Before this corner was properly attuned to the goings on in racing, one of the first times I was at a racecourse was to see the Jim Dreaper-trained Carvills Hill run at Naas.
Our main reason for being there was that my sister Anna was good friends with Pauline O’Connor. Now, Pauline’s late, great father Nicky was a key member of the celebrated team which enabled decades of dominance to emerge from the Greenogue yard.
At the time, Carvills was one of the steeds Nicky looked after and, seeing Ken Morgan steer the old rogue home was made all the sweeter when, having been given £1 to wager, a bag of chips and a sausage accrued out thereof!
Little was it known back then the beloved bond that would develop between Nicky and I – and his grandson Sean – years later. Not only was most of my racing education received in his company, but, he was the best individual to obtain whispers from the weigh room I’ve ever encountered.
He seemed to know everybody in racing. Or maybe more to the point, everybody appeared to know him. That probably came with the association with the greatest racing yard of all time. Alas, my source to the higher echelons of the sport was summoned to appear before the stewards at the racecourse up yonder rather suddenly in the end.
Yet he is never far from my thoughts when racing is on the agenda – which it seldom isn’t. One thing is certain – going to Fairyhouse has never been and will never be the same again. Furthermore, though attending my local racing Mecca is currently off limits, I couldn’t help pondering what he would have thought of some recent developments on the racing scene. Namely, the resurgence of the Dreaper horses and the remarkable success of the Dermot McLoughlin-trained Freewheelin Dylan in the highlight of the season, not only for the racecourse itself but for Irish jump racing as a whole, the Boylesports Grand National.
On the morning after the race, my Occupational Therapist Megan – who’s as well tuned into affairs of the turf as is the occupant of this seat – told me of somebody known to her who had €5 on the 150/1 victor – her only selection criteria being to punt on the longest-priced participant in the contest!
Similar occurrences tend to be commonplace with all the Nationals. The fact that term now appears to be affixed to any sort of bog standard handicap chase ran over a trip is a column for another day. However, no matter what incarnation of a staying chase may be afoot, some characteristics are the same. There are people who will base their wagering policies on a horse’s name, colours, number, odds or God knows what other obscure factor only applicable to them.
The ironic thing in this instance was that if you were willing to delve far enough into the horse’s back catalogue he actually wouldn’t have represented a forlorn hope by any means. Simply as, by dint of his annexation of the Midlands National at Kilbeggan, it was proven that the steed not only jumped to an elevated standard but also didn’t appear impinged by a lack cut in the ground.
Sometimes, though, you can know too much about this game. Logic suggested there was no way Ricky Doyle’s mount would get to run the race on its own terms. No way the rest of the field – being cognisant of the long shot’s fondness for front running – would allow exactly that to transpire.
Having said that, given the proximity of talented performers such as Run Wild Fred and Coko Beach and, in particular, favourite, Latest Exhibition, you’d have thought some of them would’ve caught the free-running trail blazer, but not a bit of it.
And that was down to the talent and acumen of the man aboard who evidently managed to fill his mount up sufficiently to stave off the sustained late challenges of Run Wild Fred and Coko Beach and Enjoy D’Allen. Giving both jockey and trainer the biggest victories of their careers to date.
In this seat at least, and probably a few other places, its was a case of fighting back a few tears in the immediate aftermath of the race. Yes recalling Nicky, but, more pertinently in this case, the winning trainer’s late father, Liam. Who, as well as being the first rider to win on Arkle, took racing’s biggest prize on home ground in 1962.
So in many ways it’s a long time since there was a more fittiing success in the biggest Irish race of them all. Something accentuated by the fact that winning owner Ms. Mangan is also a key member of Dermot’s team in Bodeen.
It would be understandable if, to many, the Ratoath man’s garnering of Irish racing’s top prize was viewed as a breakthrough success, but, in fact, the man who spent the formative part of his career in racing in Dreapers has already more than proven himself to be an astute operator owing to the achievements of horses like Vic’s Canvas, Avelino, Canardier and Santa Rosa.
That said, it is beyond question that Monday’s magnificence should elevate his status in the sport still further. And totally deservedly so. Surely the next – and very apt – development would be the hoisting of a set of the famous green and gold hoops at the McLoughlin base!