Michael O’Leary hails ‘golden era’ for Irish racing at Cheltenham festival

Davy Russell crowned leading jockey for first time ahead of Jack Kennedy as Gordon Elliott retains leading trainer prize

Jockey Davy Russell celebrates after winning the Ryanair Steeple Chase on Balko Des Flos at  Cheltenham. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Jockey Davy Russell celebrates after winning the Ryanair Steeple Chase on Balko Des Flos at Cheltenham. Photograph: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

 

Davy Russell edged out Jack Kennedy to secure the Cheltenham’s Leading Jockey Award for the first time in his illustrious career.

Kennedy joined Russell on four weeks winners for the week when riding the Gordon Elliott-trained Farclas to Triumph Hurdle success on Friday. However the teenager lost out to Russell due to fewer placed efforts.

Elliott also won the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Hurdle with the Donagh Meyler ridden Blow By Blow to complete a 119-1 double.

That victory was Elliott’s eighth of the week and allowed him retain the festival’s Leading Trainer prize, one ahead of his great rival Willie Mullins.

With Henry De Bromhead and Pat Kelly saddling a winner apiece Ireland’s final festival tally was 17 winners, the second highest ever, two behind last year’s record of 19.

Leading owner

Both Irish trained winners on Friday carried the colours of Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary who was leading owner with seven victories overall.   

“There is so much talent in Ireland. Davy Russell demonstrated yesterday what he can do at the age of 38 and Jack is clearly one of a group of new, young jockeys coming through. They’re fortunate,” O’Leary said.

“A lot of the best horses are now kept in Ireland by Rich Ricci, JP (McManus,) myself and others. It’s a golden era in Irish racing. We have most of the best horses with very good jockeys and trainers but sadly this will turn. I remember 15 years ago we could only get one winner here,” he added.

The Minister for Agriculture Food and Marine Michael Creed praised Ireland’s success this week and said: “I would like to pay particular tribute to Gordon Elliott and Davy Russell for their successes in what was a memorable week.”

The home team landed the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup with Native River who beat Might Bite in an exciting finish. Anibale Fly did best of the Irish in third.

It was a second Gold Cup for Britain’s 40 year old champion jockey Richard Johnson who was banned for seven days afterwards for his use of the whip in the closing stages. Johnson was also fined £6,500.

Willie Mullins’s quest to win the Gold Cup continues as Djakadam did best of his runners in fifth behind Native River.

However it was a memorable festival for Mullins who is now the festival’s most successful ever trainer with 61 winners. That’s one more than Englishman Nicky Henderson whose two wins this week were with Buveur D’Air in the Champion Hurdle and Altior in the Champion Chase.

A sold out crowd of 70,684 attended Gold Cup day. It contributed to a new record total attendance for the week of 262,637.

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