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Walsh pays tribute to 'horse of a lifetime' Papillon

Ruby Walsh celebrates Grand National victory aboard Papillon
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Papillon, who gave the Walsh family their greatest day in racing when winning the 2000 Grand National, was described as “a horse of a lifetime” on Wednesday after his death at the age of 26.  

Papillon became a household name when, ridden by trainer Ted Walsh’s son Ruby, he landed one of the biggest gambles in Grand National history, fuelled by the Racing Post's Pricewise on the morning of the race.

Odds of 33-1 tumbled down to 10-1 before Papillon etched his name into National folklore.

Ted Walsh said: “Papillon gave me and all my family our greatest day in racing by winning the Grand National and I won’t forget him for that. Everything about it was special and everybody who should have been there was there to witness it.

“He was a quality horse. He could run well over two miles, and he was also only just touched off in an Irish National behind Bobbyjo in 1998.

“He had speed and stamina and was a brilliant leaper – everybody who rode him always came in and said he was an absolutely magnificent jumper. He was a horse of a lifetime, the real deal.”


From the archives: Red Marauder, winner of notorious 2001 Grand National, dies aged 26


Papillon was owned by Betty Moran, who Walsh refers to as his “fairy-godmother”, but whom he recalled needed serious persuasion before she would allow Papillon to run at Aintree.

“She was very afraid,” he said. “She was a pal of my father’s and bought the horse for Ruby to ride. She was worried about both Ruby and the horse’s safety, but we managed to persuade her to run him and the rest is history.

“Ruby adapted to the race and rode it like a fella who was at it all of his life even though it was his first ride in the race. He was cool as a cucumber and everything went so smoothly for them.”


From the archives: Cheltenham in shock after death of Many Clouds


Asked about the gamble that drew Papillon and the Walsh family into the hearts of punters around the world, Ted said: “I had a few quid on him myself but I only backed him in case he won, so I would be able to pay for the party.

“I had 300 quid on him at 33s and only a few small bets at 50s. They hadn’t the new stands or anything like that back then so we watched the race in JP McManus’s private box, as that was the only place we could get a good view.

“The Irish hadn’t won the race since L'Escargot in 1975 but then Bobbyjo came along and won it the year before us. Even so, the Irish just didn’t win races like the Grand National, and we weren't going there thinking we were going to win it either."


From the archive: death of National hero Amberleigh House


He continued: “After he retired he came back to spend the rest of his days here. He was the most gorgeous horse to deal with and he was a lovely, quiet horse to have around the place. I’m so happy he lived to be 26, but he will be sorely missed.”

Papillon is the sixth Grand National winner to die since October, following Rough Quest, Red Marauder, Lord Gyllene, Many Clouds and Amberleigh House.

Papillon made 39 starts, winning nine times and being placed on another seven outings, earning £434,203 in prize-money.


From the archives: Tony Dobbin leads tributes after Lord Gyllene dies


Ruby Walsh on Papillon

Growing up I never thought I would be lucky enough to ride a Grand National winner, let alone one who was trained by Dad. When you get touched off in an Irish National to Bobbyjo, you are probably thinking you've missed the boat, and I was.

However, Papillon was amazing. He was something special. I had my first ride at Cheltenham over fences on him in the Kim Muir, and had a brilliant ride on him in that Irish National in 1998.

Aintree will always be the highlight, but we had a lot of brilliant days with him along the way. He was a brilliant horse to ride – talk about jumping, he was electric.

He had 39 starts and never failed to complete. He got brought down in the 2001 National when he was trying to win the race for a second time and was unlucky that the loose horse fell in front of him that day. We remounted to finish fourth, and that was how brave he was.

If I had a pony around here for my kids that was as safe as he was I would be a very happy man – you could trust Papillon.

I'd been champion jockey the year before he won the National, but I had broken my leg in the meantime and it’s out of sight out of mind in this game. To have him to come back to was amazing.

He had a great life. Dad did a great job training him and looked after him brilliantly well in his retirement.

Odds of 33-1 tumbled down to 10-1 before Papillon etched his name into National folklore

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