Heroes' homecoming for golden boys of Cheltenham
Ireland's all-conquering Cheltenham champions arrived home to a heroes' welcome and displayed a hoard of racing gold worthy of any St Patrick's Day rainbow.
Trainer Jim Culloty and jockey Davey Russell proudly displayed five Cheltenham gold tankards as the Gold Cup-winning Lord Windermere arrived back home to a rapturous reception in the racing-mad village of Churchtown in north Cork.
It was an appropriate National Hunt welcome home to an area that proudly hosted the very first steeplechase in 1765 when a horse challenge between two local church steeples gave racing its future name.
Davey Russell proudly displayed one tankard as a Gold Cup-winning jockey while Jim Culloty now boasts four – three as a Gold Cup-winning jockey with Best Mate and his first as a Gold Cup-winning trainer.
The Gold Cup itself goes to the winning horse's owner.
It is a triumph that will now transform Mr Culloty's fledgling racing operation at Mount Corbitt, some 4km outside Churchtown, the village that actor Oliver Reed once called home.
"It's the best day of my career – you just couldn't dream it this good," the history-making trainer told the Irish Independent.
"We took three horses to Cheltenham and we came home with the Gold Cup.
"I'm afraid to pinch myself in case I wake up and find out it is all a dream.
"Davey (Russell) rode an incredible race. In fact, both (my) jockeys were incredible at the festival with Robbie McNamara in great form, too."
Mr Culloty is now one of only four men, including his fellow north Corkman John Joe O'Neill and Dubliner Pat Taaffe, to have been a Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning jockey and trainer.
For his wife, Susie, and children, Art (9), Eliza (7) and Hugh (4), the excitement revolved around the fact they were finally home after the stress of the Cotswold venue.
"There are great racing connections around here – I often use Vincent O'Brien's old gallops up the road for training. Noel O'Brien sent me a wonderful text yesterday to say it will be wonderful to have a Gold Cup-winning horse on the gallops again," Mr Culloty said.
For Jim, his wife and family as well as his racing horses, it is now back to the bread-and-butter of daily life, though a celebratory trip to the pub will be in order for St Patrick's Day.
"Don't forget we have the Six Nations to celebrate as well – it has been a really good weekend for Ireland," the trainer said.
"It was great to win the Gold Cup but it is back to normal for us from now on.
"We have some very good young horses so the future is very bright. But you can always do with a little good luck," he added.