18+ | Commercial Content | T&Cs apply | Wagering and T&Cs apply | Play Responsibly | Advertising Disclosure


Prison officers are not used to being applauded anywhere but on Saturday 24 of them could be cheered to the rafters should their wellbacked Irish hope Micko's Dream win racing's most romantic prize the Grand National at Liverpool.

The 24 members of the Syndicate of Prison Officers Racing Team (S.P.O.R.T), who replied to an advert in an Irish prison officers' magazine, are among a party of 100 who will make their way over the Irish Sea to watch 1995 Grand National winning jockey Jason Titley ride their hope over the imposing 30 fences.

Aintree seemed a long way away when Gerry O'Neill a prison officer at the County Kildare prison of Portlaoise placed the ad to drum up interest in racecourse ownership throughout the service.

The syndicate will no doubt take time out to think of one of their original members, the late Michael O'Hehir (no relation to the late commentator of the same name) in whose memory the horse, who cost a mere 17,000 Irish punts, was named.

Jim Balfry, Secretary of the syndicate and an officer at Portlaoise prison in County Kildare, explained: 'The syndicate was formed in 1994/95.

'We had about 35 replies to Gerry's advert and cut it down to 24 members.

'We saved for about 15 months or so and when we had 20,000 pounds, Gerry and two other of our members, John Burke and J B Curtin went to Tattersalls Sales at Fairyhouse to purchase a horse.

'They met trainer Martin Brassill and he helped them pick out an unnamed four-year-old gelding and he was ours for 17,000 pounds.'

They then placed the horse with old friend Brian Killeen at Abbeyleix Stud near Portlaoise for 12 months until sending him to leading trainer Willie Mullins.

It was just before the horse went into training that O'Hehir was taken ill with cancer.

'It was his dream to be involved in owning a racehorse. He bought the full rig-out to go racing but never saw the horse,' revealed Balfry.

'After he passed away in January '97 we had to name the horse and one of the boys said at a meeting that we call it after Mick, of course, so it was quite easy.' His widow Elsie retains his share.

It has been a lucky choice as Micko's Dream has already won over 100,000 punts in prize money and helped the thriving syndicate buy three more horses.

'Our members are from eight different institutions in the Republic with eight of us working in Portlaoise prison,' Belfry went on.

'Someone said to me the other day that it would be a great day to break out and I said no - they'll all be watching the Grand National!

'He has won a total of nine races and beat top Irish staying hurdler Limestone Lad twice in his hurdling days.

'He has never been beaten over a distance and I say if we get the run of the race we'll definitely be in the firing line.

'We're going there with a lot of hope. The first fence might finish it all, but if he goes on and wins it will be a good story.

'We never dreamt of the National - not on your life. The name of the horse has been very lucky. It's fabulous and we are counting down to next weekend.'

Aintree has been the target since Micko's Dream won the Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park in January.

And he will be Mullins' first runner in the National, quite simply because: 'I've never had a National horse before,' said the former leading amateur rider, who trained two winners at the recent Cheltenham Festival.

Mullins should know as he once gave Atha Cliath one of the great rides over the Aintree fences in the Foxhunters Chase riding him the shortest way round the course on the inside, but where the fences were at their steepest, so much so that the commentator remarked 'you could see the white paint on his boots'.

'He won the Thyestes Chase, a traditional National trial, and I thought maybe this is the one who might be suited round Aintree,' Mullins, son of former top Irish handler Paddy, said.

'We've got a lovely weight for Aintree (10st 10lb), a really good racingweight, and we've decided to take our chance.'