Saturday April 09 2022, 12.01am, The Times
Third-place finish in the Grand National last year does not begin to do justice to the horse or to the legendary racing dynasty that has trained him.
On the one hand you may consider Any Second Now an unlikely Grand National favourite, since he is trained a furlong from the Dublin motorway by a 72-year-old pensioner who has hardly a dozen horses in his yard and only three winners this season. On the other hand, Any Second Now was third last year, and that pensioner is Ted Walsh.
For Ted has seen it all and more. In the saddle he rode 600 winners as an amateur, a world record at the time. As a part-time trainer he saddled Papillon to win the 2000 National in the hands of his 20-year-old son Ruby, who was led up by Ted’s then 16-year-old daughter Katie, accompanied by the 23-year-old Jennifer with the rugs and the 20-year-old rugby-playing Young Ted with the muscle. By 2013 Ruby had won another National and was long established as one of the greatest riders in racing history and Katie drove the father-trained Sea Bass to be third at Aintree, at the time the closest finish by a female jockey.
The kids are all married now and the 15 country acres that their father Ruby bought at Kill, beside the still sleepy main road to nearby Dublin, have stretched to 80 acres, one or two of which have been profitably sold to the modern developments pushing out from the city. Jennifer lives on one part of the property, Katie on another. Ruby and Ted are but half an hour away and Ted’s wife, the former riding ace Nina Carberry, has just won Ireland’s version of Strictly Come Dancing.
Last week’s visit to Kill was to be greeted by Helen Walsh with a proud grandmother’s smile. She was holding Katie’s six-month-old son in her arms, the tenth grandchild. He’s called Ted, and after all that it should be no surprise that Any Second Now also has family connections — back in the 1990s, Ted, that is Father Ted, rode his grandmother.
It’s a hilarious and complicated story that loses little in the telling but it seems that after a couple of judicious sighting shots Ted delivered the mare Fast Time to two such impressive triumphs that JP McManus got out the chequebook. Two decades later Fast Time’s grandson arrived with the now Grand National-winning trainer, and to great surprise — but perhaps, considering another McManus horse was favourite, not everyone’s total delight — today’s potential hero winged in at 66-1.
In five seasons and 27 races since, Any Second Now has shown himself an admirable contender, winning five times and falling only once. He would have been much closer in last year’s National but for being badly impeded when Double Shuffle came down and rolled left at the 12th — if he had rolled right he would have blocked the winner, Minella Times.
“He’s a fine big horse,” Ted says admiringly, as Any Second Now stands tall and proud in his box, his bay coat gleaming, the skin supple against the tautly muscled frame. “He’s very sound of wind and limb and he’s had a perfect preparation, winning last time. Of course he has got to carry 7lb more than last year, and you always need a lot of luck. My own view is that if Delta Work takes to the place he could be hacking over them. He’s won five group ones; Minella Times and my horse are just good handicappers.”
Part-time Ted may profess to be, but unprofessional he is not. The original 16-box barn — which at one time housed the stars Commanche Court and Rince Ri alongside Papillon — now has a 20-box sister barn in which Katie and her husband, Ross O’Sullivan, successfully prepare two-year-olds for the breeze-up sales. A whirring horse walker turns on its tireless way and over in the paddock the six-furlong all-weather track is ready as the ever-present work bench of the present day.
“It’s a bit different than when we started,” laughs the trainer, a compact, dynamic figure, the energy and good humour still crackling from that bowl-like and balding head. “Back then as a ten-year-old my dad and my uncle Ted would ride one and lead one, and I would ride one behind and we would go trotting round the roads. You could never do it now with all the traffic. But, hey, that’s progress.”
Of course it is by the ordinary standards of life, even the usual parameters of sport, but the whole game, and especially this afternoon’s 40-runner race, is a cavalry charge of craziness. In an ever more risk-averse world, that is both its challenge and its charm.
As both Ruby and Katie rode down to the start in 2014, Ted turned to Helen and said: “Are we totally fricking mad to be doing this?”
Maybe, but it’s a wonderful form of madness.