In 2003, Oliver Brady was told he had six months to live. Had his doctors known the story of his first winner, however, they might have revised their prognosis.
For things had looked even bleaker for Barts Hill when Brady stumbled across her 25 years ago. In fact, she was booked into an abattoir the very next day.
Brady was at a Sunday market, just over the Ulster border, and found a fellow selling tack. He eyed Brady speculatively. “I don’t suppose you’d be interested in a mare with a bit of pedigree?” Brady was taken to see Barts Hill. She had been a feeble runner. In fact, she had beaten precisely one horse in 11 starts, but Brady thought he might give her a chance and breed from her.
“I gave him 150 quid, including 15 for the tack,” he recalled yesterday. “I took her home, put her in a field for six months and fed her up. She was weak, that was her problem. But then I noticed something else. In the field, she was scared of the other mares, didn’t want to be among horses. And, when we started working her, the moment you put her on the outside, she just flew.”
Brady put the mare in a race at Navan and had 500 punts each way at 33-1. Once switched wide, she took off and never stopped. She won by 20 lengths, an exotic distance in Flat racing, and went on to win big prizes at the Curragh and Galway.
It was a typically extravagant breakthrough from the man whose theatrical celebrations in the winner’s enclosure have put the racing backwater of Co Monaghan indelibly on the map.
Next week, Brady takes one of the best young hurders in Ireland to the Cheltenham Festival. He is so confident of Ebadiyan’s prospects in the JCB Triumph Hurdle that you literally fear for his health.
“I really do think he’s the one I’ve been waiting for,” he said. “If he’s in the first four at the bottom of the hill, he’ll win, no bother. Nothing will outstay him from there. All he needs is the luck in running.”
The bandwagon is careering uncontrollably through Ireland. An Ebadiyan song by a friend,
Rose McConnon, played for the first time on the radio yesterday, while Brady has been declaiming Ebadiyan poems at Festival preview nights around the country. The horse has become the spur to Brady’s hopes of raising 300,000 euros apiece for Kenyan orphanages and a new cancer scanner at a Dublin hospital.
Brady has already lost his mother and three of his eight siblings to cancer. “When I was diagnosed, they thought I wasn’t going to make it,” he said. “So my brother took to coming over from England at weekends. He would sit here watching the racing, and always back the grey – didn’t matter if it was even money or 50-1. What we didn’t know was that Benny already had the sickness himself, and he went before me. So this year when I went to the sales, Rita said to buy a grey one, in Benny’s memory.”
She gave him 80,000 euros, but Brady found Ebadiyan for 18,000 euros. “And with the hype the horse is getting for Monaghan, and the money he’s raising, I do say very sincerely that this is something made in heaven,” he said.