Friday 15 December 2017

New York softball team flies in to toast sweet Benefficient success

Edeymi's win at Clonmel yesterday continued what has been an excellent few days. He made hard work of it under Ruby Walsh but, as a four-year-old, the testing ground may have taken its toll. The Fred Winter at Cheltenham might be next.

At Naas on Saturday, Bog Warrior had his first run since his bad fall on St Stephen's Day. He had schooled well around Leopardstown after racing on the day of the Irish Champion Hurdle, but you're always conscious of how a fall as bad as the one he got might leave a mark, so it was a relief to see him win like he did for Davy Russell.

I have a great staff at home, headed up by Rob Green and Mick Cromwell, so it was a result that meant a lot to everyone involved. While Cheltenham might not happen for Bog Warrior this year, Benefficient probably will travel after his Deloitte Novice Hurdle triumph at Leopardstown on Sunday.

He was a 50/1 shot, but we were confident that he had a serious each-way chance, and the way Bryan Cooper grabbed the race by the scruff of the neck reminded me a bit of how Ruby does things. For Benefficient to win on the day that was in it was great.

Aiden Shiels, who owns the horse with Niall Reilly, had flown in to celebrate his 50th birthday on Saturday. He is from Killucan in Westmeath originally and owns the Irish Rover Bar in New York, and had promised a bunch of lads who play on the pub's softball team that he would bring them to Ireland if they won their league.

Well, they kept up their end of the bargain, and so did Aiden, flying 25 of them in to join the celebrations in Athboy. That's the kind of guy he has always been.

To see him on television on Sunday, you wouldn't think he is the man he is. If you gave him a present of a suit, I doubt he'd take it, but he has developed a cult following since his appearance on RTE, a bit like Peter Casey a few weeks ago.

It was a sit-down reception in the Old Darnley Hotel on Saturday evening, and he arrived in sporting sunglasses and a white Stetson, JR Ewing style. He proceeded to make a wonderful speech, recalling how he and a bunch of lads set off for America in 1986 and made good for themselves and their families.

He runs a construction company as well, and the beautiful thing about it all was how they worked hard for what they got, but they played hard too. I thought Michael O'Leary was brilliant on 'The Late Late Show' recently, and Aiden was equally impressive on Saturday. To have owners like that here in Summerhill is incredible.

On Monday, Aiden's bus stopped in the yard en route to the airport for photos with Benefficient. The head count at that stage was 22, and to the best of my knowledge there are still a couple of strays back in Athboy. It was that kind of weekend!

I don't ride out much myself these days, but Michael Hourigan has asked me to ride in an ex-jockeys' race that he is organising in Limerick on April 1.

It's nine years since I last rode and I'll have to shift some of my 13st to take part, but it's for a good cause, the Mid West Spina Bifida Association, so I'm glad to help out.

On Wednesday the Grand National weights were released. Psycho got the cursory few pounds for crossing the water, but he might still go; though Northern Alliance and Saddlers Storm, which was second in Sunday's hunter chase, may not make the cut.

It's disappointing that they have modified the course at Liverpool again. They have moved fences and levelled drops at Cheltenham in recent years too, all of which takes from the art of jump racing.


You are setting a dangerous precedent once you start moving the emphasis away from the jumping, and Flat-bred horses will wipe out their National Hunt counterparts if things keep going the way they are.

Watching the likes of Richard Dunwoody, Frank Berry, John Francome and Pat Taaffe riding over those big fences is what made this game special for me. If you take that bit of magic out of it, the appeal ceases to exist.

As regards this weekend's runners, I won't finalise plans until this morning, but most of what I have entered should have decent chances. Nearest The Pin and Gift Of Dgab are two decent sorts that I have in at Navan on Sunday.

Both have been running well, and the more the ground dries out now, the better they will be.

For more information on racing in Ireland this weekend check out

Irish Independent Sport Star Awards

Pick our magic sports moment of the year and win a trip for two to London. To view the shortlist and cast your vote click here.

Irish Independent

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport