The trainer was anxious about the ground but the owner Cathal McGovern insisted “We might never have a runner at Galway races never mind the Galway Plate”
Wednesday 29th July 2009 will always go down as a cherished day for local horse racing enthusiasts particularly local gentleman Cathal McGovern as this was when his relativity inexpensive horse ‘Ballyholland’ effortlessly sauntered right away from the field to run out unchallenged winner of the valuable £128,000 William Hill Galway Plate with jockey Andrew McNamara in the saddle to triumph by an astonishing official margin of eight lengths.
‘Ballyholland’ raced in the prominent yellow and white silks of Cathal McGovern, who fittingly named this horse after the village where he was born and raised. The horse was trained in the townland of Crossgar, close to Downpatrick by capable handler Colin McBratney.
McGovern’s ‘Ballyholland’ was sent off a 16-1 shot in the betting market despite winning on his previous outing at Down Royal because there were other challengers in the field who bragged further credentials however there was plenty of interest surrounding the horse leading up to the race as local bookmakers stated, “we were bombarded with each-way bets from all angles”.
The unforgettable race started at 4.25pm on a warm mid-summers day with the Paul Nicholls trained ‘Roby De Cimbre’ going off the 11/2 favourite partially because Ruby Walsh was in the saddle but the horse never found his stride and was eventually tailed off however it was Pat Fahey’s horse ‘Washington Lad’ who put up a bold performance and was still in front at the last but he was evidently a sitting duck for ‘Ballyholland’, who was travelling ominously well behind the leader with the jockey Andrew McNamara cheekily having a glance over his shoulder, as he pushed the game ‘Ballyholland’ to the front and quickly settled the race in a matter of strides to win by an uncontested eight lengths from ‘Knock on The Head’ who tried to quicken with him but was only ever chasing in vein as ‘Ballyholland’ was not for stopping, besides if anything he could have went round again if needed, many described this horse’s victory as “poetry in motion”. Shortly after the race the ecstatic winning trainer McBratney stated to us “he made that look so easy, I’ve always thought he was a very nice horse but to win like that is something else”.
After his effortless success in Galway connections thought the next move on the agenda was to try their luck at the Aintree Grand National which is undoubtedly one of the toughest stamina testing races. The horse ticked all the boxes and deserved to be given a chance in the national hunt showpiece. ‘Ballyholland’ went off a well backed punted 4/1 favourite but unfortunately when traveling comfortably within himself he had to be pulled up at the 15th fence due to an injury though even to this day many shrewd judges have often whispered he would have won that race if he didn’t get hurt but at the end of the day the horse’s well-being is paramount over success.
‘Ballyholland’ raced twice after that but then owner Cathal McGovern came to the conclusion “the horse owed him nothing” and was retired to the Moorhill stables close to McGovern’s home where he resides now as a bonny 16-year-old enjoying his well-deserved retirement, though one thing is for certain this horse is sure to go down in history as the horse from the north of Ireland, who took on the big stables and won with McGovern’s faith in this horse duly rewarded.