Racing: Tragedy casts long shadow on Glory day

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The Independent Online

Melissa Murphy was 14 when she stepped from a bus in February. What happened next was a sequence of events that every parent has nightmares about. The injuries Melissa suffered after being hit by a car were so bad that she was put on a life support machine. Melissa died on 4 February.

Her father, Pat, is a racehorse trainer and soon after his daughter's death put his sport in the context of such a tragedy by writing to the Racing Post. "The birds have stopped singing at Racehorse Farm," Murphy wrote. "Life for us will never be the same again. Until 4 February a tragedy to us was a horse with a leg injury or an owner not paying the bills."

By April, Murphy had split from his wife, Louise. He was also forced to move his training operation from Portbury, near Bristol, to the Lambourn Valley, unable to compete with the West Country triumvirate of Paul Nicholls, Philip Hobbs and Martin Pipe.

The last of these had also taken receipt of Murphy's finest horse, Shooting Light, who has since won three big races for the champion trainer and is now near the head of the betting lists for next year's Gold Cup. More owners followed to the exit door.

On 1 May, Murphy, backed by only his most loyal owners, set up at Mabberlys Stable in East Garston and set about trying to rebuild his life and career. Yesterday the 43-year-old won the Welsh Grand National with Supreme Glory. In racing's parlance it was called "a popular success" but in reality it was far deeper than this.

In sporting terms, Murphy had cocked a huge snook to the connections who had left him. "It's been an awful year and it is great to finish on a high," Murphy said.

"We lost Shooting Light, who we had tremendous fun with over the years. But racing is a great leveller. I knew I had this horse spot on today." Indeed, Murphy saw that the 10-1 shot was "a winner a long way out" but to everyone else only prevailed after a prolonged, fierce battle with last year's winner, Jocks Cross.

Edmond had made much of the running, but the application of blinkers on this quirky character did not pay off as the nine-year-old faded after a mistake on the top turn. See More Business, the Gold Cup winner of 1999, also proved the doubters right by being pulled up after never getting into the race.

It was the younger contingent of the Hennessy winner, What's Up Boys, Bindaree and You're Agoodun who looked likely to contest it but that was without reckoning with the resilience of Supreme Glory.

Leighton Aspell always had the eight-year-old – who was 3lb wrong in the handicap – handy and took a brief lead at the 15th. Aspell, who Murphy declared had "given a fantastic ride", steadied Supreme Glory knowing he would stay and was right, beating Jocks Cross by two lengths, with Bindaree back in third. It was a sweet day, too, for Aspell had been one of the jockeys exonerated after being suspended in the race-fixing inquiries of 1999.

The emotion soon spilled out of Murphy. "Melissa would have loved to have been here today," he said before adding, "Somebody said to me after Shooting Light had won the Thomas Pink at Cheltenham, 'It must have been painful to watch that'. But I told him that that day I had sat by my daughter's grave on what would have been her 15th birthday. Now that's painful.Watching a horse win a horse race can never be painful."

Still, it must have been satisfying for Murphy to watch yesterday. "I'm most pleased for Chris [Moorsom, the owner] who stood by me through the bad times. There were others who didn't."

The plan now for Surpreme Glory is a tilt at the real thing at Aintree in April, for which he is rated at 25-1. "He goes best fresh, so will have one more run before the Grand National. John Edwards [the former trainer] told me not to run in the Becher Chase as he believes a horse will always run best on his first visit to Aintree. The experience might just frighten him for next time." Earlier at the Principality's biggest meeting there was a strong sense of déjà vu in the hillsides as Guillaume Macaire won the Grade One juvenile hurdle for the second year running, this time with Tempo D'Or.

Last year the French trainer won with Jair Du Cochet, who was immediately installed as favourite for the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham. Only foot-and-mouth stopped Mac-aire then, and he will praying that there is no repeat in March when Tempo D'Or, quoted at 16-1, goes to the Triumph after staying on to beat the Pipe-trained Live The Dream.

The young French jockey Benoir Gicquel was having his first ride on British soil. A winner at your first attempt on a day when Tony McCoy could only muster three seconds is definitely one to remember.