Cork woman's horse makes history — with odds of 150-1

Cork woman Marie McCartan’s horse made history and headlines at Ascot this summer. EMMA CONNOLLY catches up with the mum of four from Mallow who works in the horse industry
Cork woman's horse makes history — with odds of 150-1
Marie McCartan With mum Mary and sister Marguerite O'Sullivan.

A CORK woman has formed an unlikely friendship with a legendary survivor of the 1972 Andes flight disaster — all thanks to her horse.

Marie McCartan’s horse made history at Royal Ascot last month when he became the longest- priced winner ever of the racing festival at 150-1.

Called Nando Parrado, he’s named after one of the 16 Uruguayan survivors of of a flight which crashed in the Andes mountains on October 13, 1972.

Nando, a member of a rugby team, spent two months trapped in the mountains with the 16 other crash survivors, turning to cannibalism to survive. Along with a team member, he climbed through the Andes mountains over a 10-day period to find help and they were rescued after 72 days.

He’s now a successful businessman, sportsman and TV producer and co-wrote the world famous book Miracle in the Andes.

Marie, originally from Lombardstown, Mallow, runs Ballyphilip stud farm in Banogue, Co Limerick, with her husband Paul.

“We have a dozen or so mares we breed from in the hopes of producing good horses for flat racing.

“We also pinhook a few foals every year, that’s where you buy the foals in November/December with a view to selling them the following Autumn at yearling sales in Ireland or the UK,” she explained.

“We bought Nando as a foal in December, 2018 and he was due to be sold in October, 2019, however he cut his hind leg just before the sale and the timing just came against him.

“Paul and I have always had great faith in him and later in the year when we still couldn’t sell him it was an easy decision to send him to Clive Cox in the UK to train.

Nando Parrado.
Nando Parrado.

“Of course, you always dream of having a horse good enough to win at these big festivals but we are in the sport long enough to know that is not easy to come by.

“Clive was very impressed with the horse from the beginning and when it came to naming him he said to pick a good one.”

The plot thickens, as Marie explains: “Paul read Miracle in the Andes a few years ago and always thought if he had a horse good enough he would like to name him Nando Parrado. I submitted the name and a note came back that we would need permission from Nando Parrado to use his name.

“Thinking it was unlikely we would get permission I submitted a number of other naming options all of which were turned down for one reason or another so we were back to square one.

“With the power of Google I sent off an email to a website I found for Nando asking for permission to use his name and within 24 hours, much to my delight and surprise, he replied. That day our lockdown movie was Alive, where Nando is played by Ethan Hawke.

“I have since sent him photos and videos and he said he was inundated with phone calls from TV stations and newspapers in Uruguay shortly after the horse won at Royal Ascot, highlighting the global reach of these big sporting occasions.”

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, Marie, Paul and family watched Nando’s historic win at home.

“It was probably for the best that I did not take up the option to have a Zoom call with ITV Racing as there was a lot of shouting and general craziness watching the race and the coverage afterwards.

“While we would have expected him to run well, you do not allow yourself to dream of winning,” she said.

Nando’s historic win wasn’t Marie and Paul’s only success at Ascot 2020. In what’s been an incredibly memorable year for them, Battaash, a horse bred at Ballyphilip, won on the first day of the festival.

“We have had a good few placed horses in Ascot over the years, horses we bred and had sold as yearlings, but prior to 2020 we had never had a winner there so for Battaash to win on the first day was incredible. We still have his mother and her offspring here. He has been competing at the highest level for a few years now and we are so proud of him,” said Marie.

Marie McCartan's sons Sonny and Archie
Marie McCartan's sons Sonny and Archie

And there’s still yet more cause for celebrations.

“My family, the O’Sullivans have been steeped in National Hunt and Point to Point racing for decades and this year won the same race at the Cheltenham Festival that they won back in 1991.

“To add in a Royal Ascot winner in the same year within the same family seems unbelievable,” the mother of four said.

Marie, whose sister Marguerite is this year’s president of Network Cork, studied Equine Science in UL and worked in Ireland, England and the US, broadening her knowledge base in breeding and sales, before setting up Ballyphilip.

She feels that working and competing with horses is one of the few sports where men and women compete on a level plain.

“My niece Maxine won a race in Cheltenham this year competing against the best amateur jockeys in Ireland and the UK. There are plenty of opportunities to succeed if there is a willingness to work hard and have belief and confidence.

“A love of horses is fundamental and success can be built from there. One of the best jockeys in the country is Rachel Blackmore and one of the best trainers is Jessica Harrington — they go toe to toe with their male colleagues daily and are succeeding at the top of their profession not because they are women but because they are excellent at what they do.”

Nando’s next target is the Prix Morny in France in August: “We may not get to see him racing in the flesh this year with Covid but we will enjoy the experience from home nonetheless.

“Hopefully, in a post-Covid world we could get the human and equine Nando Parrados together for a photo... that would be something.”

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