Did you know: Few National Hunt horses have both captivated and frustrated the racing public to the extent that the Michael Hourigan-trained Beef Or Salmon did during the course of his long and lucrative career. His abundant class combined with his shortcomings in the jumping department led to him becoming something of a loveable enigma. For a long time, he ruled the roost in the Irish staying chasing ranks with his 10 Grade 1 wins including three Hennessy Gold Cups and three Lexus Chases, with his victory over Best Mate in the Lexus Chase in 2004 being particularly memorable. However, he rarely fired in his raids to Great Britain, with a number of high-profile disappointments featuring in his nine defeats outside of Ireland. Whether one was a fan of the horse or not, his racing career illuminated the National Hunt scene for many seasons.
One can only guess at what attracted Michael Hourigan to Beef Or Salmon at the June National Hunt sale in Goffs in 2000 as, based solely on his pedigree, one could not have been too enthusiastic about him. His sire Cajetano is better known as a sire of show jumpers and indeed, he has only had five runners under racing rules in the last decade. Whatever it was that caught Hourigan's eye, he parted with £6,500 for the four-year-old and he did not have to wait long to find out that he had acquired one of the bargains of the decade.
Like so many stars of the National Hunt arena, Beef Or Salmon began his racing life in the point-to-point field. He fell on his first start at Dungarvan in January 2001, but made no mistake on his second start at Clonmel three weeks later, winning by no less than a distance in a race where only three of the 16 runner field completed. His attentions were then turned to bumpers and it was in his four contests in that sphere that he gave early indications of the abundant class he possessed, winning two of them in great style and narrowly losing out to the classy Kickham in another. His somewhat unconventional style of negotiating hurdles ensured that he failed to make a serious impact over the smaller obstacles. He only contested five such races in his novice year, his only win coming in a conditions race at Gowran Park. However, Michael Hourigan was convinced that he would be an altogether different proposition once he tackled fences.
Following a summer break, Beef Or Salmon was asked to run on the Flat, presumably to blow away the cobwebs in anticipation of his imminent chasing debut. However, that fact didn't stop him from blitzing the field in a Galway QR race over 2m, winning by 11 lengths. He then made his first venture into handicap company on the flat, contesting the November Handicap in Leopardstown. He ran an exceptional race in the circumstances to finish third (subsequently promoted to second) and as a result, a huge wave of expectation followed him to Clonmel where he was due to make his much anticipated debut over fences.
It was a testament to the regard that Michael Hourigan held Beef Or Salmon at the time that he opted to pitch him in against seasoned chasers such as Sackville, Alcapone, Cregg House and Moscow Express on his first outing over fences in the Grade 2 Morris Oil Chase at Clonmel in November 2002. However his numerous supporters never had a moment of worry as Beef Or Salmon cruised to a hugely-impressive success under Paul Carberry. This win would set the tone for the remainder of his novice chase campaign in Ireland as he cruised to three more comfortable successes against much more experienced rivals in the Hilly Way Chase at Cork and in a pair of the Grade 1's at Leopardstown, the Ericsson Chase and the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup under his new pilot, Timmy Murphy. Having beaten the best chasers at this side of the Irish Sea, the inevitable question arose as to whether Beef Or Salmon should run in the Cheltenham Gold Cup as opposed to one of the novice chases at the same meeting. Once again Hourigan's faith in the horse shone through and the Gold Cup was confirmed as the target.
Agony At Cheltenham
Unfortunately though, the stiff Cheltenham fences proved to be beyond the young novice chaser and he fell heavily at just the third obstacle, allowing Best Mate to easily win his second Gold Cup. This fall resulted in him damaging his back, an injury that would raise its ugly head on numerous occasions in the coming years. Many an eyebrow was raised when Beef Or Salmon ran in and won a conditions race over 2m at the Curragh a few weeks later, yet he did not then run in the Heineken Gold Cup at the Punchestown Festival as was anticipated. Rumours began to circulate that the horse's confidence had been badly affected by the fall in Cheltenham and that he would never be the same over fences. Thankfully, this was subsequently shown to be false.
