What I think was a decade or so ago, Noel Meade used to have a weekly column in the Meath Chronicle. Generally, it was run-of-the-mill fare, reviewing his runners from the previous week and looking forward to whatever representatives he had forthcoming.
For one issue, though, he didn’t mention any of his own horses. No, in the build up to that year’s Cheltenham Festival he, very generously but rightly, paid tribute to a man preparing for his first ever competitor at Prestbury Park’s showpiece event. Words like ‘Character’ and ‘Legend’ tend to be tossed around like confetti at a wedding in this game. However, it’s doubtful there are enough superlatives in the English language to eulogise about the late, great Oliver Brady. Or, indeed, the affection there was for the most famous Monaghan man since Paddy Kavanagh in all of us blessed to have met him.
For those not au fait with the Irish racing scene, Oliver was a horse trainer like no other. Partly because he wasn’t full time at it, then there was the fact his horses were trained on what were basically ploughed fields up the side of mountain. Mostly, though, he will be recalled because every time he had a winner – and there were plenty of them – he’d commandeer the microphone in the parade ring and hold court with a song or a verse or whatever entered his kind, generous mind. The following, though, was his party piece “Ballybay for drinking tae, Monaghan for brandy, but Castleblaney beats them all for eating sugary candy!
Anyway, at the time Noel’s piece was published, the man behind Shabra Plastics was gett ing set to have his first outing at jump racing’s Mecca. Baron De Feypo – or ‘The Baron’ as he became known, being every bit as popular as his trainer – was a mud-loving star whom P.O. had ‘readied’ for a big one. For weeks, maybe months, prior to March, Oliver was telling anybody who’d listen – and plenty who wouldn’t – that “The Baron is ready for Cheltenham”. Leading my hero cum friend from Castletown to quip “Oliver’s ready for Cheltenham, but I’m not sure Cheltenham’s ready for him!”
Fairytales seldom do come true and the cold-hearted would say in this case it didn’t either, but, for somebody like Oliver to have a horse good enough to even go to The Festival was fairytale enough in itself. That’s without mentioning the fact that he had been battling cancer for as long as I’d heard of him. A battle he sadly succumbed to in September 2014. The ‘Baron’ duly ran his heart out that day in Gloucester, finishing fourth, prompting his trainer to give his greatest ever performance! Leaving racegoers and – in particular – the hometown media scratching their heads.
Oliver came to mind today, as he often does. It’s a long, long way from the steaming dunghills of Monaghan to where Mick Winters leaves them spellbound in Kanturk and much further afield. In ways, the two men couldn’t be more different, yet I couldn’t help but be reminded of the man from the land of the stony grey soil as the unmistakable Corkman had his moment of glory in the shadows of Cleeve Hill.
The main difference between the two which came to mind today was that, where Oliver caused a stir on his maiden spin across the water, when the lucky few assembled at the place many of us consider to be Heaven on earth gathered round after mighty Mick had pulled off another showstopping moment, it was a case of Dear British racing, do you remember Mick Winters?!
And indeed they did, as they informed after the race, referencing the win of that grand mare Missunited in the Lily Langtree Stakes at Goodwood (in what turned out to be the daughter of Golan’s final race) and, perhaps even more so, her heroic effort prior to that when third to Leading Light in the Ascot Gold Cup. You can be sure they remember Rebel Too, the versatile star who did so much to put his trainer on the map.
Chatham Street Lad has a universe to travel before he could even occupy the same page as either of the other pair of Winters-trained animals referred to above. No shame in that either. He has, however, advertised his credentials and the validity of him having a go for more big pots later in the season. The same applies to his quickly rising rider Darragh O’Keeffe. The young Cork lad showed nous and experience well beyond what he has in riding the Beneficial gelding as cold as last Monday’s dinner before coming home with a wet sail.
Meaning that, for one thing, the 8-year-old is surely finished running in handicaps after that 13-length romp. If that means taking on the big boys (20/1 first show for the Ryanair Chase) his colourful trainer will have no bother pitching him in.
I’d love to know how much of the interview the ‘home team’ media were ablt to take in. They may start learning Corkonian because they’ll be hearing plenty more of him!