mind you, that change will occur easily for those trying to affect it.
Just ask Gordon Elliott. There’s always been a shimmer of magic running through the journey of the Longwood based handler towards the top of his sport. An accomplished career as an amateur rider – predominantly with Martin Pipe when the Nickleshane operation was at its zenith – was followed by his conquering of the Aintree Grand National before he’d a winner trained in Ireland.
Since then, of course, his stock has been constantly on the ascend. Thanks to, but by no means dependent upon, what is an intrinsic link with the Gigginstown House Stud team. Indeed, in some ways at least, non-dependence thereon has been greatly illustrated by most recent developments.
That racing is a fickle business scarcely goes too long without being underlined. Cognisance of that fact notwithstanding, however, the decision of Michael O’Leary to sever ties between his equine empire and Willie Mullins still struck as one of the most bizarre and unwarranted calls made anywhere in a long time.
What it also did, though, was present opportunities to others. Which perhaps was no bad thing either. As, through no fault of his own it must be stressed, Mullins had begun to exact a sort of grip National Hunt racing here commensurate to that wielded by the vastness of Coolmore over Flat matters.
Even if, in one way, that sense always was things were moving from a one man show to, basically, a double act. Especially in light of the highest percentage of the horses removed from Closutton going straight into the care of the biggest rival thereof. However, to base calculations – and by extension the narrative for the entire season – solely on that axis would be to unjustifiably ignore the proven class of other trainers such as Noel Meade and Henry De Bromhead.
Not to mention the burgeoning force that is Joseph O’Brien. Meade has just had his best season for some time, amassing 57 winners. Significantly, a number of those were for Gigginstown in valuable races. Including a fifth Cheltenham Festival success (and the Ryanair Gold Cup) courtesy of Road To Respect.
Flippancy in owners is not confined to the maroon and white silks, of course. De Bromhead himself was dealt the not inconsiderable blow of the defenestration of the Ann and Alan Potts stock from his care. Principal benefactors of this development have undoubtedly been Jessica Harrington here and Colin Tizzard over the water.
Mrs Harrington’s adeptness at her trade scarcely needs franking, if you recall the exploits of greats such as Macs Joy and Moscow Flyer and Jezki over jumps and the character that was Jumbojukiba on the Flat. Yet, what she has achieved in most recent times has been truly remarkable.
She now, to my mind at least, holds comparable ranking to some of the elite trainers on the level here and is steadily garnering the top grade prizes in the sphere to back up that status. Still, the last while has taken her – and indeed Moynalvey’s Robbie Power – to another level. Granted, whoever ‘inherited’ Sizing John following the Potts/De Bromhead severance was always going to be on a winner. The horse’s class was always beyond reproach, finding a way around or – as it turned out – away from Douvan was the thing.
Boy, has doing so paid dividends. To compartmentalise the Harrington/Power success story as being all about one horse would be the greatest injustice since Aidan O’Mahony won Dancing With The Stars. Think Supasundae, who when trained in Waterford went to Cheltenham 2016 fancied for the Supreme Novices Hurdle and failed to fire to any degree for the remainder of the season.
This year he did score at the Festival. Consider the case of Magic Of Light. Deemed surplus to requirements by her mining erstwhile owners, this corner kept an eye on the mare throughout the season on the proviso that the Potts’ must have originally thought a bit of her having bought her after winning a bumper in Kate Harrington’s colours previously.
One of the great innovations within Irish racing has been the advent of the Martinstown Opportunity Series. It basically affords horses and riders a level of competition at which they can prosper. Thereafter building upon. The aforementioned mare, and rider Ryan Treacy, were seen to best effect recently in the final of the initiative at Punchestown.
But Our Duke surely trumps them all. The prodigious novice could have made his mark in any of the novice races in England – the collective form of he and Disko fairly gleams now. Again, however, the alacrity of trainer and rider at identifying desirable targets was again endorsed when the gelding, on only his fourth run over fences, not so much galloped as sauntered to the Irish Grand National.
In the end, however, the conclusion to the jumps season did proceed along expected lines. Except in the opposite way to what we are used to in these parts. During my neighbour’s tenure in charge of the county’s football team, his charges were renowned for reeling in what for many would’ve been hopeless situations.
In this case, however, it was Elliott who was snared late on as Mullins pulled off the seemingly impossible and took a trainer’s gong for which the former was in the box seat everywhere bar at the post. For all that, seeing Mullins pull off such a feat shouldn’t really be that big of a shock.
What makes it a degree more incredible is realisation of the depth of talent of which Mullins was shorn. Both owing to the Gigginstown split and maybe even more so, the amount of proven horsey class that was holed up in sickbay for part if not all of the season.
Elliott’s time will come. Just, when exactly that might be may not be the foregone conclusion it was presumed.