Mouse Morris the big winner at HRI awards

Trainer Michael ‘Mouse’ Morris was the big winner at the Horse Racing Ireland Awards which took place yesterday afternoon in the Leopardstown Pavilion, the Fethard-based trainer scooping the Outstanding Achievement Award for becoming the first person in almost 150 years to train the winners of the Aintree and Irish Grand Nationals in the same season.
Mouse Morris the big winner at HRI awards

Fortunately, his training skills far outweigh his desire to talk to an audience, but Morris, of eminently likeable character, can laugh at himself. On accepting his award, he said: “My son showed me a lot of tweets after the English National, and they were asking ‘what was Mouse Morris saying?’, as they couldn’t understand me. Well, I’d just like to tell them, I didn’t know either.”

Speaking after the ceremony, he admitted: “The whole experience is quite humbling.”

Recalling Rogue Angel’s success at Fairyhouse, he added: “He jumps well, and he stays well, which are two big attributes and it worked out on the day. I thought when Ger (Fox, jockey) jumped off and was making it I thought the man was off his tree, but he stayed going. Ger knew what he was at, I didn’t. It’s a lot harder from the ground than actually riding.”

Turning his attention to Aintree, where Rule The World produced the remarkable feat of not only winning the National but winning a chase for the first time, Morris said: “I hadn’t any expectations going to Aintree. The horses were well, but you never dream of winning an English National. He (Rule The World) was always a high-class horse – probably the best horse I ever trained, until he had his accidents. Maybe he was well-handicapped for what he was.”

Well-trained, more accurately. But Morris would never say so.

The competition was fierce in all categories, and Minding, who saw off numerous top-class rivals on her way to seven Group 1 victories on the track over the past two seasons, passed her stiffest task to date in accounting for Annie Power, Douvan, Don Cossack, Found, Harzand and Highland Reel in the Horse of the Year Category.

That tied in nicely with Aidan O’Brien emulating his son, Joseph, by picking up the Flat Award for a second time.

Of O’Brien’s one-two-three in the Prix de l’Arc, M V Magnier, son of Coolmore supremo John, said: “It was an incredible feat, and an amazing day. It was great for Found – she really deserved it. She has run a lot through her career, and it was a great job by everybody down in Ballydoyle. It’s an amazing thing to do, to get the first three in that race.”

Gordon Elliott may be mounting a serious challenge for the champion national hunt trainer’s title, but Willie Mullins still reigns supreme in the National Hunt category, as he won the award for the fourth consecutive year, and seventh time in total.

Said Mullins: “We have a fantastic team at home – of horses and people – so I’m delighted to accept it on behalf of those.

“I think Annie Power’s win in the Champion Hurdle was the highlight. Coming to the last, and getting over it, considering what had happened the previous year (when she fell at the last with the Mares’ Hurdle at her mercy). When she jumped that and just flew up the hill was the highlight of the year.”

Of a current season in which the stable has suffered the loss of and setback to a number of its leading lights, he added: “We’re probably halfway through the season, we’re a little slow to get going, and we’ve had our ups and downs as well. But we’ve got to get over all those.

“We don’t look back at those, we look forward, to see where the next winner is or the next nice horse might be coming from. Like life, you’ve got to look forward.”

The Contribution to the Industry Award went to Willie’s mother, Maureen Mullins, matriarch of a family which has been a dominant force in Irish racing for many years.

With a little slip of the tongue, HRI chairman Joe Keeling, reflecting on a remarkable year in Irish racing, credited one of Maureen’s grandsons, Tony’s son Danny, and not his cousin, David, with having ridden Rule The World to victory in the Aintree Grand National. This, of course, came as a great source of amusement but no surprise to another cousin, Patrick, who joked that such was the way with Danny’s family.

Patrick relayed that, back on St Stephen’s Day in 2001, in the minutes after Florida Pearl, trained by Willie, came out on top in a terrific duel with subsequent three-time Cheltenham Gold Cup champion Best Mate in a vintage renewal of the King George, Maureen was heard to say “Wasn’t that wonderful …”. As those within earshot prepared to offer their congratulation at Willie’s remarkable achievement at Kempton, she added: “… Tony’s just had a winner at Limerick.”

Later, when asked by emcee Des Cahill if Willie’s suggestion that Tony was the favourite son was true, quick as lightning she replied: “No, but you have to forgive him the most.”

Willie, delighting in his mother’s award, said: “That was unexpected, and great for her and for everyone in the family. She enjoys her racing, enjoys life, and has an interest in everyone’s horses – mine, Tony’s, Tom’s – and the careers of Danny, David and Patrick. It’s a lot to keep her occupied.”

Jamie Codd, who has been prolific in bumpers this season, received the Point to Point Award for the third time in the past four seasons, while the Racecourse of the Year Award went to Galway, where the festival continues to be the late-summer highlight for fans of national hunt and flat racing alike.

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