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Mouse Morris

Last Monday morning, before Mouse Morris left for Fairyhouse racecourse, he tapped the photograph of his son Christopher that sits on the island in the kitchen: “We need some help today Tiffer.”

It was a year and a week since Mouse had last seen his son.  Working as a chef in London, Christopher Morris had decided to travel the world, work his way around the world, play some music, play some drums, pickup some culinary ideas, then come home and settle down, open a restaurant in Dublin.  That was his plan.  Before he did, however, he came here to Everardsgrange, just outside Fethard in County Tipperary, to spend a few weeks with his dad.  He left on 21st March 2015.

“Tiffer wasn’t into horses,” says Mouse.  “He was far too clever for that.  He was into his food, and he was into his drums.  Cooking and music, they were his things.”

In June last year Christopher was in Argentina, in Las Heras in Mendoza.  He and his friend Munra Borghi had played a gig on the Sunday night.  They were meeting friends for lunch on Monday, so they had returned to their apartment to catch some sleep before going out again.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can occur when dangerous levels of the gas accumulate in an enclosed space.  There are several things that can cause it in a home, poor ventilation, faulty heating appliances, blocked vents.

Because carbon monoxide is a colourless, tasteless, odourless gas, it is difficult to detect.  Christopher went to sleep in his apartment and never woke up.  Munra died in the shower.  It was the water coming out from under the front door of the apartment that alerted people.

“I got the call in the middle of the night,” says Mouse.  “I knew there was something wrong.  I don’t think it sank in.  The poor girl who had to ring me.  I did find out that I had a lot of very good friends though.  And the people at the Department of Foreign Affairs were great, Bobby Smith and David Ormond, the compassionate way in which they dealt with it all, the repatriation.  And VHI were brilliant, they sorted everything.

“It’s all a blur though.  It’s still hard to take, difficult to believe.  It’s still sinking in.  People have told me to keep busy, so that’s what I have tried to do.  It’s the quiet moments that are difficult though, in the car, driving to the races.  And I just lost it at Fairyhouse on Monday.”

Mouse watched the Irish Grand National on the big screen in the parade ring.  He had told Ger Fox to ride Rogue Angel as he wanted.  The rider knew the horse, the trainer figured, he had ridden him to victory in the Kerry National at Listowel in September, so he knew the horse’s attributes, he knew how tough he was.

Mouse didn’t expect that the rider would set out to make all on Rogue Angel, but he was happy with how he was travelling and jumping.  He didn’t miss a beat.  Then, on the run to the final fence, Ruby Walsh moved ominously in behind on Bless The Wings, and Mouse thought, here we go again.

It was in last year’s Irish Grand National that Band Of Blood and Rule The World went down to the final fence together.  It looked like it was going to be a 1-2 for Morris, the only unknown was in which order they were going to finish.  Then Thunder And Roses finished strongly and got up to beat the pair of them.

Not this time though.  Bless The Wings challenged Rogue Angel at the last, he probably went a head or even a neck up, but the Gigginstown House horse battled back, wrested the lead back 100 yards from the line.  The two horses went past the line together, it looked like Rogue Angel was back up, but Mouse wasn’t sure.  Then the result: first number eight.  Suddenly a microphone was thrust underneath the trainer’s nose and Robert Hall from RTE was asking him how it felt.

“I just couldn’t hold it together,” says Mouse.  “All I could think of was Tiffer.  I have no doubt that he helped us.  I’m not religious, but I am certain that he was looking after us.  The name of the horse, Rogue Angel, and the day that was in it and everything, a year and week to the day since I saw him last.”

Horse racing pales into insignificance when set against Christopher’s loss for Mouse, for his mother Shanny, for his brother Jamie.  Timeform founder Phil Bull called racing The Great Irrelevance.  But it is a great irrelevance that can be a point of focus, a distraction at worst.

Mouse is keeping busy.  Jamie is riding out here now, preparing to ride in the charity race at the Punchestown Festival at the end of this month.  And next Saturday, all things being equal, Mouse will have two runners in the Aintree Grand National.

The trainer pats First Lieutenant on the neck.

“He looks good doesn’t he?  He may be 11 now, but he has rarely been better.”

First Lieutenant ran in the Aintree National last year, but he made a bad mistake at the first fence, he lost any chance he had right there.  He jumped the fences well on the second circuit, however, and that augurs well for this year.  He is a classy horse.

Rule The World also looks good, coat gleaming in the morning sunshine.  He is still a maiden over fences, but he was a top class hurdler and, runner-up in the Irish National last year, we know that he can jump and that he will stay.

Victory for either would be a fairytale result in a race that has a habit of throwing up fairytale results at the end of an unfathomably difficult year.

© The Sunday Times, 3rd April 2016