Richie McLernon dedicates Paddy Power Gold Cup victory to John Thomas McNamara

Backstage man gets his moment in the spotlight on Johns Spirit

Richie McLernon after his victory on Johns Spirit in the Paddy Power Gold Cup  at Cheltenham.

Richie McLernon after his victory on Johns Spirit in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham.

 

Jonjo O’Neill has been helping Tony McCoy to hog the headlines over the last couple of weeks but it was time for his backstage man Richie McLernon to take a moment in the spotlight on Johns Spirit in the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham on Saturday.

Record-breaking McCoy was required for JP McManus’ unplaced Tap Night in the Open meeting’s feature event but the powerful owner very nearly pinched it back from his Jackdaws Castle tenant O’Neill as Colour Squadron narrowed the advantage to three-quarters of a length at the post.

McLernon, the uncomplaining second jockey, has established a good link with Johns Spirit including a success over course and distance at the October meeting but it was getting very tight after the last with the 7/1 chance tiring after being left alone in front.

“This means a lot,” said McLernon. “I’m working very hard in the yard every day, just being one of the lads, but the boss has been very good to me.

“The fences were narrow enough today so instead of going down the inner I went wider than was ideal but his jumping was brilliant up the hill and he just arrived there. Fair play to the little horse, he took it up with a long way to go but he stuck his neck out. He was coming to the end of his road on the run-in, but he dug in.”

McLernon had celebrated McCoy riding his 4,000th winner nine days earlier on Johns Spirit’s stablemate Mountain Tunes but quickly dedicated his victory to another Cheltenham hero, the paralysed JT McNamara.

‘Smile on his face’
“My friend is watching me, John Thomas McNamara, and I hope that put a smile on his face,” he said.

Johns Spirit was restrained some way behind Easter Meteor and Hidden Cyclone, who shared the lead throughout and were still very much in the thick of things until the second-last, when the former came down and slightly impeded the gaining Colour Squadron. McLernon, who had appeared in contention on the outside, suddenly had a clear advantage which quickly dwindled as Colour Squadron returned to the fray.

O’Neill, winning the Grade Three for the second time after Exotic Dancer in 2006, said: “I was praying for the line. It’s brilliant for Richie, he’s a magic man. He knows the fellow really well and I couldn’t be happier for him.”