Sunburnt brat on the Hunt at Ascot

Moran Gra (left) touched off in Irish Cambridgeshire

When Moran Gra lines up for trainer Joanna Morgan in the Royal Hunt Cup next Wednesday she’ll be hoping that her chestnut gelding does a little better than she did when she earned her place in racing history at Royal Ascot. That came in 1978, and was an early landmark on a career that has never taken the straightforward path.

Morgan’s moment in the record books is a result of riding Gallowshill Boy in the Queen’s Vase, and so becoming the first woman to ride at the royal meeting. The pair could only manage ninth pace in the race, but better things were to come in a riding career that spanned 20 years and saw over 200 winners, and this at a time when female riders were more of a novelty than serious professional sportswomen.

She had moved from South Wales to Ireland to try and make a career in racing, and succeeded to the extent of adding to that moment at Ascot by becoming the first woman to ride in an Irish Classic, and first to ride a winner in Kenya. She topped up with a third place in the 1980 Irish St Leger.

By the time she retired from riding in 1997, Morgan had held a trainers licence for 12 years. Never one to follow the crowd, she has adapted her own approach to this side of racing, keeping horses in stables only in exceptional circumstances. Most of the inmates of her yard in Co Meath live out in the open fields regardless of the weather. Her argument is that you don’t lock up athletes in a confined space for most of the day, and her horses are athletes so you don’t do it to them.

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But Moran Gra is the exception. She says, “A lot of my horses live out, finicky eaters and that. Most horses want to be out the whole time. Not Moran Gra though. I left him out for a few days about a month ago and it was a very hot weekend, so unfortunately, with his pale skin, he got sunburnt, which he wasn’t one bit happy about. He’s not really an outdoor horse; he’s sort of a spoilt brat really.”

He’s a spoilt brat with something to prove himself. He’s been to Royal Ascot before, finishing fourth to Canford Cliffs in the 2009 Coventry Stakes. Morgan thinks conditions give him a chance of improving on that. “He’s been dropped 7lb since the backend of last year. I think he’s competitive off that mark and the track and trip will suit him at Ascot.”

In a race where the market isn’t a great guide to success, Moran Gra’s price of 33/1 shows he is far from a no hoper.

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