Walsh prepares Papillon for National guard

Word is out that an Irish stable plans another assault on Britain's top jump prizes
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The Independent Online

An unusual terror grips you when you turn off the Dublin to Naas road and arrive at Greenhills, the yard of Ted Walsh, horse buyer, media figure and Grand National-winning trainer.

An unusual terror grips you when you turn off the Dublin to Naas road and arrive at Greenhills, the yard of Ted Walsh, horse buyer, media figure and Grand National-winning trainer.

With most trainers there is the great fear of rejection, the worry that no ideas will be forthcoming, no words to fill the piece. With Ted, however, it is like trying to wave down a verbal pantechnicon. "I've only got 800 words," is about the only phrase you get in.

The final safety system which prevents most broadcast commentators and pundits from revealing what they really think was never installed in Ted. He could say anything. This leads to great audience anticipation and great producer terror. It also leads to amusing company.

Ted says he tries not to use bad language on air, but, sometimes, he does not try hard enough. It makes some viewers cross. "Very few people are brave enough to tell me to my face," he says. "Instead they will ring up and chew the arse off me."

Yesterday though was a morning for chewing the cud, for discussing how a stable of 14 managed to get National Hunt racing by the throat earlier this year. It was a time in the spring when Team Walsh won three of jumps racing's top races within the space of four weeks.

Papillon captured the Grand National, Commanche Court the Irish equivalent 16 days later and the same horse a Balaclava of a Heineken Gold Cup at the Punchestown Festival. The other stable luminary, Rince Ri, had previously beaten Florida Pearl in the Ericsson Chase at Leopardstown.

Some trainers might ascribe this to consummate skill. Ted has a different answer. "It's pure luck that we've got these horses," he said yesterday. "Peter Easterby had Night Nurse, Sea Pigeon and Alverton together and then he didn't have three good horses in 15 years. That's how it falls. There is no science to it.

"I'm very fortunate to have three horses of their calibre in such a small yard at the one time. To have them is an honour."

There is little flash at Greenhills. The horses work two and a half times round a Wexford sand circular gallop one way, and then replicate the work in reverse. The audial backdrop is the whizz of a dual carriageway. It is not deeply romantic. But the horses don't know that. They just go on to run and jump quickly on the racecourse.

"It's not much, it's not like Manton or Kingsclere, but at least I can't be evicted," Ted says. "I'll go out of here in a box. Whether it's plywood or cardboard I don't know."

Now Ted has his three princes to sharpen the senses. Papillon looked tall and regal yesterday, but the master knows his limitations. "Papillon does think a bit, but all these good horses that survive think a bit," he says. "When things aren't working out right he just says the game's too hard today and he's back. He wouldn't be a Cheltenham Gold Cup horse. Down the back there they'd be fighting their corner, stepping up the tempo, and he'd say I've had enough of this.

"He was a right old bollocks early on last year. He didn't want to know on fast ground. He ran deplorable. He couldn't get out of his own way and whether it was the ground or his frame of mind I don't know."

The nine-year-old will be placed carefully before Aintree 2001 and if he succeeds before then it will be a victory worth having. "I wouldn't mind him winning a big race on the way to the National but I'd hate to think he'd get 7lb for winning a bicycle race somewhere," Walsh says. "He's going to have 8lb more anyway for winning last year.

"He'd look for a way out on very heavy ground and now he's a National winner we won't be tearing the backside out of him on that."

Rince Ri (Dance King in translation) might make up into a Gold Cup horse, and so might Commanche Court, the beast who put the stable on the map with victory in the 1997 Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. That debt will never be forgotten.

"Down the field going down there we've got Barney Burnett and an old horse there called It's Me Again," Walsh says. "Two horses that are very close to me. And another one round the corner called Classical Affair. I've five or six horses here about 20 years of age, feeded up with rugs on them.

"I might come across as an arrogant bastard, but I really and truly love those old horses. I feed them and look after them and I'm nuts about Commanche now. I'm crackers about him. He's got a home here until he closes his eyes."

Ted Walsh will be at Greenhills until the same moment and so will stable visitors if they are not careful. "If there's any more questions now I'd be pleased to answer them," Ted said. Buses, aeroplanes and dependants, sadly, were waiting.