Friday 22 September 2017

They don't make them like Walter anymore

Walter Cosgrove

WALTER HAEFNER always used to say that there were only five days between Palm Sunday and Good Friday.

It was his way of elaborating on how quickly people can change their minds, but it might also be a metaphor for how emotions can range from one extreme to another in a short space of time.

Last week at Royal Ascot, Princess Highway galloped to victory in the colours of Mr Haefner's Moyglare Stud, which I have managed for 40 years.

On Monday, I received a phone call from Walter's daughter, Eva-Maria, in Switzerland to say that he had died, aged 101. He suffered a stroke about two weeks ago, but the news still came as something of a shock. Like people, life can be fickle.

Walter and I were great friends, and he put his faith in me to run the Moyglare operation as I saw fit.

You might say that he was very trusting to do so and you'd be right. The thing about him was that he was a great loser, a real sportsman. He was a leading 'gentleman amateur' rider himself in the 1960s and, while he'd tell you that he was anything but a gentleman and far from a jockey, he understood the game as a result.

In racing terms, I had to ring him with news of far more Good Fridays, as I put it, than Easter Sundays.

I might be downbeat over a bad result, but he'd simply respond, "that's racing", and move on.

They don't make people like that anymore.

When he came to visit us here at the stud in Maynooth, he would know and speak with everyone.

He was a very natural man, no airs or graces, and the last thing he would ever want was a limousine or a chauffeur or anything like that.

Indeed, he'd turn up here in an old Volkswagen Polo, park it on the path beside the office, and just slip in the side door. You might not even know he had arrived.

Amazingly, two of his sisters are still going strong into their nineties. Longevity is in the genes, but Walter was a very disciplined man as well.

Unlike us Irish, punctuality, regularity and moderation defined him. He would get up every morning at 5.45, go for a swim and maybe ride one of his horses, so he led an active life.

Over the years, he contributed a lot of money to the seminary in Maynooth, and that is where we will endeavour to hold a memorial service for him.

Part of the library there is dedicated to the memory of his late wife Sarah and there is already a beautiful biblical garden named in his honour, so there would be nowhere more suitable.

It is 50 years since Walter Haefner bought Moyglare. We are sponsoring a series of 50 fillies' races to mark the occasion and will have a finale on Moyglare Stud Stakes day at the Curragh on September 9, when Eva-Maria will pay for free entry for everyone.

Moyglare's association with the fillies' event is the second-longest Group One sponsorship in the world, so that gives you some idea of the man's dedication to racing in this country. Thankfully, Eva-Maria is cut from a similar cloth to her father.

It would be lovely if Speaking Of Which could give us all something to smile about in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at the Curragh tomorrow, but his ground has gone.

He is a proper horse that showed just how good he could be in the Gallinule Stakes last time, so Dermot Weld won't ruin him for the sake of finishing last if he isn't happy with conditions. Camelot will be hard enough to beat on favourable going.

Sapphire will handle the ground better in the Pretty Polly, so maybe she will be the one to provide us with a poignant triumph.

Walter Haefner would take it or leave it as it comes, but there won't be a dry eye in the house if she wins.

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

Irish Independent

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