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Janna Walsh hasn’t watched the race again yet, isn’t quite sure that she ever will. The 29-year-old from Killimer in Clare starred in one of the most touching chapters in that tearful book that told the story of an extraordinary Tuesday at Cheltenham just over a month ago.
Tears of joy for Honeysuckle, tears of astonishment for Constitution Hill and the saddest of all tears for an absent son, Jack de Bromhead. And tears of pure relief for Janna Walsh when Dysart Dynamo reappeared from behind the green screens of despair which had hidden his distress from the silent stands following his final-fence fall in the Arkle.
“At this stage I was starting to stop crying,” recalls Walsh, the horse's groom, “and then they put the screens down and I heard the roar and off I went again, sobbing, thinking, ‘Oh my God, they love him!’ I was walking him around before the Supreme and heard the Cheltenham roar when they started. It was loud, but not as loud as the cheer Dynamo got.”
This week Dysart Dynamo will be back at Punchestown, taking on Arkle winner El Fabiolo again on Thursday. It will be an emotional moment for Walsh to have him back on a racecourse having been at his side from the moment he arrived at the Closutton yard of Willie Mullins three years ago.
Walsh herself had first arrived for work at the Mullins yard five years ago. A chance encounter with a pony during a family visit to an uncle in North Cork when she was four led to a lifelong obsession with horses. After studying business and then agriculture in college, she spent some time showjumping and at racing yards before making her way to the holiest of jump racing’s holies. She grows wide-eyed when recalling her first impressions.
“I was overwhelmed,” she says. “You couldn’t look anywhere without seeing a horse. I was given a mare called Getaway Gorgeous to ride and she ran away with me. I was mortified. In fairness, Willie was brilliant. He took me aside and showed me how if I’d loosen the grip a bit on the reins then she’d be all right.”
Before long it had all clicked in and in 2020 Walsh was a barn manager with five horses under her care including a new arrival, a particularly handsome four-year-old by Westerner out of Dysart Dancer. There was competition in the yard to take care of such an impressive young specimen but he’d arrived in one of her boxes and she wasn’t letting go for anybody. “I had to call Jackie [Mullins],” she laughs. “She came down, took a look and told them to leave him where he was.”
“He was always a bit hot,” continues Walsh. “About seven or different eight riders fell off him, but not Paddy [Patrick Mullins] though. Before long people were beginning to say that this was a weapon, a machine. He went to Clonmel and won, then Punchestown and won again, and when he won the Grade 2 [Moscow Flyer] hurdle at Punchestown I was crying tears of happiness!”
So, you were always a bit of a crier then, Janna? “No,” she says emphatically. “That’s the thing – I’m not, I’m really not!”
Dysart Dynamo’s win the Moscow Flyer earned both he and Walsh their golden ticket to Cheltenham last year, when he started joint favourite for the Supreme but fell when leading three out, although time has shown that he wouldn’t have beaten Constitution Hill either way. This season he was sent chasing and, after an easy win in a beginners’ event followed by an encouraging effort in the Irish Arkle, Dysart Dynamo and his besotted buddy once again found themselves circling the Cheltenham pre-race parade ring.
“I’m just thinking, ‘Try to keep him cool.’ I knew last year that when Paul [Townend] sat on his back his head just got fried,” she recounts. “He’d never been at a racetrack with so many people and he was just getting a bit hot-headed. This year he knew the course and he was trying to pull me on to the chute before the jockey even sat on him. He absolutely loves his job. When they were at the start, I turned to the girl standing beside me and said, ‘I don’t care if he comes last, I just want him to come home safe.’”
As usual, Dysart Dynamo raced keenly at the front under Danny Mullins this time but by the time he faced the final fence he had been passed by Jonbon and El Fabiolo. Walsh warms to her story.
“I remember thinking that he was jumping beautifully. I can see him jumping great in my mind’s eye, but I haven’t got the stomach to watch it again. I didn’t know what he was going to find up the hill, simply because he’d never been ridden up it before. I was level with the last fence – if you were to draw a straight line between me and the last it would have been perfectly straight. He looked like he was a little bit deep into it but nothing that would make you think, ‘Oh God, he’s definitely going to fall.’ The way he landed on his neck, the angle of the fall, that’s what scared me the most.”
As 60,000 spectators yelled encouragement at El Fabiolo and Jonbon, Walsh’s world had gone into slow motion. When the race ended, the grandstand gazes drifted to the left, noticed the green screens and a worried hush fell over Cheltenham.
“I was in shock,” says Walsh. “I just watched and thought, ‘He’s grand, he’ll get up in a second’, but he didn’t move. One of my best friends was there and I said to her, ‘If he’s gone, I’m done.’ He’s my pride and joy. I got to him before the screens went up – I don’t think I’d ever run so quick in my life. Danny [Mullins] was sitting on his neck, to keep him down, keep him calm. They were trying to get the saddle off, get as much air into him as possible. Danny saw me coming and said, ‘He’s okay, he’s okay.’ He could see I was panicking, could see I had gone white. He told me to just let the vets do their work. He was just lying there winded. It was an awful feeling.”
Walsh desperately wanted to believe the jockey but all she could see was the prostrate horse gasping for air, not getting up.
“God love poor Danny. I was so obsessed with the horse. After a few minutes I go, ‘Oh my God, Danny, are you okay?’ I was on the verge of tears at this stage and when Dynamo kept putting his head back down on the grass it all came out, I couldn’t hold it anymore. It was an awful feeling – there’s nothing you can do. I’m just rubbing his head and talking to him and then suddenly, he began to get up and then stood up and now I’m crying even more!”
By this stage Dysart Dynamo’s owner Eleanor Manning had made her way down to the final fence and joined the weeping groom in tearful relief when she saw that her horse still had a leg in each corner. Walsh walked the horse around to get some more air into him and then the screens went down and up went that noisy explosion of joy from the stands.
“Once the crowd started roaring, he was off again, I had to get another girl to stand the other side of him,” says Walsh. “Everyone was cheering him and he’s pushing me into the rail. We went back up the front of the stands, where the horses walk down when they win. The crowds are all yelling, ‘Go on, Dynamo,’ and I’m trying to stop him as well as stop my tears.”
Walsh’s love for Dysart Dynamo now seems even deeper, intensified by their shared trauma.
“He’s the reason I get up every day and go in there,” she explains. “It’s like adopting a kid, you’re looking after him every day and if you don’t have that connection with horses, work with them, you will never know what it is really like. He has seen the physio every day since he fell. I’ve never seen a physio in my life. He’s been seen by a chiropractor. I’ve never seen a chiropractor in my life. That’s the level of treatment they get.”
She describes with astonishment the ripples her falling tears made in pools far beyond the narrow bubble of horseracing.
“I didn’t even know it was televised,” she chuckles. “I said it to my friend that everybody is texting me and asking if Dynamo is okay. Then it dawned on me that everybody had seen me cry! Little did I know that the whole world had watched this and retweeted it. It went mental, it was unreal. I suppose if you really want to make it in life – just cry!”
This interview is exclusive to Members' Club Ultimate subscribers. Read more Members' Club interviews here:
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'I had no faith in him' - John Walsh recounts the uninspiring but fascinating early years of Corach Rambler
Ted Walsh: 'I know I say things people disagree with and I know I say things off the cuff - but I don't say too much wrong'
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