Monty's Pass, the Grand National winner, has been a little poorly recently, but he is in the right environs. The 10-year-old paraded at Jimmy Mangan's yard here yesterday behind the imposing backcloth of the church of St Luke the physician.
It was an afternoon overcast in meteorological terms only. It has been brightness only in the village of Conna since Monty's Pass bolted home at Aintree in April, and Mangan has truly enjoyed the celebrity visited on both him and his horse.
"People have been calling round ever since and most of them are from England," he said. "If anyone's in the area they ring up and come round and have their photographs taken with him. They're still coming.
"The horse is very good with crowds and cameras. He definitely knows he is the main man in the yard."
Appreciation of the fact that the horse is king in Ireland is apparent even before you reach Mangan's 20-horse premises. It may be an unusual site for pilgrimage, but the significance is clear at the boundary. "Welcome to Conna", the roadsigns say, "Home of Monty's Pass".
The plan now is to set out on the Red Rum trail, to prove the 156th National was not an aberration but the first episode in a series. Mangan awaits the signals that the full Monty has returned. The gelding looks healthy enough, but there is little electricity about his work on the gallops. It may be that his grid will never be fully charged again after the Aintree experience, but the gelding is slowly recovering his vim.
"He's not quite there yet, but he's in great fettle," the trainer said of the horse who has just recovered from an abscess on the side of his face. "He can bounce back. His problems are behind him, and, if I can have him in the same form that he was last year going back to Liverpool, I know that he loves it over there and he can give a big account of himself."
The latest effort by Monty's Pass was a seventh placing in the Kerry National at Listowel, but that was just a false war. The reality kicks in during the New Year, when, in an effort to imitate the result, Mangan will imitate the preparation. The rehearsals for the most fearsome fences in racing will be conducted over hurdles.
"He's on holiday until New Year's Day," Mangan said. "He'll be out in the field every day. He loves being out. It will be the same road as last year. You have all seen the way he can jump. He will see a fence at schooling but he won't see a steeplechase.
"Running over hurdles sharpens him up. It makes him quicker. There is no use building big fences for Monty. I know he can jump and so does everyone else who has seen him perform. In two years at Aintree [he previously conquered the huge spruces in the Topham Trophy] he hasn't touched a twig."
Jimmy Mangan remains excited even by the thought of the Grand National, the day that took him from being just another rural Irish trainer into the singeing limelight. "The main memory is seeing him come up the straight so far in front," he said. "That will stick in my mind for ever, to think that he did it so easily. I knew he had a chance but I could never imagine him winning that race by the distance he did.
"He won a few point-to-points, but if anyone had told me at that time he was going to win an Aintree National I would have said they were mad."
Irish victories do not pass without Irish parties and they are still finding empties behind the curtains at the Conna Stud. "There was nothing done for at least a fortnight after the National," the trainer said. "It was incredible."
But Mangan himself did not drain any of them. Monty's Pass's National was a race he might not even have seen never mind won had he not confronted his alcoholic demons. A drop has not passed the lips for the last decade of his 48 years. "It was a problem all right," he said. "I was too fond of the stuff and drink is always around horses. I got a second chance and I enjoy life much more now."
Monty's Pass does not need to win another race. On 5 April he ensured his name will survive among the exalted few. Winning the Grand National means never having to say you are sorry. Yet he is just one of the many renowned to have emerged from this unpretentious quarter of Co Cork.
There were famous names associated with this place before Mangan's and the man himself bought and then sold on the 2002 Grand National winner, Bindaree, and also foaled the great Dawn Run.
In time, though, Jimmy Mangan has given birth to a great story of his own, the stamping of the idea that a good, small guy can still win the greatest steeplechase in the world. Another chapter awaits.
* Prize-money for next year's three-day Grand National fixture from 1 to 3 April, the last sponsored by Martell, will top £2m, an increase of £85,000.
Racing in brief: Rooster Booster to avoid Ascot scrap With Baracouda
* Rooster Booster, the Champion Hurdle winner, is likely to bypass a potentially tough confrontation with Baracouda, the Stayers' Hurdle winner, at Ascot on Friday. Philip Hobbs, his trainer, said: "First of all the ground is on the faster side for him, and secondly we do not want to take on Baracouda there."
* The trainers Jonjo O'Neill and Paul Nicholls have warned that two of the market leaders for the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup, Keen Leader and Strong Flow, are not certain runners. O'Neill is thinking of re-routing Keen Leader to take on Best Mate in the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon on Saturday, while Nicholls may switch Strong Flow to a novice event at Newbury on Sunday week, the day after the big chase.
* Best Mate is the 11-8 favourite with William Hill for the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day. Entries are announced for the race today. Last year's winner is followed in the betting by the 2000 winner, First Gold, at 5-1, with Jair Du Cochet on 11-2, Beef Or Salmon on 8-1 and La Landiere and Valley Henry both 12-1 chances.Reuse content