It’s safe to say Mouse Morris won’t be forgetting 2016.
The veteran trainer began the year still coming to terms with the heartbreaking loss of his son Christopher, who died the previous June, aged just 30, of suspected carbon monoxide poisoning in his apartment in Argentina while touring South America.
No amount of racing success could make up for such agony but Morris will take far happier memories from 2016.
On Easter Monday, Rogue Angel provided Morris with an emotional success in the Irish National.
Twelve days later, Rule The World, a horse whose career had been undermined by twice cracking his pelvis and who had never previously triumphed over fences, went and won the English version at Aintree.
“There’s no point in sleeping if you don’t dream, and it was a dream come true,” Morris says now as he recalls a heaven-sent five days.
“I can’t really explain the feeling I had at in the closing stages. Gordon Elliott was saying: ‘He’ll win, he’ll win’. I just couldn’t believe it. I probably still don’t.”
As he addresses members of the assembled media in his base in Fethard, Co. Tipperary, the hero of the hour — making his first return to his former home since moving to Gigginstown’s Co. Westmeath base following his retirement — is paraded.
“He’s not doing a whole lot by the look of him,” Morris jokes as he observes his chunky former charge.
“He looks absolutely terrific, I can’t get over how he looks. I hadn’t seen him since he went home after Punchestown. He spends his life out in the field with War Of Attrition so he’s keeping good company.”
The decision to retire Rule The World was, Morris asserts, the right one.
“I know he is only nine but he has had so many problems. And where do you go after winning a National? Basically it is only downhill really.
“He could have gone for it again this year but he would have got a good penalty and he retired at the top.”
That said, Morris still has a sense of ‘what might have been’ about a horse he always maintained was the best he ever trained.
And considering he trained a Gold Cup winner in War Of Attrition, that’s quite a statement. “He was a class horse before he had his accidents. It’s just a pity he didn’t reach his full potential.
“He obviously wasn’t as good after his injuries but had he not had injuries he would certainly have been a Gold Cup horse. No question.
“He was a very brave horse because he went through the pain barrier — especially the first day he did it (his pelvis) at Punchestown — but came back and was still game.”
At 65, there’s very little in the game that Morris hasn’t seen but even he admits he was surprised by the global reaction to Rule The World’s Aintree success.
“It’s worldwide, I got letters from literally all over the world. It was unbelievable,” he explains.
“We won a Gold Cup (with War Of Attrition) and probably nobody around knew about it but everybody seems to know about the Grand National.”
That said, from a strictly business perspective the Mouse Morris that will end 2016 will be the same Mouse Morris that started it.
Not that he’s complaining.
“Horse-wise, winning the National hasn’t made a huge difference. Lucky enough, I’m full. My full is 45 and it’ll stay that way. I’m too old to build any more stables.”
That’s not to say he’s less hungry for success though.
Indeed, he professes himself more enthusiastic now than he was when he started his training career.
And how do you top winning the Aintree Grand National? Why, you do it again of course.
Rogue Angel is Morris’ big hope for the 2017 renewal while Dromnea will also be aimed at the Aintree spectacular.
Rogue Angel hasn’t quite fired this season, finishing eighth and 12th respectively in the Munster and Cork Nationals.
However, last year’s Irish National hero has had a wind operation since his last run and Morris is hopeful that will work the oracle.
“He had a slight wind problem. He ran okay but didn’t quite get home (in his first two starts this season) so he’s had a small operation and it seems to have made a big, big difference.”
He is set for his first taste of the famous Aintree obstacles in Saturday’s Betfred Becher Chase where he’ll be reunited with Ger Fox, the jockey who steered him to glory at Fairyhouse.
“He would be a real National horse. All being well he will go to Aintree on Saturday. He’ll run the Becher and we’ll see happens from there.”
Of Dromnea, Morris adds: “He will also go to Aintree (for the National), providing he gets in. He will run in the Paddy Power (Chase at Leopardstown) and try and get qualified.”
And what would winning another Grand National mean to him? “I’d love to win another National. I’d have no objection to it at all.”
You certainly wouldn’t put it past him.
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