Wicklow Brave's heartbroken groom recalls how elation turned to devastation
Wicklow Brave's remarkable career came to a tragic end at Far Hills on Saturday night and his heartbroken groom has spoken of how elation turned to devastation at the final fence of the American Grand National.
Jason Dear was by Wicklow Brave's side when he was euthanised after fracturing his right shoulder and says life at Willie Mullins' stable will not be the same without the talented ten-year-old, who was nicknamed 'Wicky Woo' by all the staff.
"I just couldn't believe it. It went from pure elation to devastation. I know him inside out and I could see how well Paul [Townend] was travelling. He would have won," Dear said on Sunday.
"I was just waiting for him to press the button. It was devastating. Given his age, it was probably his last foreign trip so it was heartbreaking not to have him coming home with me."
Wicklow Brave was one of the most versatile horses of recent times and was all set to add another notable victory to his CV but took a crashing fall at the last, leaving Brain Power to land the spoils for Nicky Henderson and Nico de Boinville.
During his 59-race career for owner Nick Peacock which spanned six and a half years, Wicklow Brave won 17 races. His finest hour arrived in the 2016 Irish St Leger at the Curragh when he and Frankie Dettori saw off hot favourite Order Of St George in a thrilling climax to the Classic.
Wicklow Brave also won the 2015 County Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival and was a Grade 1 winner over hurdles, landing the 2017 Punchestown Champion Hurdle under Patrick Mullins.
He had won all three of his previous starts over fences and was being aimed at the Grade 1 Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse in early December. He also won three bumpers, finished tenth in the 2017 Melbourne Cup and won £944,479 in prize-money.
Dear, who also enjoyed some great days as Djakadam's groom, said Wicklow Brave was not always a model student.
"We always worked him on his own for his own happiness. Then, I would let him catch up with the workers in front and pass them out to let him think he was the top dog. I wanted him to keep that mentality," Dear said.
He added: "In his younger days he had a diva attitude. He would stop on the gallops and everything. He used to do the same at the races. If he wasn't in the mood he would say 'not today lads, I'll keep myself for another day'. We got to know his little quirks and we knew how far to push him before he would get pissed off with you.
"There were so many highlights. He brought me all over the world. The day he won the Champion Hurdle at Punchestown was amazing. He stood at the start, then pulled his way to the front and they wouldn't catch him."
Paul Townend was full of praise for Wicklow Brave too, and said: "He was an unbelievable horse and we were going to have a great day. It put a big dampener on the trip. I thought we would have won and he is a huge loss.
"The County Hurdle was amazing and I got to ride him in the  Irish St Leger – to ride him in a Classic on the Flat was probably the standout moment for me."
Willie Mullins hailed Wicklow Brave as a legend and picked out his Punchestown Champion Hurdle win as a personal highlight.
"A career like his will probably never be replicated, going from bumpers to hurdles back to the Flat then chasing," he said.
"His best day was winning the Irish St Leger. However, winning the Punchestown Champion Hurdle with Patrick on board to put us ahead in that memorable trainers' battle will be remembered around here for a long time. He will be missed."
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