COLUMN: Talent of local Kildare jockeys sometimes taken for granted

Robert Mulhern on how heroes of the track are overlooked

Robert Mulhern

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Robert Mulhern

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mulhernrobert@hotmail.com

COLUMN: Talent of local Kildare jockeys sometimes taken for granted

Taoiseach Enda Kenny with jockey Niall Madden who rode Some Article to win the Killashee Handicap Hurdle (Grade B) on day 1 of Punchestown in 2015. Photo: Adrian Melia

I interviewed Derek Fox recently. Fox is the Irish jockey who won the Aintree Grand National out of nowhere in 2017. 

The Sligo town man had made a remarkable recovery from injury and the British media lauded his ride as one of the coolest in the history of the race. 

Headline after glittering headline followed, celebrating both his achievement and the role his background played in making that achievement possible.

And digesting the daily media here over a decent chunk of time, I’ve come to understand that racing, and Irish racing in particular, is one of the very few sports where the English demonstrate a deference that just doesn’t apply to other codes.

I’ve seen Ruby Walsh cow Fleet Street’s finest with the kind of withering contempt they just wouldn’t accept from an Irish statesman, never mind a sportsman.

And I’ve been on trains back to London from Cheltenham when simply being from the same country as Walsh was enough to earn a free round of Stella from the beer cart. 

The Blitz. 

Two World Wars and one World Cup. 

Brexit!

The legacy of England’s history is a state of mind that often leaves them feeling that bit ahead of everyone else. 

And while I often admire them for that, I know this feeling doesn’t extend to horse racing.

So when I read in these pages that there was a poll for the best moment in Kildare sport, my first instinct was to think of that achievement which might be most favourably received by an English ear?

And my second thought was to think of not only Ruby Walsh, but Timmy Murphy, Niall Madden and Leighton Aspell. 

Kilcullen's Leighton Aspell in action at Sandowne Park in January; Picture: Cranham Photo

The generation of local riders who have one six English Grand Nationals between them... this century!

Of course there are other, hugely significant, Kildare successes in horse racing on the world stage. The purpose of this column is not to dial down on those but to highlight a group international sporting triumph achieved by a generation. 

For the purpose of jogging the memory, Ruby Walsh rode Papillon to win in 2000 and again then again on Hedgehunter in 2005.

Niall Madden, from Naas, won on Numbersixvalverde the following year.

Brannockstown’s Timmy Murphy was first past the post on Comply or Die in 2008.

And then Leighton Aspell, who grew up down the road from Murphy, achieved an astonishing double, winning first on Pinau De Re in 2014 and then following up to win again on Many Clouds in 2015.

Each of these victories on their own is worthy of inclusion on any list heralding Kildare sporting success.

But together, they represent a staggering local assault on the world’s greatest steeplechase from a bunch of locals. 

Last November, I read a glowing report about a school in Wales, called Gowerton Comprehensive, which has produced four current Welsh rugby stars.

Long before celebrated examples came along such as  the Celtic team that grew up in the shadow of Parkhead and went on to win the 1967 European Cup, or the Manchester United team of ’92 backboned by Scholes, the Neville brothers and Nicky Butt, pockets of local talent making it big on the international stage have made great  stories. 

But in the case of this collective Kildare equine success, maybe it’s a case of nothing diluting achievement like plenty of it. 

And in the context of living in England and looking back, it does feel strange that the achievement is never grouped together like it would be if it was a generation of jockeys from say, Durham, or North Yorkshire.

Possibly, it’s happened enough times to feel normal.

And the accessibility, and identifiable nature of the winners, as well as their modesty, serves in some strange way to undermine it as an international success because the winners will always feel local.

Maybe I’m over-estimating it? But  I don’t think so. 

I remember the first time someone told me that a man from Naas, called Willie Burke, had won the Derby. 

I refused to believe it. 

I couldn’t image a seemingly regular local man achieving something so great. 

So that Madden, a neighbour, and three other Kildare riders would go on to win six Grand Nationals between them, is something that for me at least will never dilute. 

One thing is for certain. 

If some part of England could lay claim to the same collective achievement, then in the finest words of Fleet Street, the rest of the world would be reading all about it.

Robert Mulhern is a London based journalist contracted to RTE's The Documentary on One. To contact our columnist, email mulhernrobert@hotmail.com