Sport Horse Racing

Saturday 21 April 2018

Carnival made for Queens

The Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse has a storied history, with women to the fore in recent years

Jockey Katie Walsh celebrates with trainer Sandra Hughes after Thunder And Roses won the 2015 BoyleSports Irish Grand National Steeplechase at Fairyhouse
Jockey Katie Walsh celebrates with trainer Sandra Hughes after Thunder And Roses won the 2015 BoyleSports Irish Grand National Steeplechase at Fairyhouse
Nina Carberry after winning the Ladbrokes Irish Grand National Steeplechase on Organisedconfusion
Áine O'Connor won the inaugural Today FM Ladies National Handicap Steeplechase on Coldstonesober at the festival last year

Daragh Ó Conchúir

NATIONAL Hunt racing is serious business, especially when it comes to the task of winning the BoyleSports Irish Grand National,the most valuable jumps race in Ireland with a prize fund of €500,000.

But it is jump racing. To strangle the words of legendary Formula 1 commentator Murray Walker, anything can happen and sometimes it does. 

It is remarkable how each success in the Irish Grand National has its own rich tale.  

Take, for example, the case of the six-year-old mare Alike, or more to the point, that of her owner and rider, Frank Wise. Standing at just 5'4", Wise did not let the shortage of three fingers and having a wooden leg prevent him from steering his charge to victory in 1929. 

Nina Carberry after winning the Ladbrokes Irish Grand National Steeplechase on Organisedconfusion
Nina Carberry after winning the Ladbrokes Irish Grand National Steeplechase on Organisedconfusion

The inaugural winner in 1870 was Sir Robert Peel, who was registered as being owned by a Mr L Dunne. This was an alias however. The owner was one Charles Barrington, a Quaker from Bray whose family disapproved of racing and the gambling culture associated with it, so to hide his involvement, he changed his name. 

This is the same Charles Barrington who 12 years earlier, led the first team to scale the Eiger. 

The second winner also had another name. Winning as The Doe, she had been running very unsuccessfully as Mabel Grey and was only saved from the knacker's yard by Mr Kirkwood, who paid five shillings for her. 

Not alone did she repay the kindness by winning the Irish Grand National, she would breed future Aintree Grand National victor, Woodbrook. 

Easter Monday and the Boylesports Irish Grand National are inextricably linked. It used to be known as the Dubs' Day Out, when the denizens of the capital would venture in droves to the countryside for a glimpse of how those outside the city lived, with a picnic basket to get them through the day. 

There has always been that social element. Dressing up was inevitably a part of the occasion, though the glamour is at peak levels nowadays with a trip for two to Boston on offer to the Carton House Most Stylish Lady. 

Áine O'Connor won the inaugural Today FM Ladies National Handicap Steeplechase on Coldstonesober at the festival last year
Áine O'Connor won the inaugural Today FM Ladies National Handicap Steeplechase on Coldstonesober at the festival last year

Women have long made their presence felt at Fairyhouse. Ann Ferris was the first woman to ride the winner of the Grand National on Bentom Boy in 1984.

It was another 13 years when Jenny Pitman crossed the water to become the first female licensed trainer to capture the prize, courtesy of Mudahim in 1997. 

Three years ago, Thunder And Roses marked Ladies' Day in appropriate fashion, making it a female trainer-and-rider combination grasping the glory for the first time as trainer Sandra Hughes and jockey Katie Walsh joined forces effectively. 

The recent Cheltenham Festival continued the trend of female pilots proving their worth when given realistic opportunities, with four of the winners being ridden by women. 

Fairyhouse management wanted to promote the pioneers and provide more chances for female jockeys to display their abilities and was the first track to put on a chase for lady riders only. The Today FM Ladies Chase is now part of the Easter Festival. Áine O'Connor was successful in the inaugural event last year and with a €25,000 prize fund this year, the cream of the crop on both sides of the Irish Sea is likely to be competing. 

Coldstonesober was unlikely to have been appropriately named as the celebrations kicked off. 

The family vibe has been retained too, with an immersion in the racing world never necessary to enjoy the thrills and spills of the national hunt scene, particularly while availing of the finest food and drink in ultra-modern facilities. 

The family factor is a theme in the history of the racing too. Take the case of the Carberry clan. 

When Nina Carberry won the Irish Grand National in 2011, she was following in the footsteps of her brothers Paul and Philip, father Tommy and uncle Arthur Moore, who had ridden winners in the race. For good measure, Moore trained her mount, Organisedconfusion. 

Tommy was also a successful trainer, memorably combining with Paul for Bobbyjo's triumph in 1998. Meanwhile, Tommy's father-in-law, Dan Moore also rode and trained winners of the race, just like his son and son-in-law. 

Just two years after Bobbyjo wowed the Fairyhouse faithful, we had another tremendous father-and-son combination prevailing, as Ted Walsh legged Ruby up to take the honours. Katie, who won in 2015, is daughter and sister of Ted and Ruby. 

In 2016, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising winner All Sorts, Jack Lynn presented the connections of the triumphant Rogue Angel with their trophy. Jack is the son of the Johnny Lynn, who rode All Sorts to victory in the Irish Grand National while Patrick Pearse and co used the focus on the traditional Easter Monday highlight to get the 1916 Rising under way.  

More recently, Daletta won in 1980 for trainer Guy Williams, of the famous Tullamore Dew dynasty. Daletta is the only horse on the roll of honour to have begun his career by winning a five-furlong maiden at Leopardstown as a two-year-old. It is not the traditional starting point for future staying chasers! 

This is the race and the Festival that keeps on giving. Fairytales and fanfare, fun and frolics, fashion and fine food. 

Where else would you want to be? 

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