Sunday 15 December 2019

'You get so few you can throw at this race with a chance'

Liz Doyle has a live Irish Grand National hope in Rich Revival but his prospects hinge on the weather gods, as she tells Aisling Crowe

Liz Doyle: 'The more bright people you can get on board, the easier it is going to be.' Photo: Patrick Browne
Liz Doyle: 'The more bright people you can get on board, the easier it is going to be.' Photo: Patrick Browne

Aislin Crowe

Candles are being lit, fingers and toes crossed and if there are statues of rain gods around Crossabeg, Co Wexford then they have been dusted down and left out to entice any clouds that may gather over Fairyhouse in the next 24 hours to shed their loads on the course. The reason for this unusual desire for rain is Rich Revival, Liz Doyle's hope in tomorrow's Irish Grand National, and his preference for soft ground.

One of the ante-post fancies for last year's race on the strength of his victories in long-distance handicap chases, his exertions took their toll at Fairyhouse. A year on, the build-up could hardly have been more different and Rich Revival has slipped out of favour with the opinion-makers of the trading rooms. However, the opinion that really matters is that of the trainer and she believes her horse is sparking into life at the perfect moment.

"His profile, and the fact that he has had an easy season, is coming back to form and has dropped three or four pounds in the handicap; we just need our ground and I think he would go bang there. If he lines up it means the ground will be safe and he will go there a fresh horse. I don't know if there are very many fresh horses who are well handicapped that will be lining up so he will go there with a very good each-way chance because of that."

The decision on his participation will go down to the wire. Opportunities like this are rare and Doyle will give the forecast rain every chance to transform the ground in their favour.

"We will definitely walk the track on Monday morning. We will have a fair idea with the ground description and weather forecast what is ahead of us. It is quite unusual that it would go down to something like this but I think with the race that it is, we have to give it every chance as far as the owners are concerned and the horse too. You don't get many cracks at it and if we were sitting at home on the couch watching the race on yielding to soft ground, having not declared the horse, we would feel like fools. You have to push it sometimes."

Doyle is enjoying her best season so far, sending out 16 winners up until this weekend, but if Rich Revival and Seán Flanagan were to cross the line first, it would rate as her most significant achievement in a career that has unearthed gems like Cheltenham winners Al Ferof and Cheltenian.

"It's not the best horse that always wins an Irish National. Getting those four or five elements together; ground, right weight, right preparation, a good ride and having it come together on the day – it takes a lot for that to happen so in that it would be immense personal satisfaction to train the winner of the National.

"It would be absolutely huge and a great personal achievement, even if you can get one to go close and run well in it. Hopefully, we will be able to get him to line up and have a crack at it. You get so few horses that you can throw at this race with a genuine chance so it would be nice if the rain gods would give us a chance to try anyway," she smiles.

Her winning run this season has been built on the foundations laid by those Cheltenham successes but they were achieved after both horses were sold out of her yard. A former point-to-point rider, she understood that to make a life for her and her family in the sport she loves, selling on her best young stock would be part of that, until she could attract more owners with more horses.

A mother of two, she faces additional challenges that many in her profession are unencumbered by. She was on the gallops two days before the birth of both her young sons and back home again three days later. Motherhood is the leveller of racing's highs and lows.

"It has been interesting but it hasn't been as hard as I thought. I have two boys, they are four-and-a-half and two-and-a-half and great fun. No matter how bad a day you have, and you have bad periods when your horses aren't going in and are just not right for one reason or another, it's great, the kids are always the same. When you have good days they still have the same little problems so it brings you down to earth again too."

Delegation and an understanding that the assistance of others is essential to survive and thrive in a cut-throat, male-dominated world, where some owners are reluctant to have their horses trained by women, helped her get to this point.

"I think if you are going to be successful, whether it is buying them or training them, you can't keep all your eggs in one little basket, you have got to diversify and share the load a little bit. The more minds you get involved in it, I think the more success you will have. The more bright people with ability you can get on board on your team, the easier it is going to be. You cannot be successful as a trainer on your own," a point on which she is adamant.

Now all she needs is a little bit of help from the rain gods.

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