Monday 20 November 2017

McNamara defies obstacles to fulfil goal

Stricken rider will not allow the confines of a wheelchair to restrict ambition

Robbie McNamara with jockey Conor Brassil after Chadic's victory at Cork. Photo: Patrick McCann
Robbie McNamara with jockey Conor Brassil after Chadic's victory at Cork. Photo: Patrick McCann
Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

As statements of intent go, Robbie McNamara's double at Cork on Friday night was fairly resounding. McNamara had been insistent for some time that he would start his training career with a bang. He is a determined individual, and resolved to make an impression from the get-go.

Weeks earlier, he identified the Cork fixture as a suitable platform for him to announce his capabilities in his new vocation.

McNamara, in stark contrast to the profession's diffident and cautious archetype, went public with his plans and expectations.

He wasn't going to be a hostage to fortune; his training career would start at Cork, and there would be winners. End of.

At an otherwise obscure fixture, McNamara delivered in grand style on an enchanting evening that resonated beyond racing's insular confines.

Training's cruel, indiscriminate nature and racing's banal PR repertoire might tame him yet. However, McNamara is a fiercely strong character, so the hope is that he won't change.

The sport needs more engaging personalities like him. In unthinkable adversity, the 27-year-old is already demonstrating his strength of mind.

Little more than a year after a Wexford fall left the hugely talented former amateur rider paralysed from the waist down, he has overcome a range of psychological hurdles from the confines of a wheelchair.

McNamara refused to accept the hand that fate had dealt him; his lower body might be paralysed, but his ambition wouldn't be.

Training was something he always wanted to do, and, despite suffering a life-changing injury that would render most of us helpless and mired in self-pity, he got on with pursuing his goal.

He rented a yard on the Curragh, invested in bloodstock, networked for owners and did the trainers' modules alongside Joseph O'Brien, who last month plundered four Bank Holiday winners on his inaugural foray.


McNamara almost emulated those heroics when he sent out four runners at Cork.

With the help of Conor Brassil, he took the opener with 12/1 hurdling newcomer Chadic, a tongue-strap and visor-sporting £21,000 acquisition out of John Ferguson's yard.

Call Vinnie was second in another maiden hurdle, before Finny Maguire drove track debutant Rathcannon to victory in the bumper at odds of 11/4.

Chadic is owned by Dr Ronan Lambe, for whom McNamara enjoyed a memorable Cheltenham Festival brace in 2014.

His patronage is a tremendous boon to the fledgling handler, but Chadic wasn't an expensive or precociously-bred acquisition.

Rathcannon represents Michael Worcester, who both owned and sold a Gold Cup winner when he employed Noel Chance as his private trainer in Lambourn.

Worcester's Mr Mulligan landed the 1997 Gold Cup for AP McCoy and he sold Looks Like Trouble as a novice hurdler. He soon disappeared from the game, but now he is back, lending further clout to McNamara's portfolio.

After a night like Friday's, the temptation is to quip that it will be all downhill from here.

However, McNamara has displayed remarkable enterprise and tenacity to get where he is, and his Cork brace didn't happen by accident. It was months in the making.

We have no idea of the emotional depths to which McNamara has plunged since that calamitous fall from Bursledon, but he knows what he wants and clearly has the knowhow to get it.

For someone with a reputation as being laidback and a bit of a joker during his riding days, the degree of focus and urgency with which he is going about the job is deeply impressive.

It brings to mind one of many provocative utterances of Joanne O'Riordan of No Limbs, No Limits fame. "My imperfections have made me a better person," the Millstreet girl once said.

O'Riordan is one of the country's truly inspirational and charismatic young people. McNamara, it's fair to say, is cut from the same can-do, will-do cloth. More luck to him.

Sullivan and Giles link lost for Mullins

Paul Nicholls' dual King George VI Chase hero Silviniaco Conti and Zarkandar will not be among those sold in a clear-out by owners Jared Sullivan and Chris Giles.

It emerged last week that Sullivan and Giles are in the process of drastically reducing their bloodstock interests.

It is something that they have done before only to scale up again, and Sullivan's retained rider and racing manager Noel Fehily has suggested that a similar eventuality might occur this time.

The duo have not had Irish-based runners, but they had five young horses waiting in the wings with Willie Mullins.

While that quintet will form part of the dispersal, Mullins is expected to keep the delegation at Closutton.

Still, that's one fascinating association that will end before it ever really began.

Spencer defies wide draw on Deauville

It was a case of lucky number 13 for Jamie Spencer in New York on Saturday night when he excelled in overcoming a wide draw to secure a glorious Belmont Derby triumph on Aidan O'Brien's Deauville.

Drawn in stall 13, Spencer chased the early leader before seizing the initiative two furlongs out. Over 10 furlongs, Deauville - 11th at Epsom - had just enough to repel Highland Sky's late thrust of by a neck to secure a first win in the race for trainer and jockey.

It was also Spencer's 13th win for O'Brien in a Grade or Group One, and it confirmed the strength in depth among the Ballydoyle three-year-olds.

Of the elite stable's seven top-level successes this year, the Classic generation is responsible for six, with Minding (three), The Gurkha and Alice Springs also contributing to the running tally.

Two of those that might have been expected to contribute have yet to do so.

For the second time in a row, Coolmore outshone Ballydoyle when third under Spencer in the Oaks at Belmont Park, while Air Force Blue failed to step up when dropped in trip for the July Cup earlier in the day.

Ballydoyle trailed in last of 13, but Air Force Blue posted an encouraging turn when 12th of 18 behind Limato at Newmarket.

He ran better than his finishing position suggests, as he travelled well but the gaps never came for him, and he kept on to the finishing line.

Heskin stars with a double at Sligo

Peter Fahey's purple patch continued at Sligo yesterday when he sent out Rathmuck Native (2/1) to sluice up for a second time in three days.

Kevin Sexton's mount had won tidily at Cork, and Fahey suggested that she might now go to Galway.

In contrast, Ross O'Sullivan indicated that his handicap hurdle winner Bendenalla could swerve Ballybrit after his brother-in-law Ruby Walsh excelled in getting the 5/1 shot up on the line.

The riding honours went to Adrian Heskin, who fashioned a 203/1 double aboard Michael Cleary's Sinndar Sandy (50/1) and Colin Bowe's Havana Dancer (3/1 fav).

Numbers Game

4 Irish wins at Perth yesterday, with Gordon Elliott and Stuart Crawford doubling up via John Monash (2/1) and Le Grand Chene (7/2) and Important Moment (3/1) and Toberdowney (5/2), respectively.

Irish Independent

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