A great meeting for Ireland tinged with sadness

Fourteen winners made it the best-ever Cheltenham for Irish-trained horses. Among them was the Champion hurdler, Hurricane Fly, the precocious Our Conor, and Solwhit, the successor to the great Big Bucks. Willie Mullins was responsible for more winners than any other trainer, and Ruby Walsh, not for the first time, took the jockey’s title.

Fourteen winners made it the best-ever Cheltenham for Irish-trained horses. Among them was the Champion hurdler, Hurricane Fly, the precocious Our Conor, and Solwhit, the successor to the great Big Bucks. Willie Mullins was responsible for more winners than any other trainer, and Ruby Walsh, not for the first time, took the jockey’s title.

Walsh rode four winners, and with his fellow countrymen steering home another 16 of the four-day meeting’s 27 winners, Ireland’s dominance in this particular field was never as pronounced. Remarkably, each of the nine runners in the Champion Hurdle had an Irish jockey aboard. And in taking three of his mounts first past the post, 20-year-old Kerryman, Bryan Cooper, marked himself out as one for the future.

To add to Ireland’s dominance of this great meeting, more than half the number of winners were bred in this country.

But as the riders - and others - took their leave of Prestbury Park on Friday evening their thoughts were with three of their colleagues, all Irish, whose luck deserted them. Okay, so Davy Russell got among the winners, taking the mount on Lord Windermere in the prestigious RSA ‘Chase, but in ending up in hospital with a lung problem, which is likely to keep him out of racing for up to two months, the first jockey to come out of Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud would hardly regard it as his best-ever festival.

Jane Mangan came away from the meeting physically unscathed, but what her feelings were after seeing Foxhunter ‘Chase glory snatched from her when her mount swerved badly, throwing the 20-year-old to the ground about a hundred yards from the winning post, only she knows. It was reminiscent of Devon Loch’s collapse in the 1956 Grand National, a horse with victory assured being denied by the cruellest stroke of luck.

Time will heal Jane’s wounds - and we can only hope it’s the same with JT McNamara, the Limerickman who suffered a serious injury when his mount fell in one of Thursday’s races. He was rushed to hospital where he underwent an operation.

If you think winning is all what racing is about, you only had to witness the reaction of jockeys Tony McCoy and Barry Geraghty and leading owner, JP McManus, to McNamara’s plight All three were on the mark on Friday, Geraghty riding the winner of the meeting’s biggest race; but there were few smiles and a lot less punching the air than usual. Their thoughts were with the stricken McNamara and they weren’t slow to express them, none of them far from tears.

The best that can be said of this column’s tips is that all four got into the money, one of them, Our Conor, taking first prize. The odds, however, weren’t attractive enough to make taking an each-way bet a viable proposition.

As for Sgt Reckless, the one we were assured was passed the post, they were, as they say, still out looking for him long after the crowd had left the course. Reckless, indeed - to have been backing him.