Yesterday provided a well-deserved moment of joy in a year of heartache for trainer Mouse Morris as Rogue Angel fought back tenaciously to edge out Urano in a thrilling finish in the Kerry Grand National.
Not for the first time this year the closing stages of a major race looked set to provide Morris with glory as Rogue Angel led the field into the straight with stablemate Rule The World and the Willie Mullins-trained Urano the only two apparent dangers.
Bitter experience thought Morris to be cautious though. In the Irish Grand National in April, Rule The World and Band Of Blood, another Morris charge, jumped the last alongside Thunder And Roses. Band Of Blood would weaken into fourth while Rule The World had to settle for second behind Thunder And Roses. Frustration.
July brought further pain as the luckless Rule The World clipped heels with ultimate winner Shanahan’s Turn when looking a real danger in the Galway Plate. More frustration.
In between came the most shattering blow of all, the news every parent dreads.
His son Christopher was dead. The 30-year-old chef died from suspected carbon monoxide poisoning while travelling in South America.
“He was my son, he was the best,” Morris said at the time. “He was the only person who had his head screwed on. We’re devastated.”
Consequently, Morris was sanguine yesterday as he awaited the result of the photo finish. It showed that Ger Fox had brilliantly galvanised 8/1 shot Rogue Angel into one last desperate effort to thwart Urano. The wait for a verdict couldn’t possibly compare with the trauma he and his family have endured.
Still the man who trained War Of Attrition to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2006 feared defeat.
“I didn’t have a clue who had won to be honest,” he said. “I presumed that I’d be second the way things have gone.”
Later there would be a hint of the emotion Morris must have been feeling as he added: “With the year I’ve had, this is very special. Somebody was looking after me today.”
Rogue Angel had geared up for this race by finishing second here on Sunday. Morris quipped: “He must have needed that bit of work on Sunday! He has always promised to win a big race somewhere but I wasn’t quite expecting it today.”
Even late on Morris didn’t quite believe what had happened .
“The horse carried him (Fox) the whole way today, but I thought Paul Townend’s horse (Urano) was doing hand-stands and galloping all over them turning in. But my horse stays all day.”
It was emotional day all round as David Casey enjoyed the perfect conclusion to his career by steering Long Dog to an effortless victory in the Ballygarry House Hotel Novice Hurdle.
Long Dog was returned the 1/6 favourite so wasn’t a betting proposition for the majority of the 25,239 attendance.
Nevertheless Casey, who was given by a guard of honour by his now former colleagues before the race, got a rapturous reception on his return to the winner’s enclosure although the man of the moment was happy to share the attention with his daughter Clodagh.
“I wasn’t expecting it. It was very kind of them,” the 39-year-old said of the guard of honour. “Listen, I was doing a job that I’ve loved. They’re all great friends of mine. Every one of them I rode with from when I started 23 years ago, it’s been a privilege and an honour and I wish them the best of success and safety for the future.”
Long Dog bolted in at the Galway Festival and was the proverbial certainty here. Casey was delighted to get the chance to sign off on him.
“Thank you very much to Rich and Susannah Ricci, to Ruby (Walsh) and Willie (Mullins) for letting me ride him, in fairness they didn’t have to do it.
“All of my family and all of my friends were here so it was very special and I want to thank the people of Listowel, they’ve been very good to me down the years, I’ve got lots of friends here, I’ve always been made welcome and I’ve always had a good festival.”
Asked if there was any doubts in his mind about his decision to call it quits as he crossed the line, Casey replied: “No, no. I was just hoping I wouldn’t deck him at the last! Once it was over, it’s done and dusted – time to move on.”
Moving on though doesn’t mean leaving the Mullins yard.
“Recently Willie offered me this position in the yard,” Casey said. “I’m travelling with Max Dynamite to the Melbourne Cup. He’s in quarantine now but goes over on Thursday.
“I’ve been there a long time already so not a lot will change — I just hope I won’t be a burden on him!”
Fat chance. Mullins expects Casey to be a “tremendous asset” to his operation.
“David has been great fun to have around the yard and, having been with me since he was 17, it was great to see him growing as a jockey in that time,” Mullins said.
“Going out in one piece is more important than riding a winner and he will be a tremendous asset to me in my business.
“He gets on very well with my people and staff and knows the way our yard works, and ticks.
“He is excellent to rate horses and can tell me to the pound what a horse is actually worth and it turns out he is usually right.”
Casey’s career highlights include two Irish Hennessy wins, on Rule Supreme in 2005 and Kempes in 2011, the Galway Plate on Ansar in 2004 and two Thyestes Chase wins courtesy of Hedgehunter in 2004 and On His Own in 2012.
On His Own also very nearly brought him Gold Cup glory at Cheltenham in 2014 but Mullins was keen to salute Casey’s record in France.
“A lot of people are unaware that David actually has a better record riding in France than at home as he has won two French Champion Hurdles and two Triumph Hurdle-equivalents in France.”
Thus he retires with a host of special memories.Morris, meanwhile, will have at least one positive one to remember 2015.
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