If the Dublin Racing Festival is to match the hype about becoming Ireland’s answer to Cheltenham, it needs a few fairy tales.
Gavin Cromwell did his best to fit that bill on Saturday, landing a double with his two runners of the day to enhance his rags-to-riches reputation in the world of National Hunt racing.
Cromwell, who began riding horses when aged 13, was often brought to the races as a child. His uncle worked on a small basis as a horse trainer, and his grandfather on the other side of his family trained point-to-pointers.
Speaking at Leopardstown on Saturday, he explained: “I wanted to be a jockey and I worked in racing, and I tried to be a jockey – I wasn’t successful at that, I got too big.”
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He then trained as a farrier instead, specialising in equine hoof care – a role that would see him shoe Gold Cup and Grand National-winning horses.
“I worked as a farrier for over 20 years, whilst training a few pointers, and took out my licence [in 2005] and just grew really, and here we are now,” said the Balrath, Co Meath-based trainer.
“Listen, I am lucky. I am lucky to have any runners here today, there are a lot of trainers that do not have any runners this weekend; there is just as many Grade Ones this weekend that you have to have those very good horses to basically to justify to qualify to run in these races.”
Becoming a successful trainer “is challenging but it not impossible”, he added.
“The bar is very high, but I suppose that is not always a bad thing either, like the likes of Willie Mullins there – he is an unbelievable trainer – but we all try and raise our game to try and compete with him.”
Having trainers such as Mullins for competition is an “incentive to push harder and work harder and train and try compete”, he added. “You have to try very hard to raise your game to try and compete with him.”
Having big names in a race makes it “very satisfying”, however, when one of Cromwell’s horses wins.
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On Saturday, Cromwell landed the two valuable handicaps on the card with Final Orders and Perceval Legallois. Naturally, Willie Mullins didn’t leave the south Dublin racecourse disappointed, hoovering up three of the Grade One races, including the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup with Galopin Des Champs.
Staff at Leopardstown were heard exclaiming their surprise at how busy it was once the gates opened at 11am on Saturday, as a 18,000-strong crowd descended on the racecourse. As a wannabe domestic Cheltenham, the two-day festival is being marketed in the UK in a bid to create some of the Anglo-Irish rivalry that characterises the sport’s showpiece March event. A mixture of lilts was audible on Saturday, with English and Scottish accents heard almost as often as the blend of Irish brogues in the crowd.
Acting as David to Mullins’s Goliath, Cromwell will be back on Sunday with three more runners. A big crowd is expected to attend as Henry de Bromhead’s Honeysuckle attempts a fourth win in the Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle.