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Arthur Moore

Ask Arthur Moore which of his six BoyleSports Hurdle winners gave him the biggest thrill, and he is unequivocal.

“The first one,” he says thoughtfully. “It’s always the first one, isn’t it?”

When Irian won the BoyleSports Hurdle – then the Irish Sweeps Hurdle – he provided young trainer Arthur Moore with his first big win. That was 1979. Jack Lynch’s final year as Taoiseach was 1979, RTE Radio 2 was launched in 1979. That’s how long ago 1979 is.

Irian had won a couple of times in France, but he was a bleeder and his future as a racehorse looked bleak. Taken back to Ireland by Yasmin Allen – yes, Yasmin Allen from Ballymaloe – he was bought by owner Raymond Keogh, whose daughter was working at Ballymaloe at the time. The horse had obvious ability, but he proved to be difficult to train. They couldn’t get him onto the gallops, so the owner sent him to Arthur Moore.

“We had to sort him out a little here all right,” recalls the trainer. “He wasn’t easy, but we figured him out and we got him going. Bay Cockburn did a lot of work with him, he actually won a few races on him.”

They wanted to run him in the County Hurdle at Cheltenham in March 1979, but a passport issue from France meant that he wasn’t eligible. So they ran him in the Galway Hurdle that summer instead, in which he ran with a lot of promise. Arthur decided that they would leave him off after that, target the Sweeps Hurdle. And so it all began.

“We gave him a good school around Punchestown a couple of weeks before the Sweeps,” says Arthur. “Tommy (Carberry) rode him in that. But Tommy was offered the ride in the Sweeps on the favourite in the race, a horse of Jim Dreaper’s, and it was hard to tell Tommy not to ride the favourite. Our horse was a 50/1 shot.”

Bay Cockburn was supposed to ride him, but the excesses of Christmas determined that Cockburn could not do the weight. Moore went to the races at Leopardstown the day before the Sweeps Hurdle without a rider for his horse in the feature race the following day.

Just before the last race that day, he spotted saw Ann Ferris sitting in the weigh room waiting to ride in the bumper, so he just asked her if she would ride Irian. There were no 24-hour rider declarations in those days, so the owner didn’t know who was riding his horse until he arrived into the parade ring before the race. He was mildly surprised to be greeted by a lady rider.

“I was very happy that I got Ann,” recalls Arthur. “She had lovely hands, she went out and made all the running. She gave him a lovely ride.”

In a strange twist of Fate, Ann Ferris’ nephew, Kevin Ross, is now married to Arthur’s daughter Anna, and together they run a successful bloodstock agency.

They celebrated in the Red House just outside Newbridge that night in 1979, a good crew, including Arthur’s father, the legendary Dan Moore.

“That made it extra special. The following day, my dad had a fall, and he actually ended up spending the next six months, the last six months of his life, in a nursing home. So I was always very happy that he was there that night, that he was able to celebrate with us after Irian’s win.”

Moore talks through the other five BoyleSports winners. Fredcoteri in 1983 and again in 1984, both times ridden by Tom Taaffe. For Auction ran in the race in 1984, which meant that Fredcoteri got into the race with just 10st 4lb on his back. Taaffe also rode Bonalma in 1986 and Roark in 1988, while Conor O’Dwyer was on Graphic Equaliser in 1998.

He also remembers the near misses, mind you. Family Way, brought down in 1995 and second in 1996. Joyful Noise, a close-up fourth in 1990 a month before getting to within a head of Deep Sensation in the Tote Gold Trophy at Newbury.

Feroda, second in 1987 from 4lb out of the handicap, when he also had Bonalma in the race, topping the handicap and keeping the weights down. He laughs at the recollection. That wasn’t so clever. So, while six is a massive haul in one of the most competitive handicap hurdles on the racing calendar, if the ball had hopped a little differently down through the years, it could be eight or nine or 10, and counting.

This afternoon, Sea Beat bids to enhance the record. The trainer has had the race in mind for the Beat Hollow gelding for a little while, and he is optimistic.

“I suppose we have had the race in mind for him since the end of last season,” Moore says slowly, “This has been the obvious race for him. He is only a five-year-old, Irian was the last five-year-old we won it with, all the others were older, but he has experience in big fields, so that should stand to him.”

Bought by Arthur’s son John Daniel from Juddmonte, unraced, Sea Beat was impressive in winning his maiden hurdle at Naas last February. The Fred Winter Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival was the plan after that, but he just failed to get into the race. He ran well in on the flat at Galway in October, and you can put a line through his run in the Ladbroke Hurdle at Ascot last month, as rider Robbie Colgan said afterwards that the holding ground just didn’t suit him.

“He has continued to improve. He still wasn’t the finished article last spring, but he has matured during the summer and he is a man now. We’re hopeful.”

© The Sunday Times, 18th January 2015