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|Michael Mouse Morris. |
Biog. Updated 24/09/07
Michael ‘Mouse’ Morris has been a prominent figure in Irish National Hunt racing for well over 30 years. Like many future trainers, he first came to prominence as a jockey and he was an amateur rider of significant talent. In 1974 he helped Edward O’Grady claim his first Cheltenham Festival winner when riding Mr Midland to victory in the National Hunt Chase. But perhaps the highlights of his career in the saddle came when he rode the durable Skymas to back-to-back victories in the Queen Mother Champion Chase in 1976 and 1977.
Having taken out a training licence in the early 1980s, Morris was very fortunate to get his all important breakthrough horse at an early stage of his training career in the shape of Buck House. He gave Morris his first winner at the Cheltenham Festival when prevailing in the 1983 Supreme Novice Hurdle but it wasn’t until he went over fences that he truly realised his potential. He gained his most famous success in the 1986 Queen Mother Champion Chase under Thomas Carmody. A month after that win, a match race was arranged between him and the Cheltenham Gold Cup winning mare, Dawn Run, at Punchestown and he did exceptionally well to finish within two lengths of that hugely talented mare. However, that would tragically be the last time Buck House would be seen on the racetrack as he succumbed to a bout of colic a month later.
The entrance into the 1990s saw even more success come the way of the Mouse Morris yard and Trapper John got the decade off to the perfect start when winning the Stayers Hurdle at the 1990 Cheltenham Festival under Charlie Swan.
The consistent Cahervillahow was a great servant for Morris, winning eight races in total. However he is perhaps best known for his unfortunate defeats than his victories. He came within a short head of winning the 1991 Irish Grand National and three weeks later he was controversially disqualified in the Whitbread Gold Cup having finished first past the post. He also had the dubious honour of finishing second in the infamous 1993 Aintree Grand National which was voided following a shambolic start.
Later that decade, the immensely talented His Song was the flag bearer for the Morris yard. He was among the top novice hurdlers of his generation, finishing second to Istabraq in the 1998 AIG Champion Hurdle on just his fourth racecourse outing before again finishing the runner-up berth in the Supreme Novice Hurdle. He gained compensation for that defeat less than six weeks later when winning the Champion Novice Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival. There was understandably quite a bit of expectation surrounding him when he went over fences the following season and he did not let his supporters down, winning the Denny Gold Medal Novice Chase and the Irish Arkle. Unfortunately though, he experienced physical problems after his novice chasing season and never recaptured the same level of form.
Foxchapel King ensured that the transition into the new millennium was a smooth one for Morris, winning the 1999 Troytown Handicap Chase before finishing in the frame in a number of big handicaps later in the season including the Irish Grand National. It was in late 2001 however that he really made his mark, winning the Munster National, the James Nicholson Champion Chase and the Ericsson Chase in the space of ten weeks.
There are few better examples of the ability of Mouse Morris to get the best from an injury prone horse than the JP McManus owned Keepatem. He won three times over hurdles between January 2000 and April 2004 and twice finished in the frame in the Martell Cognac Handicap Hurdle at the Aintree Grand National meeting. However, he saved the best performance of his career until he went over the larger obstacles. Under a vintage waiting ride from Conor O’Dwyer, he landed a gamble of epic proportions in the 2004 renewal of the always competitive Paddy Power Chase in Leopardstown on only his fifth start over fences having been shrewdly campaigned in the months leading up to the race.
Fota Island is another horse that has allowed Morris to exhibit his abundant talent to place his horses to excellent effect. Having won both of his bumper starts, his connections opted to skip a novice hurdle campaign with him and go straight over fences. However, he failed to make a serious impact in his three starts over the larger obstacles and his attentions were soon turned to hurdling. It took a while for the penny to drop with him in that sphere, but by the end of the 2003/2004 season, he had finished in the frame in three Grade 1 contests. The following season he was sent back over fences and while it again took a while for him to get the hang of things, he came good in spectacular fashion at the 2005 Cheltenham Festival, landing a significant gamble in the Grand Annual Handicap Chase. Three weeks later, he defied a 12lbs rise in the ratings to win the Red Rum Handicap Chase at the Aintree Grand National meeting. In the 18 months since that win, Fota Island has continued to improve, but he has yet to get his head in front in a Grade 1, despite having filled the runner-up berth in no less than four of them.
