Sir Des Champs just comes up short in Gold Cup battle with Bobs Worth

Irish have a record festival but all thoughts are with the injured JT McNamara

Barry Geraghty riding Bobs Worth (left) clear the last to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup from Sir des Champs (centre) and Long Run. Photograph:  Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

Barry Geraghty riding Bobs Worth (left) clear the last to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup from Sir des Champs (centre) and Long Run. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images


Sir Des Champs failed to put the perfect Gold Cup sheen on a supremely successful Cheltenham 2013 for Ireland yesterday but even defeat to Bobs Worth in steeplechasings blue riband, didn’t sting like it normally might.

The continuing plight of stricken jockey John Thomas McNamara in a Bristol hospital provided the sort of perspective nobody wanted on the final day of the festival, but everybody appreciated.

“It is very hard to be happy after what happened to JT,” said champion jockey Tony McCoy, despite riding two winners yesterday. It was a sentiment echoed by owner JP McManus: “With all that happened to John Thomas, it is difficult to celebrate.”

It was McManus’s Alderwood, ridden by McCoy, who provided a 14th Irish-trained winner of the week in the finale, beating the previous 2011 record by one, and producing a final Anglo-Irish scoreboard that saw Ireland outscoring the home-team for the first time ever – 14 to 13.

But concern for McNamara, who was operated on for fractured vertebrae yesterday, crossed all borders.

Barry Geraghty knows the danger of his profession as well as anyone, and having shared jockey rooms with McNamara for years up and down Ireland, even riding a horse he bought as a yearling, and helped nurture to the greatest prize in the sport, couldn’t allow for unbridled joy yesterday.

Hope and pray
“I just wish it was a happier day,” Geraghty said after Bobs Worth’s seven-length triumph.

“Even though this is one of the biggest days of my career, all I could think about was John Thomas. I hope and pray he’ll be okay.”

Professionally, though, there was immense quiet satisfaction for the Co Meath jockey at having landed another Gold Cup to add to Kicking King’s in 2005, and having propelled his boss Nicky Henderson to a remarkable 50th success at the festival.

That puts the Old Etonian into a clear lead in the all-time festival records list here and all but secured him a first trainers title in Britain for 26 years having also saddled yesterday’s Gold Cup third, Long Run.

Henderson ended this week on four winners, one behind Willie Mullins, while Ruby Walsh was leading jockey with four wins.

Mullins took a third runner-up placing in the Gold Cup with good grace, unwilling to point to the jockey-juggling on the back of Davy Russell’s injury that saw McCoy ride Sir Des Champs for the first time, or the unwelcome rain that turned the going soft, as excuses.

“The winner’s pedigree suggests he doesn’t like soft ground either,” he pointed out. “I think he got out-stayed in the end,” said Mullins.

That was also the reaction to a dramatic Foxhunters finish where nineteen year old Cork rider Jane Mangan looked set to win on Oscar Delta, only for the horse to jink, and unseat his rider after the last.

That left Salsify in for back-to-back victories in the amateur highlight.

“It felt like a Disney film,” said Mangan but her father Jimmy, who trains Oscar Delta, declared: “The only thing hurt is her pride. I told her to think of poor JT. It could be a lot worse.”

It was that kind of day.