Tuesday 17 October 2017

Grand double glory not too tall an order

Last Thursday evening was spent with Dermot Sheridan's family in Co Clare. The Sheridans are family friends and Dermot, a trainee pilot just a year younger than me, died in a tragic helicopter crash a year ago, so I was there to commemorate the first anniversary of his death.

On the way down, my agent, Gary Cribbin, calls. "Bluesea Cracker carries 10st 3lb in the Irish Grand National," he says hesitantly. "James (Motherway, the trainer) says you can do a pound overweight -- give it a go."

I go quiet. "She has a chance; it could be worth it," Gary insists.

It would be a struggle, but I agree -- eventually. The next morning I ride out at home in Limerick before going for some physio. I get a bit stiff, which probably has something to do with the fact that, at 5ft 11in, I'm not exactly built to be a jockey. All the wasting isn't good for the muscles either.

Afterwards, I head back to Davy Russell's house in Cashel where I live, as does Sam Curling, who trains point-to-pointers and rides out at Ballydoyle. Russell and myself would be fairly domesticated, but Sam is awful.

"You need to clean up your s**t," Russell is telling him when I arrive. I try not to get involved, but Sam really does need to clean up his s**t.

Saturday mornings are work mornings at Edward O'Grady's. Osana, which is due to run at Aintree tomorrow, is one of the horses I put through its paces. He works well, so I'm hopeful of a big run now.

On Sunday it's a case of out of bed and into a hot bath to sweat off a few more pounds. I was 10st 7lb when I got up and I had to do 10st 5lb that day, so I have a bit to lose. I spend an hour in there, reading 'Animal Farm'. It keeps my mind off the sweating, but damn those pigs!

Three rides at Fairyhouse in the afternoon, nothing exciting, so it goes. That night I head up to Ballyholland GAA club in Newry for a pre-Aintree party. I ride Ballyholland the horse in the Aintree Grand National, and the club were throwing the owners a good luck party.

I stay with amateur jockey Mark O'Hare overnight. Monday morning, I'm straight into O'Hare's bath. I am down to 10st 4lb at that stage but need to be 10st 2lb to do the weight in the Irish National. This time I've The Commitments for company -- pure class.

When I finally weigh out for Bluesea Cracker, I'm a pound over, as planned. Before the race, Brian Gleeson says on TV that I'm a great horseman with my feet out of irons to calm her. Truth be told, I don't feel well from dehydration and it's just easier.

It's not until turning in that I dare to get confident. I track Davy Russell and Pat Mangan, who works in O'Grady's too, into the straight. "Get out my way Pat, I've got a chance," I scream at him. He ignores me, dead right too.

I find a way through before we draw clear approaching the last, and someone behind shouts "Go on Andy Mac". I drop my stick. S**t! Luckily, it's not needed.

Smiled

Passing the line I didn't make any big gesture, just smiled contentedly to myself - the National. I've been lucky to win some big races, but this is one I know I'll still be telling people about in 50 years' time.

That night, I go back to my girlfriend Rhona's in Mullingar. Her friends bring some champagne round, which was nice of them. All things considered, a quiet evening.

I have to do 10st 5lb again the next day but have a winner, so that eases the pain. Then Benash triumphs on Wednesday to make it a much better week than expected, and now thoughts turn to Aintree. Today, I ride Duers over the National fences and Carsonstown Boy in the three-mile handicap hurdle. They have chances, but drier ground would suit both better.

In the most famous race of all tomorrow, it would be a dream if Ballyholland could give me a National double. You can't really go into the Grand National with any great deal of confidence, but he jumps well and he should settle. Whether we are good enough or not after that, we'll just have to see.

For more information on racing in Ireland this weekend check out www.goracing.ie

Irish Independent

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