When discussing the training career of Mouse Morris, pride of place has to go to the immensely talented War Of Attrition. His career began somewhat inauspiciously at a point-to-point at the Horse And Jockey back in March 2003 where he fell at the last fence with the race at his mercy. He was not seen again in public until the following November when finishing a promising second to Zum See in a Naas maiden hurdle. He disappointed when sent off as favourite for his next start in Thurles he gained compensation with a comfortable win in Punchestown just over a week later. He then took the scalp of Macs Joy in a Navan conditions hurdle a fortnight later before running very disappointingly indeed in the Grade 3 Slaney Novice Hurdle. He was found to have mucus in his lungs following that run and he was put away until the Supreme Novices Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Not many people gave him a serious chance in the race and his SP of 33/1 reflected this. However, he ran the race of his life under Conor O’Dwyer to finish a ¼ length second to the future Champion Hurdle winner, Brave Inca. That highly encouraging performance led many to believe that he would take high rank among the novice chasing brigade the following season.
He made a promising start to his chasing career, narrowly prevailing in a Thurles beginner chase over 2m 6f. However he injured a splint bone during the race and was absent for three months as a result. He made an impressive return to action in a Naas novice chase over two miles the following February and he went to the Arkle Chase at the Cheltenham Festival as an Irish banker.
However, he could never get competitive in a race that was run at a blistering pace and could only finish seventh. He was again sent off as favourite in Aintree but he could only finish a distant second to Ashley Brook. The Swordlestown Novice Chase at the Punchestown Festival looked to be a red hot contest and having jumped the second last it looked as though War Of Attrition would again have to fill the runner-up berth, this time behind Watson Lake. However, that horse tied up badly on the run-in and Mouse Morris’ charge exhibited stamina in abundance to make up an immense amount of ground to snatch the verdict in the final strides. Following the race, both Morris and Conor O’Dwyer were quick to suggest that he would be a much better horse over three miles the following season and a number of commentators boldly predicted that he could well develop into a Cheltenham Gold Cup contender.
He was set a stiff task on his seasonal re-appearance the following October as no less than Kicking King was present in the field. However, he rose to the occasion admirably, running out the cosy three length winner. A notable victory over Rathgar Beau in the Clonmel Oil Chase followed, but he disappointed when sent off at 4/5 to win the John Durkan Memorial Chase three weeks later. He bounced back to something near his best 17 days later when finishing second to Beef Or Salmon in the Grade 1 Lexus Chase and Morris opted to put him away until his ultimate target, the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
At the time it was a commonly held view that last March’s Cheltenham Gold Cup was a below par renewal following the death of Best Mate and the injuries in Kicking King and Trabolgan. The result was that one of the biggest fields in living memory assembled for the race with 22 runners taking their place in the line-up. But War Of Attrition, the youngest horse in the field, proved to be much the best on the day. He relished the good ground and stamina sapping trip, sealing his victory with two prodigious leaps at the final two obstacles to run out the 2½ lengths winner from Hedgehunter. He wrapped up his season with a triumphant return to Ireland in the Guinness Gold Cup at the Punchestown Festival, making all to beat Beef Or Salmon by 2½ lenghts.
For the second year in succession, War Of Attrition made a successful seasonal re-appearance in the Daily Star Chase in October 2006, comfortably accounting for his old rival Watson Lake. He met with defeat at the hands of the enigmatic Beef Or Salmon last time out in the James Nicholson Champion Chase, but there was no shame in that as Michael Hourigan’s charge is exceptionally difficult to beat on soft ground.
Unfortunately for the connections - and just a week before he travelled to Cheltenham to defend his Gold Cup crown - War Of Attrition was struck by a tendon injury and was unable to make the trip. However, the horse has undergone an intensive period of rehabilitation and there are hopes that he may yet return to racing.
For now though, Mouse is concentrating on developing a string of excellent young horses owned by a a group of top owners, including business magnate Sir Anthony O'Reilly, Gigginstown House Stud owner and Chief Executive of Ryanair, Michael O'Leary, and Cork property developer Michael O'Flynn, who have been involved with the Evarardsgrange yard for many years and whose continued support indicate a bright future for the Fethard trainer.
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