Back To Work Over Fences
His first start of the 2003/4 season came in the Clonmel Oil Chase. He did not travel with his trademark fluency and looked a forlorn hope with 4f to run only to take off on the approach to the straight, looking the winner before the last only to make a horrendous mistake, allowing the subsequent King George VI Chase winner Edredon Bleu to prevail. It was a satisfactory comeback run but the doubts about his jumping remained. Normal service was resumed in his next two starts with him winning both the Grade 1 John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown and the Hilly Way Chase at Cork in comfortable fashion, though his jumping in the latter event was not at all convincing. Following those wins, all roads led to Leopardstown and the Ericsson Chase (now known as the Lexus Chase) where the dual Gold Cup winner, Best Mate, stood directly in Beef Or Salmons path.
It was one of the most keenly anticipated equine clashes that had taken place on Irish soil in many years, but it proved to be very much an anti-climax. Beef Or Salmon trailed in a well-beaten third behind the impressive Best Mate and was subsequently found to be a sick horse. This sickness resulted in him missing an intended engagement in the Hennessy Gold Cup and he would be seen next back at the scene of his previous misfortune, Cheltenham.
Back To Cheltenham
This time Beef Or Salmon did not carry nearly as much Irish expectation in the Gold Cup and many felt that following his Leopardstown romp, Best Mate would be unbeatable in his attempt to gain a historic third win in the race. He won the race alright, but in truth he only scrambled home by half a length from Sir Rembrandt. Encouragingly, Beef Or Salmon had jumped reasonably well and despite blowing up at the top of the hill, he stayed on strongly up the hill to finish fourth, beaten just 3½ lengths. This run revitalised the publics faith in Michael Hourigan's star chaser and many wondered what the result might have been if Beef Or Salmon had an uninterrupted preparation. The public's faith in him was further enhanced when he positively bolted up in the Heineken Gold Cup, easily reversing Gold Cup form with Harbour Pilot. Beef Or Salmons ever burgeoning fan base looked eagerly ahead to the 2004/5 season which they confidently claimed would be 'The Year of the Beef'.
The Year Of The Beef
The Munster Grand National was the somewhat surprising choice of race for Beef Or Salmon's seasonal reappearance. Understandably, top weight and lack of fitness proved to be his undoing and he finished a well beaten fifth. An impressive win over the emerging star Kicking King in the James Nicholson Champion Chase followed, but he picked up a slight overreach in that contest which caused him to miss two weeks work. This proved to be significant as when he re-opposed that rival in the John Durkan Memorial Chase a month later, Kicking King comprehensively reversed the form with Beef Or Salmon trailing in a disappointing third. However Hourigan was adamant that the run would put him spot on for the Lexus Chase later in the month.
Hourigan was proved to be correct and the 2004 Lexus Chase will almost certainly go down as Beef Or Salmons greatest racecourse triumph. The triple Gold Cup winner Best Mate was once again in opposition but with the ground officially soft to heavy, many felt this was the best chance Beef Or Salmon would ever have to lower the colours of Henrietta Knight's charge. As if he sensed the expectation surrounding him, Beef Or Salmon, who was reunited with Paul Carberry for the first time since his chasing debut, rose to the occasion. He jumped with a fluency that he had rarely bettered at any stage of his career and having gone to the front three out, he stretched clear in deeply impressive fashion from the floundering Best Mate. Few that witnessed it will forget the "come and catch me" motions that Paul Carberry made to Jim Culloty on Best Mate in the closing strides and the rapturous celebrations that followed. Beef Or Salmon was now undoubtedly at the peak of his powers and popularity.
Disappoint Follows Glory
However the good times were short-lived as he proved to be a deeply disappointing favourite in the Hennessy Gold Cup where he proved to be no match for Rule Supreme and subsequently scoped poorly. He recovered sufficiently to make his third attempt at the Cheltenham Gold Cup but he was never travelling at any stage and was pulled up before two out. It was a bitterly disappointing effort and it proved to be his final start of the season.
