Vincent Hogan: A whole new Vista opens for O'Farrell
Published 18/03/2011 | 05:00
The chorus of the skint and the embittered is an ugly sound and, last month at Taunton, it came raining down on Conor O'Farrell.
Slipping out of the irons and toppling off Arrayan, with their race apparently won, left the young Carrickshock man open to the wrath of a judiciary not known for its compassion. Yesterday, the gypsies were selling 'lucky' shamrock at Cheltenham and, facing his first Festival ride, O'Farrell might have been forgiven purchasing by the acre.
Yet, his nerve did not waver and he delivered Buena Vista to a swashbuckling 20/1 defence of the Pertemps final with a ride that was a virtual essay in aggressive confidence.
The heroes of this place are splinters of men with an iron nerve. They weigh little more than a set of stirrup irons, yet coax 1,500lb thoroughbreds to do their bidding at withering pace and with little apparent worry of a bad fall.
Their courage doesn't soften the public's scrutiny when errors are made and the 21-year-old claimer admits he wanted "the ground to open up and swallow me" after that Taunton mishap.
Yet trainer David Pipe did not forsake the Kilkenny man and, yesterday, lauded the "great ride" that saw Buena Vista lead the others on a tether up the most punishing gradient in National Hunt.
On a day when Paul Nolan's Noble Prince was the only Irish addition to the Festival arithmetic, the invaders' handwriting was still on just about every story. All bar the charity race were won by Irish jockeys, the marquee moment seeing Big Bucks confirmed as maybe the greatest staying hurdler of all time in the hands of Ruby Walsh.
Yet, Ruby's win highlighted too how even the most celebrated remain fallible.
He chided himself afterwards for losing his whip as Grands Crus launched a ferocious attack from the bottom of the hill, albeit his uniquely calm rapport with the champion was still enough to deliver history. "A mistake on my part" he declared with disarming honesty.
Such is life in the weigh-room. The most stringent judges are the jockeys themselves and, in O'Farrell's case, Taunton blew a gaping hole in his confidence. "It's one of those things you wish would never happen to you," he said yesterday. "And my confidence has never been the same since I got that fall.
"But it happens in racing, even though it shouldn't. It has happened to a lot of fellas besides me."
Pipe's support was referenced by a knowledge of the game and, especially, an understanding of how even the biggest stars are prone to aberration.
"Everyone makes mistakes, you just have to learn by them," he said. "It happened to Robert Thornton earlier on this season and it happened to a certain AP McCoy when he was riding for my father many years ago. Look, Conor's given Buena Vista a great ride and I'm sure he won't forget this day."
As a redemption song, it was probably the Festival's finest. O'Farrell comes from staunch hurling country, homeland to the famous Powers, and only linked up with the Pipe yard last October with a glowing reference from Charlie Swan, for whom he had ridden work.
"Been working away in the yard since, just keeping my head down," he chuckled in the enclosure.
Taunton was a crossroads, not alone in his career, but maybe in his life.
"In fairness to David Pipe and the owners they were the best in the world," said O'Farrell. "I got back in, they asked me what happened and said 'look, just don't worry about it, these things happen. Forget about it and move on'.
"You can't ask for any more because I never felt as low as I did then. But, at the time, they handled it brilliantly and I can't thank them enough because, if they hadn't, I could have taken it an awful lot worse and I might not be here today for that reason.
"That kind of support is what you hope for. When things go wrong, that your trainers will stick by you. And they did. That's the difference in being successful. You need people to stand by you when things go bad. It's great now that I could repay them today."
As it happened, Buena Vista led from way out in the countryside and came cantering up the hill, O'Farrell followed home by the mounts of Paul Carberry, Ruby Walsh and Andrew Lynch. "Oh I wasn't worried about the boys behind me," he chuckled. He had no need to be, his boots rammed firmly in the irons.
Noble Prince's 4/1 victory in the opener brought Nolan his first Cheltenham win since Dabiroun's victory in the 2005 Fred Winter.
The colourful Enniscorthy man was hugged by fellow Wexford trainer, Colm Murphy, in the winners' enclosure after McCoy's text-book ride delivered a second Festival victory for a man who won an All-Ireland Junior Hurling medal with Wexford in 1992.
Nolan, who also played football for the county at minor and U-21 level, declared afterwards: "It's great to get in here and finish in the first four and not to go over to, as I call it, jail. In the long-face parade ring.
"It even gets mucky in there with the water splashing around, so your shoes are in s**t, your stockings the whole lot. And you feel the same. A couple of times he (Noble Prince) went through a couple of places, he was flat to the boards. He has a lovely high cruise gear, but he couldn't have missed one fence or he was in big trouble. And he didn't. He was brilliant, McCoy was brilliant on him. Just delighted."
Paying tribute to stable-lad, Tommy Woods "a legend, he turned 70 the other day, but I think he's 14, there's something wrong with his birth certificate", Nolan touched on the restorative qualities of a decent Cheltenham for the befuddled Irish psyche.
"It's been an incredible week for the nation and we'd want it," he said, having delivered the record-equalling 10th victory.
"Yesterday (Wednesday) was unbelievable. You're coming over and saying 'Will we get a winner at all?' And when it all unfolds then, it puts a pep in your step when you get back home. Hopefully, racing will stay strong and we all stay healthy and well.
"There'll be no-one hungry."
Nolan's Toberona stable has only just got to the bottom of a digestive problem with stable star, Joncol, widely touted as a future Gold Cup horse. And he has had his share of recent disappointments here, not least with Shinrock Paddy and Alpha Ridge.
But just over two years ago, he travelled to France with businessman Des Sharkey to buy Noble Prince as a four-year-old. Those trips amount to expensive gambles. But, as he told this writer last week, at least the proper financial backing gives you a shot at the jackpot.
"The last thing you want is going to the sales and not having the money to buy a nice horse," he revealed. "That's the worst feeling, coming home and sedating yourself with pints because you hadn't the wherewithal to get the one you liked. It's great when it turns out. Because there's a lot of money spent on horses that are no good. Well, this fella is good. And he's not expensive now.
"No money can buy a day like this."