Dublin: 13°C Saturday 31 July 2021
Advertisement

'I was filled with so much emotion, I ran down to meet them all and it was absolutely magic'

Ted Walsh on his greatest winning run as a racing trainer and celebrating with his family.

2000 week

This article is a part of 2000: Revisited, a week-long series of features looking back on some of the headlines and the forgotten stories that filled the sports pages 20 years ago.

Here Ted Walsh tells Fintan O’Toole about the magical month in 2000 when he trained the winner of the Aintree Grand National, the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse and the Punchestown Gold Cup.

**************

AT HER HOME in Pennsylvania, Betty Moran needed some convincing before giving the green light.

In the spring of 2000 at Brushwood Stables, a half hour drive west of Philadelphia, she was deliberating before the Aintree Grand National.

Her horse Papillon was in the frame to run.

Moran had enjoyed success as an owner in the 80s. Morning Bob won the Pennsylvania Derby in 1984. Creme Fraiche triumphed in the Belmont Stakes in 1985.

The decision on entering the world’s most famous steeplechase rested on whether Papillon’s trainer based in Ireland could ease her mind.

“He didn’t go to Cheltenham and the idea was he wasn’t good enough to be a Cheltenham horse in one of those good races,” recalls Ted Walsh.

“We thought he’d have a chance at the National. The biggest thing that April was to convince Betty Moran to let him take his chance.

“I know it’s 20 years ago but there was still a fair bit of old negative press about horses and jockeys getting injured in the National. She was in America reading that kind of stuff.

“She was saying, ‘Will the horse be safe? Will young Ruby be safe?’

“We got around her to give us the go ahead to run him.”

It had been a troublesome season for Ruby Walsh. He had broken his leg the previous October in the Czech Republic, colliding with a railing at the Pardubice meeting. Another fall after Christmas when schooling at home hampered his comeback.

He didn’t ride again until 1 March but his recovery fuelled his father’s desire to have his son make his debut that April in the blue riband event on Merseyside.

Having given her blessing, Betty made the transatlantic trip and was present at the track on 8 April.

Source: chatham43/YouTube

“She came all the way from America and Liverpool was strange to her. It’s a hard old place to see the race. I usually make my way to the top of the open stand if I really want to watch it and go up there early with a pair of binoculars.

“But on this occasion I was in the parade ring giving Ruby a leg up and talking to Betty Moran. JP was great. He has a box on the winning post. He gave us a couple of passes and said, ‘If Mrs Moran wants to go up there, bring her up there to watch the race.’ He has a box on the winning post.

“We had three passes, Helen (Ted’s wife) and myself and Betty went up there. I got up on a chair in the back of the box and got alongside a good friend of mine, JP’s manager Frank Berry.”

ruby-walsh-riding-papillon-842000-digital Ruby Walsh first home on board Papillon at Aintree in April 2000. Source: Allsport/INPHO

20 years on Ted can recall what unfolded with crystal clear clarity from his home in Kildare.

“When Papillon passed the stands after going a circuit, I was delighted. He was third or fourth, jumping like a stag. Then when he jumped the Canal Turn the last time and he was sort of upside David Casey was on his outside on Lucky Town, I said, ‘Jesus this horse is carrying him well.’

“He jumped Valentines’ which is the third last and he was absolutely hacking. I knew he’d the ones around him beat. I turned to Frank and he looked up at me and just put his thumb up. I knew though Norman was going very well behind him all the time (on Mely Moss).

“They jumped the last and the rest is history. When he rounded the last bend, he pricked his old ears, Ruby got a couple of tears into him and that was it.”

He hugged Helen afterwards, was hit by congratulatory wishes from everyone around and was overjoyed that the Pennsylvanian owner was there to share in it all.

But for Ted Walsh this was a moment of personal Grand National elation. He was an eight-year-old when his father brought him out from Terenure for the homecoming in Rathcoole in 1958 after Mr. What had won the race.

He realised a life ambition in saddling up in 1975 but Castleruddery didn’t complete the circuit and L’Escargot won for Tommy Carberry.

As a trainer he had an interest with Roc De Prince a few years before.

“He got around that’s all you could say. He didn’t take to the place that well.”

But now on this April evening he was celebrating, the champion and with family links everywhere to share in it.

“I was delighted for Betty. She was a great owner and she was a friend. I’d been alongside Helen and we hugged and cried. I was filled with so much emotion, I ran down to meet them all and it was absolutely magic.

“Running down the stairs, out through the crowds, I was running blind just to meet Ruby, young Ted who was on one side of him, Katie on the other and Jennifer.

“Anybody that was very close to me was there to share in it as well. Brendan Brady, a great friend of mine, came in with the horse. My sister and her husband were there. My good friends from Kildorrery, Eddie O’Connor and Nora, who’d been with me all my life. Ruby’s wife Gillian.

“That’s where it all was for me…you know…that we could all just share in it. Ah it was just magic.”

Papillon2000 Source: Sunday Independent

**************

The hopes for Papillon had been modest beforehand. Ted had trained 10 winners that season until that juncture. He had landed back from the Cotswolds that March deflated, Commanche Court in the Arkle and Rince Rí in the Gold Cup both having their aspirations scuppered by falls.

But the Aintree success on Saturday 8 April was the start of a major reversal in fortunes. Then Commanche Court won the Irish Grand National on Monday 24 April and followed it by landing the Punchestown Gold Cup on Wednesday 3 May.

