Culloty aims to make new festival mark

Windermere can spring RSA surprise

Trainer Jim Culloty: “You need a horse with the pace to travel and then to have enough stamina at the end up that hill.”

Trainer Jim Culloty: “You need a horse with the pace to travel and then to have enough stamina at the end up that hill.”


Jim Culloty knows what it takes to win the RSA Chase. Thirteen years ago he won it as a jockey on board Lord Noelie. Today he will saddle Lord Windermere and fancies him to go close, precisely because he isn’t what is perceived to be normally required to win the staying championship for novice chasers.

“Slow stayers do tend to win it,” he acknowledges in response to the popular theory that the RSA can be too gruelling a test for emerging young talent. “People try to make them Gold Cup horses afterwards, but a lot of them are too slow for that. Sun Alliance horses often turn into Grand National types long-term.”

Often, but not always: recent RSA wins for Denman, Alberta ’s Run and Bob’s Worth last year illustrate the danger of generalisations.

Lord Noelie raced for six more years after his SunAlliance defeat Alexander Banquet in 2000 and won just one more race. His sole attempt at the Gold Cup came a couple of seasons later and he had a distant view of his illustrious stable-companion Best Mate land the first leg of a historic hat-trick in the blue-riband.

Culloty will be forever inextricably linked to Best Mate, providing an unerring touch to an emotional roller-coaster that culminated in a racecourse heart-attack for the horse on his first start after Culloty’s retirement from the saddle.

Home soil
Culloty’s big-race CV also included a memorable Grand National on Bindaree and a King George on Edredon Bleu. After he began as a trainer back on home soil in North Cork, one thing was certain; if there was a good horse under his care, Culloty would recognise it.

He believes Lord Windermere is such a creature, and the form book backs him up.

Decent over hurdles, the strapping gelding that carries the well-known purple colours of Dr Ronan Lambe is, as expected, better over fences. Already a proven Grade Two performer, today will decide if he’s a Grade One horse.

“He has enough pace to be a respectable two-mile hurdler so he’s not the classic big, slow chasing type. He has good form at two, and two-and-a-half miles, so in theory he should be only in second gear for much of the early part of the race,” his trainer considers.

Davy Russell is set to take the mount, freed from his Gigginstown obligations, because the biggest buyer of young staying chasers in Ireland haven’t got one good enough for the RSA this year. It’s an accomplishment of sorts already for Lord Windermere to be lining up, especially at a meeting where Lambe is desperate to win.

A doctor of pharmacology, and a founder of the Icon corporation which provides services to the world pharmaceutical industry, Lambe’s extensive bloodstock interests have seen him own horses of the calibre of Ascot Gold Cup winner Rite Of Passage. But even that star failed in two attempts to win at Cheltenham.

Many owners

“I don’t have many owners, but the ones I do have are great and Dr Lambe has been a wonderful supporter,” says Culloty.

“Without him my life as a trainer would be very different.”

What Lambe allows Culloty is time, often the most expensive and frustrating commodity when it comes to the sort of steeplechaser Culloty aims to identify and train. And the ultimate target is always the festival, on a track the ex-jockey knows like the back of his hand.

“You need a horse with the pace to travel, and then to have enough stamina at the end up that hill. Plus they have to jump. It is a jumpers’ track,” he declares. “It can be a difficult course to ride if you’re on the wrong horse, simple as that. If you go crazy, kicking at the top of the hill, then you’re in trouble. You have to be sensible. That’s the main thing.”

As a jockey, Culloty’s trademark was that sense, allied to an inspired touch when the big occasion demanded it most. His paint-scraping ride up the inside in Best Mate’s first Gold Cup victory was a superb example. Never one to waste time, energy or space in a race, the same instincts mean Lord Windermere’s RSA bid could be a lot more serious than bookmaker odds might suggest.

After all his trainer knows what’s required. “Sun Alliance horses can also end up badly handicapped afterwards,” he surmises. “But if this fella can win the Sun Alliance, I’ll take it!”