IT has been some journey for Mouse Morris from Ampleforth College to the hallowed Aintree winner’s enclosure where his tears of joy were raw with bittersweet emotion as he greeted Rule The World after this ‘old crock’ of a racehorse won the Crabbie’s Grand National.
“A bit of a waste of time, wasn’t it?” joked the proud Irishman when asked by The Yorkshire Post about his education in the county which he always resented because it was forced on him by his father, Lord Killanin, who once headed the International Olympic Committee. “Perhaps they will understand why I only wanted to study the racing form.”
They should do.
As Morris, a genialformer amateur rider and chain smoker with slightly dishevelled hair, rushed onto the racecourse to greet his horse and his rookie rider David Mullins who had just become the first teenager to win the National since 17-year-old Bruce Hobbs won on Battleship in 1938, his thoughts turned to his late son, soul-mate and assistant Christopher – known by all as Tiffer – who died from carbon monoxide poisoning during a holiday to Argentina last year.
The most emotional National since Bob Champion conquered cancer to win the 1981 renewal on Aldaniti, County Tipperary-based Morris was in a state of shock after Rule The World – a horse that had never previously won a steeplechase because of two career-threatening pelvic injuries – wore down the David Bass-ridden The Last Samuri late on. It was the first time since the late 1800s that such an inexperienced horse had prevailed.
Just two weeks after stablemate Rogue Angel won a tearjerking Irish National at Fairyhouse, 65-year-old Morris said: “It feels like Disneyland – I cannot believe it. It hasn’t sunk in yet. Turning in I was thinking, ‘I’ll be very happy with third place’, but someone was looking down on us. The way things have been going Tiffer has been working overtime for me.”
Even this does not tell the full story. The 19-year-old jockey, a bundle of nerveless effervescence and nephew to all-conquering trainer Willie Mullins, only got the ride after Gold Cup-winning jockey Bryan Cooper – initially declared to ride Rule The World – had a late change of heart and opted to ride stablemate First Lieutenant who was a second- fence casualty.
Philosophical afterwards, Cooper was one of the first to congratulate Morris and winning owner Michael O’Leary of Ryanair fame whose mud-splattered maroon and white Gigginstown House Stud colours had just made history. It was the first time, since Dorothy Miller’s Golden Miller won the Gold Cup and National in 1934, that steeplechasing’s two most sought after prizes have been won by the same person in the same season.
In turn, O’Leary heaped praise on his trainer after promising “free flights on Ryanair for the rest of the day” and then adding “If your name is Mouse, free flights on Ryanair for the rest of your life”. “Winning a National does not make up for the loss of losing a son, but victories like this shows that life goes on and there is a future after such tragic losses,” he said.
“Jamie [Tiffer’s brother] has returned home to help his dad with the training and has clearly revolutionised the way they do things in the yard, and while he hasn’t managed to get the old man off the smokes yet he’s performed miracles today.
“This is an incredible achievement by Mouse to bring a horse back to the track after two pelvic injuries, and to win the world’s greatest race over four-and-a- half miles in soft ground shows the genius that Mouse is. He has always been a trainer for the big day – he doesn’t have a huge number of horses, but the ones he has look incredibly well, and if he would only get his hair cut he could have a great future!”
In any other year, David Mullins – a jockey with just a handful of steeplechase wins to his name – would be one of the great National stories. That the 2016 renewal will always be remembered for Mouse Morris and absent friends is a measure of the trainer and his place in racing’s heart.