Whatever the fate of Any Second Now in this year’s Randox Grand National, Ted Walsh will take a moment to reflect wistfully on the role Betty Moran played in giving it “the best day of my racing life”.
They were both in JP McManus’ stall at Aintree when Papillon, the horse she owned, became a household name.
Ridden by Walsh’s son Ruby, he landed one of the biggest bets in Grand National history, backed 33-1 to 10-1 on the morning of the 2000 renewal.
Walsh, who forms Any Second Now for McManus, is forever grateful to Moran.
Not because she paid to build the double bank in front of the Punchestown bleachers and named it Ruby’s Double, after Ted’s father, Rupert (“Ruby” Senior).
Nor is it because she bought Papillon for the sole purpose of bringing in aspiring jockey Ruby Walsh.
This is because she was, according to Ted, “part of the family”.
Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Moran, who died aged 89 in January last year, was the owner and breeder of several group and freshman winners through Brushwood Stable in Pennsylvania, including Belmont Stakes hero Creme Fraiche and Arlington Million winner Kris Kicken.
As a breeder, she produced two-time American champion Unique Bella, top Hard Spun stallion and three-year-old European champion Russian Rhythm. She also possessed several Jeremys, classified as group one.
Yet his lasting legacy is in the hearts of the Walsh family.
Papillon failed to sell at Doncaster sales as a four-year-old and was picked up by Walsh.
“We knew he was a good horse and we were going to go toe to toe with him, but we changed our minds,” Walsh recalls.
“Berry Moran, who was a friend of my father, asked me to buy a fine horse that would suit young Ruby, who would accompany her.
“I said I had one in the yard and she bought it from us and owned it. She was very close to my dad.
“He had been hanging out with Morris ‘Pop’ Dixon, who was a great jumps coach in America, and he said she was coming to the show in Dublin with some friends of hers and he asked my dad to come over. take care of her and get her a horse.
“The horse she bought was a horse called Tib’s Eve. I had mounted it. He raced in the Triumph Hurdle and had placed in a few races and she liked him.
“He went back to Morris Dixon and he won a couple of good races including a high stakes race at Saratoga.
“She came back the following year and bought another horse. Then his son Mike wanted to spend some time in Ireland, and he came and wintered with us, and then his wife, Anne Kelly, who was an Irish girl, wintered with us.
“They have become part of the family with the kids growing up. Mike is a few years younger than me. I’m going to be 72 this year and I’ve known him since he was around 16 or 17. We go back 50 years and it is above all a family friendship that was born at Papillon.
Named by Ted’s son (“young Ted”) after the movie starring Steve McQueen, Papillon was a striking person.
“He was a showy horse, a very big, beautiful and beautiful horse, very easy to work with and a fantastic jumper,” Walsh said.
“He never fell in his life. He was knocked down in the second National (2001), when Ruby caught him, came back up and finished fourth.
“The main problem was getting Betty to run it. It took a lot of persuading. She just wanted a nice horse that Ruby could ride at the start. It was her first race in the race.
“The National was getting a lot of negative publicity at the time and people were saying it was a dangerous race, and she was more scared for young Ruby than the horse.
“We had no aspirations to win, but we backed him here and there at 66s and 50-1.
“JP invited Betty to his box and we watched it from there, with me standing in a chair as they jumped the chair.”
He added: “It was a magical day. To finish would have been great, but the horse jumped great all the way, Ruby gave him a great ride, never made a mistake, traveled very well and away, you knew he was going to run a big race.
“This National was the best day of my life as a driver, without a shadow of a doubt.
“Having him win on his own would have been great, but having Ruby driving him made him even better. The only thing that would have matched him would have been if Seabass had beaten Neptune Collonges because Katie (daughter) was on board (in 2012).
Walsh was a good amateur rider but only rode the National once, in 1975, when his mount Castleruddery, on which he had already won a Kim Muir, declined. “I didn’t go as far as Becher,” he recalls.
“But it was a big deal getting a ride and it still is.”
Much like the nerves of 40 jockeys gasping before the marathon, Walsh’s voice rises an octave or two, in passionate defense of the race.
“The National is close to my heart. It is the most famous race in the world. National Velvet, everything.
“Rachael Blackmore is after winning the Gold Cup and the Champion Hurdle, but she said the other day that nothing would compare to winning the National.
“It’s a unique piece. Every kid who grows up on a pony dreams of riding the National, doing their own little Becher’s Brook or their own little Canal Turn. It’s magic. It’s a race that affects the whole nation and everyone in the race.
“If you go to other countries, if you sit in a hotel in France tomorrow morning, ask someone what won the Gold Cup, they would say, which Gold Cup?”.
“Ask them who won the National, they’d say Tiger Roll.”
Walsh has fond memories of the trip to Aintree in 1973 when Red Rum beat Crisp.
He said: “I remember when the National looked like it was about to close. There was no one there that year. Mrs (Mirabel) Topham was going to sell the place and they thought they would exploit it in Haydock!
“I remember it well. You could have played football around the square, there were so few people there. It was dead. But Ladbrokes took over with Mike Dillon. They backed him up and Red Rum helped save him.
Tiger Roll won’t be there this time, although with the many changes to the fences over the years, it’s arguable that even if he or any other horse were to replicate Red Rum’s three wins, it wouldn’t fit his achievements.
“They’ve been altering the course since the 1950s and it’s not the test it was,” Walsh said.
“I think you need a bit of luck to win and you have to have a horse that stays.
“Obviously you have to jump. But you need a stayer now, more than 25 years ago when the jumps were bigger and harder.
“Riders took it a little easier because the focus was on moving. Now the jumps are changed and riders take it for granted that they’re going around. So they’ll tend to go a little faster while riding. along.
“Unfortunately I think we’ve succumbed too much to a very small minority who won’t be happy until there’s a Grand National, but for me it’s the biggest race in the world.”
Thankfully the National survives and Walsh will head to Aintree with little expectation this time around, despite Any Second Now’s good form which saw him finish third in the race last year at the Minella Times and show his well-being successfully in the Bobbyjo Chase. at Fairyhouse in February.
“Just because you’ve already won it doesn’t mean you don’t want to have that feeling of winning again, but everyone has a bit of luck and maybe I had mine,” said Walsh.
“I think he has a live chance, like I thought Seabass had, like I thought he had last year, like I thought Jack High had, when he dethroned the Pulpit (2006).
“We went with a few who had live chances. He has a live chance and if he gets a clear round and things go well for him, he shouldn’t be far off.
“He doesn’t compare to Papillon, not really. They both have a lot of pace and could both go and win at two miles, just like Seabass – not at freshman level, but they could all win third or sophomore races – at two miles. They had a lot of pace.
“He’s a slightly better horse than Papillon, but probably not as good at show jumping.
“He just won last time, on a whim, but hopefully we should be there.”
There may not be a big morning bet, there may not even be another big party, but one thing is certain: “Without a doubt, I will be thinking of Betty and that big day said Walsh. “But it would be fantastic to do it again.”
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