'He's jumping for fun, he's got plenty of pace, mind him'
The return to Cork was an emotional one for Timmy Murphy. Though he was born in Kildare, his father and mother were both natives of north Cork.
His father, Jimmy, grew up in Watergrasshill and his mother, Helen, came from Canteen Cross, outside the village of Shanballymore, near Doneraile.
Many of those who attended the December 15 meeting were acquainted with the family.
Murphy received a rousing welcome when he arrived at the track, another reminder that the racing family was on his side.
Apart from Beef Or Salmon, Timmy had a number of other rides that day. The meeting did not start auspiciously for him. Satcoslam fell in the second race, but his fortunes quickly improved when he rode a winner, Satco Express, in the third race.
It was then time for his first racecourse experience on Salmon. He met a slightly flustered trainer just outside the jockeys' room.
"I thought I wasn't going to make it," said a breathless Michael Hourigan.
The focus was now solely on Salmon. They talked through the race and the possibilities.
"He's jumping for fun, he's got plenty of pace, mind him," was as much as the trainer would say.
Murphy kept Salmon to the rear of the field in a race that was largely uneventful until they approached the final three fences.
Rathbawn Prince fell at the third last, but did not distract Salmon.
Murphy decided to see just what this horse possessed and looked for a big effort. Salmon not only jumped well, but he gave Murphy a pleasant surprise with the speed he displayed as he took the lead at the last fence.
He didn't land absolutely right, but the horse picked up instantly and strode away from the outsider River Clodagh and the favourite Fadoudal du Cochet.
"Mike, this guy is even better than you said," a delighted Murphy told the trainer.
"His jumping was as good as you said, but I didn't realise he had such speed. He's really good."
It was a sentiment expressed by the least sentimental people in racing -- the bookmakers.
Their reaction was a major contribution to the hype about to unfold. Within days Beef or Salmon appeared in preliminary betting for the 2003 Cheltenham Gold Cup with odds of 25/1.
"Daft," scoffed the sceptics. "A novice can't win the Gold Cup."