Micko's in pursuit of the Hollywood dream

Irish hope owned by 24 prison officers presents the ideal plot for a film script
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The Independent Online

A place in history and a first prize of almost £300,000 are plenty to be going on with, but for the owners of Micko's Dream, the fourth-favourite for the Grand National, there could be even more at stake at Aintree this afternoon. If Jason Titley sails around The Elbow at 3.55 and drives their runner to victory, the film rights to their story will probably be worth, at a conservative estimate, about $5m.

They say there is a romantic tale attached to every National winner, yet sometimes, in truth, it is hastily cobbled together once the result is already known. But not so with Micko's Dream, who was bought by 24 co-owners who answered an advert in the Irish Prison Officers' Magazine, and named him after Mick O'Hehir, a syndicate member who died of cancer without ever seeing his horse race.

And there are other sub-plots along a path that leads from Portlaoise gaol, reckoned to be the toughest in Ireland, all the way to Aintree. There have been gambles landed and lost, £100,000 won in prize-money, and a series of ante-post bets at all rates from 66-1 down which could break several local bookies if Micko's Dream obliges today.

The story begins in 1994, when Gerry O'Neill, a prison offer at Portlaoise, placed the advert which attracted 24 would-be owners. It took more than a year for them to save IR£20,000 to buy their horse, at which point O'Neill and two other syndicate members, John Burke and John "JB" Curtin, set off for the Fairyhouse sales. The unnamed four-year-old who would be named Micko's Dream cost them IR£17,000.

As a typical "store" horse, their new gelding spent a year at a stud near Portlaoise, before going into training with Willie Mullins. Shortly before joining Mullins, however, Mick O'Hehir was diagnosed with cancer. He died in January 1997.

"It was his dream to be involved in owning a racehorse," Jim Balfrey, the secretary of the syndicate, says. "He bought the full rig-out to go racing, a felt hat and a big coat, but never saw the horse. After he passed away we had to name the horse and one of the boys said at a meeting that we should call it after Mick, so it was quite easy."

After a promising spell over hurdles, during which he twice beat Limestone Lad, Micko's Dream has developed into a fine chaser, most recently winning the Red Mills Trial Chase at Gowran Park in February.

With the money they have won, both from purses and the bookies' satchels, the syndicate has been able to buy three more horses, and in all, a 100-strong party of supporters will be at Liverpool to shout him on.

They will travel, too, in expectation rather than mere hope. "He has never been beaten over a distance of ground," Belfry says, "and I'd say that if we get the run of the race, we'll definitely be in the firing line.

"The first fence might finish it all, but if he goes on and wins it will be a good story.

"Our members are from eight different institutions in the Republic, with eight of us working in Portlaoise prison. Someone said to me the other day that it would be a great day to break out, but I said no it won't. They'll all be watching the Grand National."