Donn's Articles » Liam Cusack

Liam Cusack

When Snugsborough Benny won a three-mile chase at Fairyhouse in February, his trainer Liam Cusack thought: Irish Grand National.  Put him away now, take him home, prepare him steadily, and bring him back to Fairyhouse on Easter Monday.

There have been potential targets in the interim.  There have been races in which Snugsborough Benny could have run.  Big races with big prizes.  Cheltenham came and went and Aintree came and went and Snugsborough Benny stayed at home.  Quietly quietly, his trainer has been bringing him forward with the objective of getting him to line up in the BoyleSports Irish Grand National tomorrow in peak condition.

So far, so good.

“He’s very well,” says the trainer.  “He gave a bit of a buck this morning, just to show us how well he is.  It’s an Irish Grand National, anything can happen.  You need luck.  Thirty horses and 24 fences.  But everything has gone to plan with him really since his last race at Fairyhouse in February.”

Snugsborough Benny was very good in that last race.  Settled nicely by Denis O’Regan through the early stages of the race, last of the five runners, he made good progress from the fourth last fence, he moved to the front between the last two, and he stayed on nicely to come clear of talented rivals in Call It Magic and Measureofmydreams.

“He did it nicely all right the last day.  He surprised me a bit, how well he quickened.  Denis said that he didn’t want to get into a battle with the other horse, but he put it to bed well.  It was nice to win the race, it was great that he put up a good performance like that, and it was also nice to win the prize money.  It’s not cheap to enter and run in the Irish Grand National, so it was good to have money in the kitty.”

Snugsborough Benny has been a slow burn.  Bred by his owner Ray Loughnane, he was beaten in his first five point-to-points.  As a result, while he was for sale, demand for him was not overly strong.  So his breeder decided that he would keep him and race him.  He won his point-to-point on his sixth attempt, a six-year-olds’ maiden at Lisronagh, with Barry O’Neill on board for the first time.

It took him five goes to get off the mark over hurdles too, but he moved up a notch when he moved up in distance, and he stepped up another level when he started to jump fences. 

“We were delighted with him in the Galway Blazers there during the summer.  He won that nicely.  He was a bit unfortunate to unseat at the fourth last fence in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown at Christmas, but he wasn’t going as well as I hoped he would be going at the time.  He went to his right at one or two fences.  It was great to get back on track last time though.”

Denis O’Regan has ridden Snugsborough Benny in each of his last eight races now.

“Denis has been the making of him really,” says the trainer.  “The horse likes to be ridden cold, and Denis does that really well.  He likes to pass horses, he likes to come forward in his races.  You’re going to need luck in-running in an Irish Grand National, but we’ll ride him for luck.”

It was as a rider that Cusack cut his teeth in racing.  He started off with local trainer Michael Moore, before riding for Arthur Moore and Enda Bolger and then moving to Homer Scott, for whom he rode plenty of winners, including a big three-mile handicap hurdle at the 1989 Punchestown Festival on The Committee. 

From there, Cusack moved to Jim Bolger, for whom he rode the flagship horse of his riding career, Chirkpar.  Cusack rode Dr Michael Smurfit’s horse to finish second to Oh So Risky in the 1991 Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham, and he rode him in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown a year later, when the pair of them came from an improbable position to get up and beat reigning champion hurdler Morley Street by a short head.

“I learned so much at Jim Bolger’s,” says Cusack.  “There were great people there.  Aidan O’Brien was assistant trainer.  AP McCoy was there, Paul Carberry, Christy Roche, Seamie Heffernan, Ted Durcan.  I always had one eye on going training, and the time I spent there was a massive help to me.”

Cusack has an eye for a horse.  He and Johnny McDonald bought King George and Stayers’ Hurdle winner Thistlecrack as a foal and sold him as a three-year-old.  He bred Mj Jack, who won five races for Karl Burke and was sold for 260,000 guineas at the Tattersalls horses-in-training sale last October.  Needs must.  Irish racing is so competitive.  You have to buy and sell in order to remain viable.  But when he happens upon a good horse, Cusack is well able to train him.

He has chances at Fairyhouse this weekend.  The Dabbler goes in the two-and-a-half-mile novices’ handicap hurdle today.  Chief Of Panama could go in the three-mile handicap chase tomorrow.  Snugsborough Hall, Snugsborough Benny’s younger brother, goes in the two-mile handicap chase today.

“Snugsborough Hall is in good form,” says his trainer.  “He has won his last two.  He’s learning his game.  Hopefully he can run well.”

It’s a big weekend.  Today is a big day.  Tomorrow is a big day.

“I will be a little bit nervous before the Irish Grand National.  Of course I will.  But we have done all that we can do now.  Snugsborough Benny goes there in good form, and he should like the nice ground.  I just hope that he runs a good race and comes back in one piece.  That’s all you can hope for.  If he does that, I’ll be happy.  And with a little bit of luck, you never know.”

It’s an Irish Grand National after all.  Anything can happen.

© The Sunday Times 21st April 2019