But for an injury suffered by Lord Fingall’s horse while out hunting in Meath in December 1953, the name of Roddy Owen might never have entered the annals of Cheltenham Gold Cup history.
The County Meath racing earl had been intending to send a different horse into training, but it was injured in Kilmessan village, and he set about looking for a new stable star.
Both the horse and its owner are still recalled fondly in the area by those who remember the Cheltenham Gold Cup victory of 1959. Michael Power, who worked as Lord Fingall’s stablehand for over 35 years, recalled the circumstances which led to the purchase of Roddy Owen in January 1954.
“Lord Fingall had two good horses at the time, Florida Bay and Tuft. He intended sending Tuft over to the Curragh to be trained by Cecil Brabazon. But while he was out hunting on Tuft at Christmas 1953, in Kilmessan, they were crossing the Skane Bridge. There was a hole in the bridge and the horse was injured. Help was sought from the nearby Preston farm and the horse had to be put down.”
Michael recalls Fingall and his vet, Louis Doyle from Navan, travelling to Kildare one day to look for a replacement for Tuft. They looked at a lot of horses at the Curragh, but nothing stood out. Doyle decided to travel on to Nolans of Kilcullen. This was where they saw the four year-old. It had been broken and ridden, but never tried.
Fingall’s trainer, Danny Morgan from the Curragh, got up on him. He was immediately thrown off into the snow. But he got up a second time, and stayed on this time. He told Fingall he’d like to take on the horse. Fingall liked it too, bought it and sent it to Morgan’s stable.
“He named his horses after jockeys who had ridden in Aintree grand nationals,” Michael Power says. “Captain Roddy Owen had been a famous jockey about fifty years before.
Roddy Owen spent the winter at the Curragh and returned to Lord Fingall’s base at Corballis, Dunsany, for the summers, where Michael Power would look after him. His first outing on a racecourse was at the Curragh, in a Leinster Handicap, two days after returning from Dunsany to the Curragh, Power recalls. “A namesake of mine, Jackie Power, rode him to win the one mile six furlong race, at 16/1.”
His only other flat outing was in a two mile bumper in the Phoenix Park, ridden by Ted Kelly from Ashbourne. Hurdle wins followed in Mullingar, and at the President’s Hurdle at Gowran Park, and in 1958, the Leopardstown Chase. Bobby Beasley was his regular jockey.
Michael Power, who currently lives in Waterford, with a picture of Roddy Owen.
Roddy Owen ran in the 1958 King George, and was beaten by a short head by Lochroe in its last UK outing prior to that Cheltenham festival of 1959. Bunny Cox was on board.
“Bunny Cox did a tremendously generous thing in 1959, before that Gold Cup,” says Power. “He was to ride Roddy Owen. He rang Lord Fingall the night before, and said Bobby Beasley had no ride, and should ride Roddy Owen. Fingall wasn’t going to change but Cox said the horse goes better for Beasley.”
Ten year-old Roddy Owen won the coveted prize at 5/1, with Fred Winter on Linwell in second place, and Lochroe in third. In 1960, not long before retirement, Roddy Owen finished fourth in his bid to hold onto his cup.
Fingall - Oliver Plunkett - who had enjoyed success as an amateur jockey himself, was a lover of horses and was linked with a number of other notable successes, including what Michael Power describes as ‘a special one’, No Other. The earl’s racing colours were white, green with white hooped sleeves, and green cap.
Michael Power looked after No Other, and amateur jockey Captain Simon Walford rode it to win point-to-points. He won the Power Gold Cup at Fairyhouse on Easter Tuesday 1970, at 9/2, with jockey Bobby Coonan. Success in the Silk Cut Steeplechase at Fairyhouse followed later in the year.
Fingall’s last successful racehorse was Baldoyle, which he bought out of his shares of the old Baldoyle racecourse, associated with jockey Barry Brogan.
Fingall’s first winner as a jockey was called Anytime. He was riding as Lord Killeen at the time, as his father was still alive and held the Fingall title. During his riding years, Fingall was easy to distinguish as he always wore glasses. It was said that he ‘was as blind as a bat and brave as a lion’. He served a record five periods as National Hunt Steward and was also joint master of the Ward Unions and on the original board of the National Stud.
Lord Fingall on No Other.
In another Cheltenham link, Fingall’s sister, Lady Mary Kirk, was godmother to Mouse Morris, trainer of Michael O’Leary’s War of Attrition, winner of the 2006 Cheltenham Gold Cup. Fingall died in 1984 and is buried in Dunsany.