“Victory is everything. You can spend the money, but you can never spend the memories”.
Ten years ago, this week the entire community of Newry were in jubilance as locally owned horse Ballyholland claimed success in the €250,000 William Hill Galway Plate.
Ballyholland raced in the Yellow and White silks of Cathal McGovern, a member of the Ballyholland Harps GAA club and was is trained in the townland of Raffrey, near Downpatrick by Colin McBratney.
Having won in much livelier conditions at Down Royal racecourse on his preceding outing, the then eight-year-old Ballyholland was sent off at 16-1 for the Galway plate on ground that even his trainer Colin McBratney supposed would be too testing for him. Though his uncertainties proved unfounded early in the race as Ballyholland marched like the winner throughout the contest; settled in mid-division jockey on board Andrew McNamara always beheld to have everything under control and approaching the final obstacle McNamara asked Ballyholland to go and win his race and the son of Tiraaz breezed clear to win by an extraordinary margin of eight lengths.
Reminiscing on the unforgettable success Ballyholland’s trainer Colin McBratney asserted; “Cathal McGovern has had horses with me for a long time and he’s never had much success, but he’s stuck with me through the years and finally this lad came to reward him.
We came to Galway confident enough that he’d finish in the first three or four but for him to win so easily – I was flabbergasted to say the least but then again I’ve always thought he was a very nice horse however in this game things hardly ever work out the way you planned”.
The bookmaking shops of Newry and further afield were bombarded with each-way bets from all angles on 29th July 2009; Familiar local bookmaker John Fearon spoke to us about the extent of the cash punted on the celebrated horse; “Ballyholland was owned by a local man, and everybody was seemingly well informed of the likelihood of him running well above our betting expectations. It wasn’t a good result for us bookies though things like this don’t occur every day so you must embrace it and take it on the chin”.
Astute McGovern acquired Ballyholland for a modest €2,000 and to ascend to the heights of winning that €250,000 race Is almost farfetched speaking after the surprizing feat McGovern insisted; “Sure having any winner of any race is special but to win at the uppermost level of jumps racing is a dream come true for a small-time owner like and the buzz in my hometown at the time of the success made up for all the bad results down through the years – plenty of folk had a decent bet on my horse”.
When the celebrations had settled McGovern then confirmed the next move on their agenda was to try their luck at the Aintree Grand National which is beheld upon being one of the toughest endurance challenges of thoroughbred racing nevertheless Ballyholland warranted to be given a chance in contending in this race after his heroics at the Galway races.
Ballyholland went off a well-supported 4/1 favourite but unfortunately when travelling merrily within himself, he had to be pulled up at the 15th fence owing to an injury still even to this day several shrewd judges in the pubs in Newry have often assumed Ballyholland would have won the national if he didn’t come to grief but then again Ballyholland’s well-being is paramount over success any day to his smitten connections.
Ballyholland has been there, done that, got the T-shirt and now he is relishing his well well-earned retirement at Moorhil stables on the outskirts of Newry. Cathal McGovern’s faith in this one-in-a-million thoroughbred was duly rewarded.