Wednesday 22 March 2017

Obituary: Francis Flood

The former top amateur jockey became one of Ireland's leading National Hunt trainers

Liam Collins

Liam Collins

Champion: Francis Flood trained Glencaraig Lady for Gold Cup success in 1972. Pic: Sportsfile
Champion: Francis Flood trained Glencaraig Lady for Gold Cup success in 1972. Pic: Sportsfile

The horse trainer Francis Flood, who died on Tuesday aged 86, won most of the big prizes in National Hunt racing during his long career at the turf. Two of his most outstanding horses were Glencaraig Lady, winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1972, and Bobsline, which won the Arkle Chase at the same venue 12 years later.

Both were ridden by Frank Berry, now racing manager to JP McManus, who spent 18 years at Flood's stables in Co Wicklow.

While Glencaraig Lady was the most notable winner - especially for Berry as it was his first ride at the famous Cotswold meeting - Bobsline was undoubtedly the most dramatic. "The Irish sent off Bobsline at 5-4 favourite and the bookies were to take a huge battering because the race was run the same day as Dawn Run's Champion Hurdle, and a vast number of Irishmen had backed the pair in a double," wrote Marcus Armytage in an article on great Anglo-Irish Cheltenham battles where Bobsline and the Gordon Richards-trained Noddy's Ryde almost emulated the rivalry of the sublime Arkle and the great Mill House.

"Noddy's Ryde went on six out and only Bobsline could stay with him coming down the hill," said Armytage describing the thrilling 1984 encounter. "The two chestnuts jumped the last as one and were neck and neck up the hill until Bobsline forged ahead near the line to win by a length-and-a-half."

Flood, who died at his home in Grangecon, Co Wicklow, began his career as a top amateur jockey before taking out a training licence.

In an interview, he recalled going to the bloodstock sales in Ballsbridge. He saw the four-year-old Glencaraig Lady and, "I told Pat Doyle that I thought he should buy her. She didn't actually sell in the ring, but Pat bought her outside the ring afterwards."

After two unsuccessful attempts the horse was prepared for the 1972 Cheltenham Gold Cup, with Pat Doyle telling Flood "I don't mind if she doesn't run all season as long as she's right for the Gold Cup."

She went on to win the race at 6/1, beating Royal Toss and The Dikler, the latter winning it the following year.

Glencaraig Lady also became the first mare in the modern era to win the famous race, but it took so much out of the eight-year-old that she never won another big race.

Bobsline won 26 races for the stables, and Flood described him as "a fantastic performer". He was "all over the winner" in the 1985 Champion Chase at Cheltenham when he fell at the third-last fence and broke a small bone in his hind leg. He went on to win more races but was never as good again, but he was a fixture in the Flood yard for years after he retired.

"You are always trying to find a right one," Flood told Declan Colley in an interview years later. Looking around his yard he added: "We have a few nice young ones, but there's no point in talking about them until they prove themselves. There is no point cutting your cloth until you have it measured."

Flood was one of the best known fixtures in Irish racing but he was a quiet man who didn't seek attention, keeping his head down and concentrating on the business at hand.

In between these famous victories he won the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse twice - in 1970 with Garoupe, the year he was also crowned champion trainer, and in 1993 with Ebony Jane ridden by Charlie Swan. Although he won many of the sport's glittering prizes he never fulfilled his ambition to win the Aintree Grand National.

"I rode for him for 18 years," said Frank Berry, who went on to have notable success as a jockey.

"He started me off when I came out of my apprenticeship. We got on great and had some great times together."

Francis Flood is survived by his wife Theresa, sons Tom, Francis Jnr and Kevin, and daughters Brid and Mary.

Sunday Independent

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