“It was probably the most amazing month in my equine life. Papillon was the cake, Commanche (in Fairyhouse) was the icing on it and Punchestown was the candles on top.”

grand-nat-ruby-walsh-father Ted and Ruby Walsh celebrating Grand National glory in 2000 at Aintree. Source: PA

He became the first trainer to land the two races either side of the Irish Sea in the same season. A seismic feat.

Commanche Court had won the Austrian Derby on flat in 1996 before a switch in trainer saw him land the Triumph Hurdle for Ted at Cheltenham the following March.

Then came the sparkling winning streak in 2000.

“I didn’t actually think about it as doing the double. Papillon had been beaten in the Irish National two years previously by Bobbyjo and I thought honestly coming off the stand, that was probably as close as I was going to get.

“But Commanche travelled well and he bolted in. He beat Foxchapel King, who’s a fair horse, in a canter.

“I was doing it on television with Robert Hall and I could see by the time he jumped Ballyhack, Ruby was taking him back, he was jumping like a buck. He was riding Commanche with loads of confidence and our horse was absolutely loving it.

“Being a father I’d have been delighted to see Ruby win the National for anybody. But the fact that he won it on my horse, here it was, your son 20 years of age winning the Irish Grand National, knowing what it was going to mean to him and to us, that’s a great feeling.”

Commanche2000 Source: Irish Independent

The win was sweetened by the presence of the owner for the celebrations that afternoon in Fairyhouse.

“Dermot Desmond was a great owner. I met him one time, three or four years before at a do that JP was having after Cheltenham.

“He said, ‘You’ve never had a runner at Cheltenham’.

“I said, ‘No I’ve never had a horse good enough’.

Be part
of the team

Access exclusive podcasts, interviews and analysis with a monthly or annual membership.

Become a Member

“He said, ‘Go away and buy one. You buy the horse and I’ll pay.’

“Whatever I wanted to do, he said it was grand, just give him a ring and let him know what was happening. No arseing about or putting pressure on you.

“He was there on the day, he got a great kick out of it. So did we as a family.

ruby-walsh-2442000 Dermot Desmond, Ted Walsh and Ruby Walsh after Commanche Court's triumph at Fairyhouse.

“There was nothing to lose after winning the Irish National so we ran him in the Heineken (Gold Cup). Now he may have been a fortunate winner and he may have been an unfortunate loser as well because he nearly got brought down when Doran’s Pride fell at the third last.

“But he won. The Heineken, I’d won it 25 years earlier for my father on a horse called No Hill and it was the greatest day of my racing life up to then. Winning at your local track, Punchestown, what a month.”

They celebrated in style. Sky Sports landed in to document the party at the yard in Kill after Papillon’s victory. The village parade took place on the Sunday, a visit to the nearby school afterwards that week. Later there would be a trip to Kildorrery, the North Cork home of Ted’s father Ruby, a chance for the locals there to share in this happy time.

Ted had availed of the long odds beforehand to place his faith in his horse’s chances.

“I wouldn’t be a big punter. All it did is made sure I was able to have a bit of a party. Give everyone a few quid that was connected with him. It was just great. It’s not going to change your life but it was nice on top of everything else.

“Anyone of the three of them if they’d won would have been a highlight in my life.”

Betty Moran passed away last January at home in Malvern. She was 89. Her family and the Walsh clan had become close over the years, the link originating with Ted’s father who sold her a horse called Tib’s Eve that enjoyed success over jumps in the United States.

“We’d magic owners. Like Frank Moriarty, Rince Rí had won a Powers’ Gold Cup at Fairyhouse, he was a great owner as well. I’ve been blessed. I haven’t had many but the people I’ve had, you’d go for a drink with them, have a chat with them.

“You could ring them at any time, whether it was good news or bad news, they weren’t jumping down the phone at you. Lovely people. They were all people with a few quid as well, it wasn’t going to change their lives. It was just an achievement.”

ted-walsh-with-commanche-court Ted Walsh with Commanche Court

**************

A couple of weeks ago Ted hit a milestone age. His 70th birthday coincided with a strange and different time as coronavirus controls life in the country. April is typically a hectic month with marquee race meetings but the shutdown of sporting activity left it oddly quiet.

Still his work outdoors in Kildare keeps him busy and his family are all doing well. That all leaves him grateful.

Revisiting that golden period in 2000 is welcomed. A chance to share recollections of wonderful experiences and appraise the significance of it all.

“The Grand National is great race, a race that I’d dreamt about all my life, not about winning now, of having a ride in. I didn’t honestly expect Papillon to win the National. It was beyond my wildest dreams.”

“It’s like if you’re somebody playing for Dublin or Kerry, you think we should win an All-Ireland. But if you’re from Carlow or Louth, that’s something you think, deep down, not doubting yourself, but you think this is unattainable really.

“Somebody like us just can’t win the National. I’ve a small outfit, I don’t consider myself bad, but for a yard like us or Tommy Carberry or Martin Brassil, it sort of doesn’t come into your thinking.

“And when you do then, it’s even bigger again and makes it all sweeter. We’ve 14 or 16 horses here in the yard, but to have these three winners, it was absolutely magic. I used to go out every night, look at the two of them, I could have slept with them, I was that much in love with them.”

Family, sport and shining memories.

The42 is on Instagram! Tap the button below on your phone to follow us!

About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

Read next:

COMMENTS (3)

This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel