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Monday 23 April 2018

The horse whisperer ruling the world with his feet firmly on the ground

Nicola Anderson meets legendary trainer Mouse Morris

Horse trainer Mouse Morris looks on with his one eyed dog EJ (short for Eddie Jordan) as his horses are exercised near his stables in Fethard Co Tipperary. Pic: Steve Humphreys
Horse trainer Mouse Morris looks on with his one eyed dog EJ (short for Eddie Jordan) as his horses are exercised near his stables in Fethard Co Tipperary. Pic: Steve Humphreys
Mouse Morris with Michael O’Leary and Rule The World at Aintree Photo : Frank Mc Grath
Mouse's son Christopher
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

Mouse Morris' devoted companion is bounding enthusiastically ahead of us as we drive the back roads to the track where the horses are getting their daily exercise.

"He's the only one who loves me," he jokes of his leggy white and tan dog, EJ, who lost an eye many years ago due to an unfortunate accident with a golf ball.

"I named him after a mongrel, Eddie Jordan - it's one mongrel after another," Mouse elaborates.

"He's a friend of mine," explains the trainer with a reassuring glance, obviously well-versed at sensing alarm in living creatures.

"I figured you wouldn't go around libelling people," I reply.

There's a long pause before Mouse replies with a choke of laughter: "It's never libel if it's true."

"Tell that to the lawyers," I say.

Four days after the biggest race of the National Hunt calendar, there is no lull at the MJ Morris stables in Fethard, Co Tipperary - "wicked horse country" according to Mouse, who moved here over 30 years ago.

After the lavish theatre of the emotional win by Rule The World - a horse which had twice broken its pelvis, is owned by Michael O'Leary, trained by Morris and ridden to victory by teenager David Mullins, and who had never even walked the course at Aintree before - anyone might have thought there could be some resting on laurels. But that's not so.

"It's been a crazy week, but we're still in top gear," declares Mouse.

"We've got Punchestown to go yet. Rule The World might run... might. That's a big might."

The 65-year-old trainer was also throwing his hat into the ring for the Scottish Grand National today, running Folsom Blue - another O'Leary horse.

But he doesn't believe that lightning could strike three times - even if it did, indeed, strike twice.

The big homecoming parade in Mullingar and then afterwards in Fethard after the Grand National victory was "humbling, to be honest", says Mouse.

As we drive, neighbours hail him on the road and congratulate him.

"What more can you do?" asks an elderly man.

"Plenty now," replies Mouse.

His victorious track record is not something that he wears lightly and he credits everyone at the stables except for himself, saying: "The lads do the work - I only delegate."

His trophy for War of Attrition, which won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2006, has pride of place in his kitchen, along with his collection of toy mice, and his quilted jacket in his signature maroon - a nod to his Galway roots - is on the back of the door, embroidered on the back with his name.

Mouse started as a nickname for Michael in his days as a jockey. "Mickey Mouse," he explains.

Because of dyslexia, he left school at the age of 15 and took a job at a stables in Portmarnock, and used to have to leave the family home at Lansdowne Road to get the 46a bus at 6am from Fleet Street. It was tough, he says.

His family background, as the third son of the Lord Killanin of Spiddal, is an illustrious one, however.

"Strange, different, individual," is how Mouse laughingly dismisses his pedigree. His mother, Sheila, worked at Bletchley Park - the British centre for decoding Nazi signals - and was awarded an MBE for her work, but could never speak of it because of the Official Secrets Act.

It's only now that the family are trying to find out more, he says, but it's hard.

The phone rings, and it's Michael O'Leary making his daily check-in call.

"The boss," Mouse says afterwards. I suggest that maybe O'Leary might consider Mouse to be the real boss on this terrain but he shakes his head, scandalised. "Oh, no. No, no," he says firmly.

The atmosphere in the yard is one of cheerful, bustling endeavour. Champion jockey, Mark Enright, who works one day a week for Mouse as stable jockey but currently has his hand in a cast after a fall at Thurles, reveals that he enjoys how laid-back it is here, adding that the atmosphere suits the horses.

Mouse watches intently as the young untried "babies" of four and five are ridden slowly by the grooms in a ring around the yard. He thinks two might have potential.

When asked what he is looking for, he says: "I can't explain."

It is something that cannot be put into words, an affinity with some of the finest and most difficult creatures on the planet.

We go to visit Rule The World in his stall, placidly chewing a piece of straw.

"He's a pure gent," says Mouse. "He's the quietest in the place."

But he doesn't like affection, with Mouse conceding: "He's a bit individual that way."

The victory has been an emotional rollercoaster - coming less than a year after the death of his beloved son, Christopher, or 'Tiffer', who died of carbon monoxide poisoning in Argentina.

"He was the only one of us who knew where he was going," says Mouse.

But he can say no more and walks away.

His son, Jamie, steps in to speak of Tiffer, recalling the chef's "off the charts" butter chicken, his sense of fun and love of family.

Now, they want to use his death to highlight the importance of carbon monoxide alarms - both at home and when travelling.

Afterwards, I contact Eddie Jordan to see if I can use Mouse's 'mongrel' quote. He immediately agrees.

"I love Mouse. I was so happy for him," he says.

Irish Independent

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