All To Prove Once Again
At the beginning of the 2005/6 season, Beef Or Salmon once again had it all to prove. He began his campaign in the Irish Cesarewitch where he finished in mid-division. Following that satisfactory effort, Michael Hourigan made the interesting decision to bring Beef Or Salmon over to Haydock for the inaugural running of the Betfair Chase in November 2005. On that occasion he surpassed most people's expectations of him in finishing second to Kingscliff, beaten only 1¼ lengths. That performance proved that he was capable of showing his true form outside of Ireland and rejuvenated many peoples opinion of him.
It was not long before he delivered on the promise of that run and two impressive wins over War Of Attrition in the Lexus Chase and Hedgehunter in the Hennessy Gold Cup followed. With a number of the main contenders for the 2006 Cheltenham Gold Cup falling by the wayside, many people began to feel that this had to be Beef Or Salmon's year. Indeed, he was backed into favouritism on the day of what was his fourth bid for Gold Cup glory. However, once again he patently failed to show his true form, finishing a well beaten 11th and seemingly once and for all confirming that Cheltenham was simply not his track.
An abortive trip to Aintree where he unseated Paul Carberry at the fifth fence followed his Cheltenham disappointment and a below par effort in a conditions hurdle at the Fairyhouse Festival led many people to believe that his best days were now behind him. However his trainer persevered with him and he lined up for the Guinness Gold Cup at the Punchestown Festival. On that occasion he proved no match for War Of Attrition but it was pleasing effort nevertheless considering his lacklustre efforts earlier in the month.
Grade 1 Success Returns
At the beginning of the 2006/7 season, fans of Beef Or Salmon were seemingly in short supply. The vast majority of people seemed content to concede that his best days were behind him and he would prove to be no match for the likes of War Of Attrition and Kicking King. In yet another change of policy regarding what form his seasonal reappearance would take, Beef Or Salmon made his comeback in a conditions hurdle over what was very much an inadequate 2m in Fairyhouse. He ran significantly better than most expected in finishing second to Pedrobob, but he was thought to be a forlorn hope in the James Nicholson Champion Chase a fortnight later where he would meet the reigning Gold Cup champion, War Of Attrition. Mouse Morris's charge had made a hugely impressive seasonal debut in Punchestown the previous month and was sent off at 4/7 to account for Beef Or Salmon in Down Royal. However, the old boy had another big effort left in his locker and in a display of tremendous grit and determination, he stayed on strongly under pressure in the final half mile to head War Of Attrition with just 100 yards to go and prevail by a neck for a memorable victory under Andrew McNamara, giving him his ninth Grade 1 win.
A trip to Haydock for the Betfair Chase resulted in a satisfactory second to the great Kauto Star and he returned to winning ways in a conditions hurdle at Fairyhouse a month later. He then bid for a remarkable fourth win in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown, but he proved no match for The Listener, with the British raider beating him off by an easy eight lengths. His next port of call was the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup back at Leopardstown and with The Listener again in opposition, many considered the first-time blinkered Beef Or Salmon an unlikely winner. However, in what was arguably the most remarkable performance of "The Beef's" long career, he went from looking well beaten to mustering a tremendous finishing burst, grabbing The Listener in the dying strides to record a ¾-length success, prompting rapturous scenes of celebration. Unfortunately, what was his 10th Grade 1 win would prove to be his final racecourse success, as two comprehensive defeats at the Cheltenham and Punchestown Festivals were followed by a disappointing final campaign in 2007/8.
With his final campaign having ended in disappointment, the decision was taken to retire the 12-year-old veteran. With 10 wins at the highest level featuring among his 19 career successes, Beef Or Salmon was unquestionably one of the best Irish chasers of recent decades, collecting well over €1m for his connections. However, Beef Or Salmon was not ready to leave the public arena just yet. He competed in the Racehorse to Riding Horse class at the Dublin Horse Show in August 2010, but alas, he found his old rival War Of Attrition too good on the day! Following that, he made his racing "comeback" in October 2010, finishing second to Tipperary hurling star Shane McGrath in a 200m charity race at Limerick where McGrath was given a 100m head start. Judged on the reception he got at both those events, Beef Or Salmon will unquestionably live long in the memories of the Irish racing public.