Monday 18 December 2017

Motherway aims to crack Aintree

RICHARD FORRISTAL

It has been a whirlwind couple of weeks for James Motherway. Less than a fortnight has passed since JP McManus' racing manager Frank Berry first contacted him about the availability of his Irish Grand National hero Bluesea Cracker.

The period in between has been a frantic mix of excited anticipation and measured deliberations, hastily organised meetings, intense negotiations and an anxious wait on the routine vetting procedure. In the end, the deal was finalised last Friday morning.

Bluesea Cracker's preparations for today's Aintree Grand National were effectively completed by then, so her 37-year-old trainer has had time to let it all sink in before the real mayhem begins. His nine-year-old is now owned by McManus and, at 4.15 this afternoon, she will sport his famous silks in racing's one true global spectacle.

"The whole thing caught me unawares," Motherway says of the transaction. "I didn't see it coming. The lads weren't looking to sell the mare, but it was a nice approach to get all the same. Any yard would be thrilled to have an owner like JP."

syndicate

The 'lads' are the seven members of the Note The Link Syndicate. Bluesea Cracker's breeder Sean Murphy, a retired farmer, was among the septet, as was another farmer, a shop owner and an almost nostalgic representation from the construction industry.

As ever with syndicates, opinions often differed. In the aftermath of last year's Fairyhouse coup, some were adamant that Aintree's fearsome test would never be on the agenda for such a valuable breeding prospect. Bluesea Cracker was only the third mare to win an Irish Grand National in 40 years, and a first since Ebony Jane in 1993.

Others in the group felt that Liverpool would be worth the risk. After all, the Irish version is a well-trodden path to further glory, with four of the last seven Irish-trained Aintree legends having either won or been placed at Fairyhouse the previous year.

For a mare to double up at Liverpool would leave them with a very valuable commodity indeed. After a frustrating season that has seen Bluesea Cracker endure her share of setbacks and miss out on the Welsh National at Chepstow, consensus finally found in favour of buying a ticket for today's £1m lottery.

Then JP's offer came in. Suddenly, there was another big decision to make, one that Motherway doesn't deny would have been informed by the current economic reality.

"That might have had a little to do with it," he concedes. "I couldn't tell you exactly what each of the lads was thinking but, as the fella says, when it comes to horses, don't ever refuse a good offer. Saying that, it was a difficult decision for them.

"Like, we had made a final decision four weeks previously to go for the National and they were kind of fired up and ready to go. At the end of the day, though, they were made a nice offer. Both sides were happy with the deal, and hopefully the mare can be as lucky for JP as she was for them. They had a fantastic run with her."

That much is certainly true.

However, the current campaign has been less lucrative for Bluesea Cracker, no less than for Motherway in general.

In the 12 months that have passed since his 18-capacity stable near Cloyne in east Cork shot to prominence, he has saddled just one winner -- six months ago. The horse in question, Chairmanforlife, is an injury-prone 10-year-old whose owners had abandoned him.

He is one of just eight horses that Motherway has run on the track this term, to go with another four in point-to-points.

Many of them, like Chairmanforlife, run in the trainer or his father's name. Owners are hard found and easily lost; for all that a high-profile success might be expected to have new clients banging down the door, the reality is something different.

"The way the economy was during the summer," Motherway explains, "things were getting worse. Through September I was looking around the yard for things to do of an evening. All I kept hearing about was this trainer or that trainer was going out of business. Then in October, the phone started to hop.

"The yard is full now -- and the win at Fairyhouse is the only reason I can think why -- but people are slow to put horses into training. And when they do, they'd be ringing you wanting to know if it's worth going on with. The money just isn't there."

Of course, the phone call of all phone calls didn't come until the end of March. Given that Bluesea Cracker never looked in danger of winning any of her three starts this term, and that she appears to need testing going to be seen at her best, McManus' decision to purchase her at this point might be seen as slightly unusual.

Still, her effort to be fourth on good ground at Cheltenham in November was not without merit, while it was unfortunate that first the snow and then a minor knock ruled her out of Chepstow in the New Year.

When she failed to land a blow on her return in the Bobbyjo Chase in February, she was subsequently found to have a minor infection, but reports from the stable in recent weeks have been increasingly positive.

precious

If there were to be one day for Bluesea Cracker to be right all season, this is it. Either way, she is a precious addition to McManus' select band of broodmares.

For Motherway, quite apart from the obvious boost of the Limerick man's patronage, the promise of victory in today's showpiece is incalculable.

Since setting up on the family plot that had previously housed his father's odd point-to-pointer in 2003, the former amateur rider has earned a reputation as a shrewd operator, but glory in the greatest race of them all would propel him onto a different stratosphere altogether.

Coming from a place that has given us such sporting icons as Christy Ring, Donal Og Cusack and Diarmuid O'Sullivan, it would take a bit of doing to be referred to as the one who put Cloyne on the map.

If James Motherway becomes the first man to win the Grand National with a mare since 1951, he'll nearly deserve the plaudit.

"I've never been to Aintree before," he divulges, "but I know even from watching it at home on the television, you'd have butterflies in your stomach as the boys line up to jump off. God only knows what I'll be like when the race comes round, but the way I look at it, there are so many things that can happen in the National, you have to be realistic.

"If Bluesea jumps round and comes back in one piece, that's the main thing -- anything after that is a bonus. It is an incredible event, so it's great to be going there with an Irish Grand National winner, and she's ready for the fray."

Irish Independent

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