Mixed emotions at Cheltenham in spite of record Irish tally of wins

Day was full of reminders of racing’s unpredictability


The Ryanair boss was carrying Irish hopes into the Gold Cup through Sir Des Champs but the 4/1 shot was beaten for speed on the run in, finishing second to home fancy Bobs Worth. It was a bit of a sickener for O’Leary, who obsesses about this annual festival prize almost as much as he obsesses about that other prized trophy, Aer Lingus.

But the day was full of reminders of racing’s unpredictability and the vagaries of life.

Against the backdrop of JT McNamara’s neck break in a fall on Thursday, nothing took place that could rank as tragedy. But there was the sorrowful sight of 19-year-old Cork student Jane Mangan being unseated on the run-in in the Foxhunter with victory in sight.

“God was on my side you would say. I feel sorry for Jane,” said Colman Sweeney whose mount Salsify benefited from the slip. In a bitter irony, the horse which finished second behind Salsify was named Devine Intavention.

The finishing straight drama made no difference to the Irish tally of wins at the festival, which stood at an all-time-record 14 at the end of the day.

Two of those wins came yesterday in the hands of Tralee man Bryan Cooper, the rising star of National Hunt. Aged 20, with the looks of a junior cert student, he is being widely hyped as the “New Ruby Walsh” but he says: “I try not to listen to it too much.”

The highlight was his victory on Our Conor in the Triumph hurdle. The horse is named after the grandson of Donal Houlihan, a Kildare man who shares ownership of the horse with four friends from Banagher, Co Offaly.

Lot of pressure
Sixteen-month-old Conor Landy “is with his granny in Maynooth,” his mother Ciara Houlihan explained. “He has a lot of pressure on him now ’cos he’ll have to come back here and ride a winner himself.”

One boy who used to bunk off school to go to Cheltenham was Patrick Mullins, who has been paying tribute this week to his old headmaster Fr Leonard Maloney for accepting a “sick note” each March. “I owe him a big debt of gratitude,” the 23 -year-old laughed. “Without him I wouldn’t be here.”

His father Willie failed to add to his festival tally of five winners but his uncle Thomas did, with Alderwood winning the final race on the card and Ireland’s fourth of the day.

The home team edged the parade ring glamour stakes. They had Zara Phillips and Kate Middleton. We had Charlie McCreevy and Michael Lowry.

Aside from the Mullins clan, it was a good week for the bankers. Controversial Barclays chief Rich Ricci had a winner, as did Kildare native Bryan Bunyan (45), who works in financial services in the City of London. The banker won the charity race on the evening of day three, chased home by a solicitor and a garda – an apt metaphor for our times perhaps.