Little guy’s success as Pat Kelly’s Mall Dini grabs Pertemps hurdle

Cheltenham 2016: ‘I’ve wanted to do this all my life’, says jubilant owner Philip Reynolds

The irrepressible winning machine that is Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh continued to dominate the headlines at the Cheltenham racing festival on St Patrick's Day - but there was also a notable success for the little guys.

Pat Kelly, a trainer from Craughwell, Co Galway, with just seven horses in his yard - Willie Mullins has nearly 200 - was at Cheltenham to have his third go at bringing a winner to jump racing's biggest event.

His first attempt, in 1990, ended in tragedy when his horse, Art Trail, broke his leg in the Supreme Novices Hurdle. Four years later he was back to try again, but this time his charge unseated its rider - one Willie Mullins.

Today Kelly returned with an entry for the Pertemps hurdle, a competitive handicap race – under which horses are allocated weights based on previous performance – with a first prize of almost £40,000 (€51,000).


His horse, Mall Dini, owned by Philip Reynolds – son of the late taoiseach Albert - was given an outside chance, going off at odds of 14/1. But Kelly had an ace up his sleeve in popular jockey Davy Russell, who recovered from the disappointment of being unseated at the starting line in his previous race to steer Mall Dini home in first place.

"It's a dream come true," a jubilant Reynolds told The Irish Times. "I've wanted to do this all my life. I can go now. I'm happy to go now. This is unbelievable."

“This is a small man’s day,” he added. “To come to Cheltenham and take on the big guys. Pat brings one horse and has one winner - 100 per cent, what about that?!”

Chasing the dream

Reynolds has been chasing his Cheltenham dream since the mid-1980s, when he placed his first horse with a trainer. He now has more runners than he cares to own up to – “my wife might read this tomorrow”, he joked – but this was his first winner at the festival. “And if it’s my last I don’t care now, I have achieved what I wanted to do.”

In contrast to the voluble Reynolds, trainer Kelly is a quietly spoken man of few words who gives the distinct impression that if he won the Lotto tonight he would still go to work first thing in the morning.

Despite the small size of his operation, he has twice been successful in the Galway Hurdle, but even those victories could not match the achievement of having a festival winner at Cheltenham. “Ah sure this is the Olympic Games, isn’t it?” he said.

But he had no plans to go out to celebrate the win, and he looked non-plussed at the idea that it might change his life and send many more racehorse owners beating a path his door: “I prefer to be small.”

Irish punters were doing plenty of celebrating in the St Patrick’s Day sunshine, however, after Irish-trained horses managed a near clean-sweep of victories on the third day of the festival, winning six of the seven races.

There was some disappointment for one Irish man, though, when Ruby Walsh rode Vautour to victory in the Ryanair Chase. Watching the race impassively as he stood alone in the parade ring, the sponsor's chief executive, Michael O'Leary, endured the sight of horses from his Gigginstown House Stud finish in second and third places.

O’Leary, still waiting for first winner in the Ryanair, returned to members of his party with a shrug of his shoulders, remarking: “Oh well, second again.”

On Friday, however, he will strike for glory with two highly fancied runners – Don Cossack and Don Poli – in the biggest race of the week, the Gold Cup.

Opposing him again will be Ruby Walsh on the equally well-regarded Djakadam.

Whatever the outcome, it looks set to be another memorable day for the Irish.