Jack Kennedy stretches championship lead with Grade One double for Gordon Elliott

Irish Grand National winner I Am Maximus returns to Fairyhouse for Drinmore victory

Jack Kennedy hasn’t yet lifted the jockey’s title, but the one-time prodigy underlined how he is currently riding like a champion with a superb Grade One double at Fairyhouse’s Winter Festival on Sunday.

Still only 24, the Kerry man upset his championship rival Paul Townend on the odds-on Impaire Et Passe as Teahupoo recorded back-to-back successes in the featured €120,000 Bar One Hatton’s Grace Hurdle.

Billed as a head-to-head between an emerging Champion Hurdle prospect and a grizzled stayer, not many saw Teahupoo getting ridden for a late finish.

However, buoyed by an earlier top-flight success for Gordon Elliott on the Royal Bond winner Farren Glory, Kennedy tipped expectations on their head to devastating effect.


Off a slow pace, Impaire Et Passe was travelling all over Teahupoo early in the straight only for the 85-40 winner’s stamina to ultimately kick in when it counted as he wound up scoring by a length.

If Impaire Et Passe didn’t help himself by running keen on his first start of the season, Kennedy’s confidence is such that he quickly made the most of it, positioning Teahupoo just behind his main threat.

“Paul’s lad looked to be on it a bit and I was kind of pushing him along a bit, trying to make him do as much as he could,” Kennedy said.

That comment was delivered in characteristically laid-back style that’s sharply at odds with the frantic pace Kennedy is setting this season.

With Elliott banging in winners in unprecedented style over the last six weeks, Kennedy is on 73 winners for the campaign, well clear of Townend’s 50.

That gap is likely to close as Willie Mullins’s team hit top gear while the inevitable threat of injury was underlined by Kennedy being in a similar position last season only to break his leg in January.

That was a fifth leg-break for a rider who has endured a rollercoaster of emotions since bursting on the scene as a precocious 16-year-old in 2015.

Despite a horrendous run with injuries, he passed 500 winners in October with Minella Indo’s Gold Cup in 2021 the jewel in an enviable big-race collection.

Teahupoo was a fourth Hatton’s Grace while Farren Glory was a third victory in the Royal Bond. If he had to settle for second on Found A Fifty behind I Am Maximus in the Drinmore, there was even a title edge to that too as Jody McGarvey did the honours on the Mullins second-string.

For Elliott, enjoying his own position at the top of the trainer’s championship, it has become a near-daily job to praise a rider he has nurtured from the start – “he’s riding out of his skin” he said

Elliott came up short of repeating his singular 2017 clean sweep of all three ‘Winter Festival’ Grade One prizes. But having endured his own rollercoaster since then – particularly the fallout from a notorious image that saw him suspended for six months in 2021 – he is relishing his current position.

Teahupoo’s owner, Brian Acheseon, also has the Gold Cup contender Gerri Colombe with Elliott and the pair will make a late call between Kempton’s King George or Leopardstown for that horse’s Christmas date.

The decision has already been made however for Teahupoo to enjoy a leisurely run-in to try to avenge last season’s Stayers Hurdle defeat behind stable mate Sire Du Berlais.

Teahupoo was second past the post on that occasion before getting demoted to third by the stewards, all on the back of a prep’ victory in Gowran’s Galmoy Hurdle.

Acheson is keen to keep him fresh for Cheltenham this time while another of his stars, Bob Olinger, could skip the Stayers entirely and potentially take on Constitution Hill in April’s Aintree Hurdle.

Stamina may also emerge as Farren Glory’s strong point which makes his Royal Bond victory over the minimum trip all the more credible.

Kennedy played his cards late again to get the better of another of Elliott’s three runners King Of Kingsfield.

“In fairness to Jack he picked this lad. He had the choice of all three and I wasn’t sure he was on the right one,” Elliott said. “He’s going to have to improve again as I’d say it wasn’t the strongest Grade One ever – but it is never easy to win them!”

The ‘horses for courses’ theory got a credibility boost as I Am Maximus followed up his famous Irish Grand National victory at Easter with a Grade One success in the Drinmore.

On his last date as a novice, the 11-1 shot used his experience to good effect and looked transformed compared to some of his quirkier conduct last season.

“He’s a total character as you could see from his early days racing. Paul gave him a great ride in the Irish National and Jody gets on well with him and gave him a super ride there.

“He looks a class horse now rather than a handicapper so maybe we’ll have to make different plans for him now,” said Willie Mullins who later doubled up in the bumper with Petit Secret.

I Am Maximus’s owner JP McManus also landed the €100,000 handicap hurdle through the 14-1 winner Common Practise. His trainer Joseph O’Brien was also successful in the Grade Three Juvenile Hurdle through the 17-2 shot, Nurburgring.

Fairyhouse officials reported an attendance of “just shy of 11,000″ over their weekend dates. Sunday’s crowd of “just over 7,000″ was slightly down on 2022 but may not have been helped by a morning inspection.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column