Thursday 29 September 2016

Grand plan a perfect match for O'Sullivan

Published 25/03/2016 | 02:30

Ross O’Sullivan at his yard in Kill, from where he sends Baie Des Iles for Monday’s National
Ross O’Sullivan at his yard in Kill, from where he sends Baie Des Iles for Monday’s National

No other major domestic jump race retains such a happy propensity for fairytale storylines as the BoyleSports Irish Grand National.

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Whatever it is about the enduring aura that surrounds the prestigious €275,000 handicap, it rarely fails to capture the imagination. Be it the Fairyhouse feature's rich legacy of family linkage or the old-fashioned David crushing Goliath romance, the narrative rarely fails to deliver.

Maybe there is an element of us always finding a quixotic angle in the aftermath, but it's all part of the race's near 150-year history and appeal. Who knows what will unfold in a landmark edition on the anniversary of the Rising on Easter Monday?

Regal

It could even be a combination of both the racing royalty and small-stable strands. Ross O'Sullivan is married to Katie Walsh and both of his parents worked on the Curragh all of their lives. Racing is in his blood, but he hardly boasts his wife's regal origins and has built his fledgling training operation up from the ground.

Indeed, the autonomy extends to his renting his own yard whilst Katie works alongside her father at the homeplace in Kill - running her breeze-up operation in tandem with the stable's original function as a racing yard.

On Monday, O'Sullivan will saddle Baie Des Iles in the National. A dour grey mare, she will endeavour to become the first five-year-old to win the event since 1934, and will be ridden in her quest for glory by Walsh, who played such a memorable role in last year's famous Thunder And Roses triumph. All the ingredients are there.

"It will be brilliant to have Katie on board," O'Sullivan admits. "She has been there and done it, so she knows what's involved, and she knows the mare; the ground will be key to her chance. She has a very high knee action and comes into her own on soft ground, so I hope the rain comes.

"Baie Des Iles gets five pounds for her age so that's a great help. It's a long time since a five-year-old won an Irish National, but she has been jumping fences since she was a three-year-old in France.

"In the Bobbyjo last time, she went from handicap company into Grade Two company, and it took her the race to adjust to the different gear. But she stayed on well and, only for a mistake four-out, she would have been a good third. She has come into her own over a trip and over fences this year, and is a really exciting horse to have."

Much as O'Sullivan and his esteemed wife's ventures are independent of each other, they do also have the potential to complement each other. In 2011, Walsh sold a Dutch Art colt to Newmarket-based Charles Wentworth that turned out to be the multiple Group race winner Caspar Netscher.

Wentworth and his wife Zorka were struck by the couple's capabilities. "We kept in contact, and Zorka was always keen on National Hunt racing," explains O'Sullivan. "She said she'd send me a nice filly some day and that's what she has done with Baie Des Iles.

"They come to Ireland regularly now to go racing and love it; they are just 45 minutes from Stanstead, so they can get to places like Punchestown, Naas, Leopardstown or Fairyhouse as quick as they would many of the tracks in Britain.

"We have Call It Magic for her now as well. He has kept running into one over hurdles so far. Ultimately, he's a staying chaser along the same lines as Baie Des Iles. We won't see the best of him until he goes over fences, but he is in at Cork on Sunday and I'm hoping he will have his day over hurdles yet."

O'Sullivan's yard, replete with two impressive all-weather gallops and an on-site stream that functions as an equine spa, is no stranger to Irish Grand National success. He rents 30 boxes at Beechcourt Stables near Naas from the current proprietor Denis Cullen, whose late father-in-law Michael O'Brien won the race three times.

Of the trio, Vanton (1992) and Glebe Lad (1999) were sent out from Beechcourt. It is a storied association, and the 33-year-old incumbent appreciates having a live contender.

"It's great," he says. "I've had a licence since 2011 but it's really only in the last couple of years that things have got a lot bigger and busier.

"We have a go with whatever we are given. We have up to 30 horses all the time now - a mixed bunch between Flat and NH and point-to-pointers - but to have a horse like Baie Des Iles is brilliant. And to have a runner in an Irish National, like, it's really exciting for everyone - the lads in the yard especially are all looking forward to it."

O'Sullivan employs four staff, as well as mucking in himself and utilising Walsh's skills for work-riding duties. He has saddled a dozen winners since He's Our Man scored at Limerick in 2012, and has established a reputation as honest and hard-working.

Impression

A distinguished amateur rider who won bumpers on Macs Joy and Feathard Lady, he invariably cuts a relaxed figure. However, don't mistake his demeanour for a lack of ambition.

At a time when handlers of his ilk find it difficult to compete with racing's heavy hitters, here is a self-made man making an impression. It was a brave path to take, although he insists it was a natural progression for him.

"At the time it didn't feel like a big decision," O'Sullivan declares of joining the training ranks. "We'd always kept a couple of horses at home on the edge of the Curragh, going back to our first mare Commedia. She was my first winner and I used to rider her out before I'd go to school every morning.

"After I did my Leaving Cert, I was with Jessie Harrington for five years. It's only now that I'm training that I appreciate how good a job she does.

"I learnt a lot off Jessie and (head lad) Eamonn Leigh, and then I was based on the Curragh. I was tipping away with one or two myself, so it kind of just happened. It has grown and got bigger since I stopped riding, but we are still a small yard really. I'd love it to keep growing and get a nicer type of horse - that's the dream."

Irish Independent

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