Remembering the Grand National Shay Barry exited in flying form

The unpredictability of the fare, such as when the riderless Paddy’s Return took out most of the nine victims at the Canal Turn, assuredly left much to chance too
Remembering the Grand National Shay Barry exited in flying form

NATIONAL MAYHEM: Shay Barry soars through the air ins spectacular fashion after parting company with Moondigua at The Chair in the 2001 Aintree Grand National. Picture: Mike King

All the 20th anniversary copy surrounding the Aintree Grand National this year has related to Red Marauder and Richard Guest slogging home in the mud from just three remaining rivals, two of which, Blowing Wind and the defending champion Papillon, had been remounted by AP McCoy and Ruby Walsh, to earn a slice of the prizemoney.

The incident-packed affair was Nirvana and Hades for photographers.

The opportunities were countless, but the unpredictability of the fare, such as when the riderless Paddy’s Return took out most of the nine victims at the Canal Turn, assuredly left much to chance too.

Mike King is sadly no longer with us to describe his work from that day, having died suddenly at just 52, five and a half years ago.

We are fortunate, however, that he left a stunning illustration of his capacity not just for being in the right place at the right time, but for combining raw ability with composure in the heat of battle.

He can have taken few better shots than the astounding portrait of an airborne Shay Barry, clearing The Chair with his erstwhile partner, Moondigua, nowhere to be seen.

With some spandex shorts and a cape, the Kilmeaden native could easily be mistaken for a well-known superhero.

The image invariably induces hilarity, such as when the very popular Twitter account @AnaglogsDaughtr posted it with the description as follows: “A lot of cheating going on in the 2001 Grand National A Horse smoking Hashish Shay Barry doing his Superman Impression A horse hiding under the fence waiting to join them on the 2nd circuit.”

There truly was a lot going on but Barry took centre stage.

A top-class jockey who sampled Grade One success with Rathgar Beau as well as glory at Cheltenham on Space Trucker, and prevailed in other elite contests such as the Galway Hurdle with Black Queen for fellow Waterford man John Kiely, this was his first taste of the National.

His recall is excellent but then he maintains he can remember every obstacle cleared in four attempts at the National, managing to complete on the Jonjo O’Neill-trained Shamawan in 2006.

“I was in Frances Crowley’s riding out and the phone was ringing away in the pocket,” details Barry of the day his services were booked by 15-time British champion trainer Martin Pipe.

“One of the lads says: ‘Jeez, are you going to answer the phone?’ We were talking about the National and Pipe had a load in it and the lads said: ‘It could be Pipe ringing you.’ I said: ‘Yeah, right.’

“I answered it and it was the girl in the office at Pipe’s. At first I thought some of the lads were messing but no, she wanted to know would I ride Moondigua in the National. The owners were Irish. I was delighted to have a ride in the National, and for Pipe as well.”

Moondigua had won twice in Ireland when trained by Aidan O’Brien, piloted by Colm Murphy to win a bumper and Charlie Swan to prevail over hurdles.

He began life at Pond House promisingly, and recorded four triumphs under recently-retired Richard Johnson, AP McCoy (twice), and Norman Williamson.

His form had deteriorated alarmingly in the previous year but Barry didn’t care that he was a 100-1 shot, nor when offered the most alarming of instructions.

“Pipe came to the door of the weigh room with McCoy and he was going through his runners. He’d a good few in it. He was going down the list and McCoy would tell you about them, as he was obviously after riding it.

“When he came to me Pipe said: ‘Mondigua’, McCoy said: ‘He can’t jump. Jump off last, second last, and you’ll be lucky if you get down over the second.’

“I said: ‘Jeez, that sounds good!’ I wasn’t one bit nervous. Honestly, I was just really excited to be riding in the National.

“I went down to the start but I didn’t know if I was going to ride in the National again so I said I wasn’t going to hunt around the back. I actually lined up on the inner and made the running down to the first! Carl Llewellyn wanted to go down the inner but I wouldn’t budge.”

They travelled well through the first circuit and were lying sixth or seventh approaching The Chair, having cleared 14 fences successfully.

“I got a great spin off him. A super spin. He backed off a bit at the first and landed on his knees in Becher’s the first time, but up until The Chair, I was getting a great spin. I looked around before we turned in and I couldn’t believe there were so few left and I just thought: ‘If we could keep popping away now.’

“He was a big horse, 17 hands I’d say, with a big, long stride on him. Before I went out, I spoke to Adrian Maguire to ask for any advice when you got The Chair. He said it was plenty wide so you’d be better off to get in tight than stand off.

“But as I came to it, my lad was meeting it really long and I just said I’d keep going forward on him. He just came out of my hands and I knew when he left the air, he wasn’t going to get there. His two front legs landed in the front of it.

“He was tanking away. He was in a great ‘oul rhythm. The ground was heavy and he was loving it. There was no way at that stage that the tank was running empty. He was still in his comfort zone.”

Mike King must have been acting on instinct as he pointed his lens. Barry was doing the same.

“When he came down with his two front feet into the dyke, he catapulted me straight out. You didn’t have much time for thinking… I got a grand fall and was back up on my feet quickly. I actually was going to remount as there were only seven or eight left but he was rightly stuck in it. It was a job getting him out of it.

A blown-up version of the photo has pride of place in the Barry household.

“To this day you could meet someone who’d mention it to you.”

While he will always wonder if they, rather than Red Marauder and Guest might have been added to the roll of honour, what is very evident is that at 47, the thrill of being a participant is the prevailing emotion.

“The year I finished, and I know we finished last, but it was like riding 20 winners, just to finish.

“I was lucky enough to ride plenty of nice horses but the National is the one race where you do get the hairs standing on the back of your neck when you get down to the start. It’s one that you wouldn’t forget.”

Thanks to Mike King, Shay Barry won’t be forgotten either.

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