Culloty earns ultimate reward for patience on red-letter day for Irish
On a day of endless Cotswolds drama that yielded six Irish winners, Lord Windermere survived an anxious stewards' inquiry to claim a famous success in an incident-packed Cheltenham Gold Cup for Jim Culloty and Davy Russell.
In three lifeless starts since triumphing in last year's RSA Chase, the game eight-year-old had been beaten an aggregate 59 lengths. Yesterday, Lord Windermere bounced back to form in sensational style to scrape home from Willie Mullins' On His Own by a short-head.
Russell, who ended the day with a glorious treble, was inspired in the saddle. On His Own vied for the lead from the start under David Casey, who came in for the ride after Ruby Walsh broke his arm when Abbyssial fell at the second flight in the Triumph Hurdle.
The champion jockey brought up the rear on Lord Windermere, almost detached from the field early on aboard the unconsidered 20/1 shot. He specialises in patience and Culloty prides himself on the same trademark.
Lord Windermere clawed his way to the front halfway up the run-in on the near side. However, he edged right in the process and brought On His Own and The Giant Bolster with him. The photo finish revealed that he had held on by a short-head, with The Giant Bolster less than a length back in third.
An inquiry was inevitable, but the fact that Russell had his stick in the correct hand increased the chances of him keeping the race. You just can't buy that sort of experience.
If any of the first three home had won, it would have constituted a shock result. As it was, Lord Windermere got the verdict. A first Irish-trained winner of the Festival's showpiece Grade One since 2006, his victory means that Culloty is now the fourth member of an elite band, which includes Jonjo O'Neill, to win the race as a jockey and a trainer, as he had already entered the history books as rider of the three-time winner Best Mate.
When Spring Heeled won the Kim Muir Chase for him in the same Dr Ronan Lambe colours 24 hours earlier, it was the first time Culloty had saddled a winner since August. All of a sudden, his fortunes have turned on their head.
"I'm in a total state of disbelief to be honest," the Killarney native admitted. "There were days this season when I said I wouldn't bother riding the horses out. I thought I might just leave them in the field. They just weren't right."
Of the tense wait for inquiry outcome, he said: "They were the worst few moments of my life – followed by the best! This was so unbelievable I almost expected to lose the race."
Culloty is based in Churchtown, Co Cork. Just a stone's throw from where steeplechasing had its 18th century origins in Buttevant, Churchtown is synonymous with the Gold Cup, as it is the village from which the legendary Vincent O'Brien sent out four winners of the race.
Since erecting a purpose-built, state-of-the-art yard there in 2006, Culloty has specialised in the sort of old-fashioned chasers of O'Brien's bygone era. It is a long-game policy that has tested his resolve, but now he has gained the ultimate reward.
"To be fair, Davy was getting the sack halfway round!" he quipped of the bold winning ride. "Our plan was to ride a waiting race and chip away round, but he was taking it to the extreme! If you have the balls to ride Cheltenham the way it should be ridden, though, you will ride well. Don't panic and save every bit of ground you can."
A year ago, Mullins, who secured his fourth win of the week when Mikey Fogarty enjoyed a debut Festival triumph aboard the Gigginstown House Stud-owned Don Poli (12/1) in the conditional jockeys' race, was left to rue his luck when Boston Bob crashed out at the last in the RSA. In a way, On His Own's galling defeat was no more conclusive.
Having only opted to supplement the 10-year-old last week at a cost of £27,500, it was a gamble that came within a whisker of succeeding. He wouldn't be drawn on whether an appeal might be launched against the stewards' findings, though he conceded that he would have taken second before the race, in which Gigginstown's fancied Last Instalment unseated Brian O'Connell as he began to labour when the race started to unfold.
"Four weeks ago he was just a handicapper going for the Grand National," he said of On His Own, which was emulating Florida Pearl, Hedgehunter and Sir Des Champs by finishing second in the £575,000 race for the champion trainer.
Russell, of course, is a proud Cork native from Youghal, so there was a strong hint of red about the winner. On an afternoon of bizarre unpredictability, he was back in the Gigginstown silks bookending the day with wins on Tiger Roll for Gordon Elliott in the Triumph Hurdle and on Savello in the Grand Annual for Tony Martin. Each performance was reminder of why so many were left dumbfounded by his Gigginstown demotion.
The similarly inimitable Paul Carberry, who turned 40 last month, also showed that he still retains all his old magic by steering Gigginstown's Very Wood to a resounding success in the Albert Bartlett. Mullins' hot favourite Briar Hill fell at the first flight down the back the last time under Casey and nothing else could lay a glove on the 33/1 rank outsider.
Noel Meade revealed that his first Festival winner for five years nearly didn't run after injuring his foot two days earlier. Ned Buntline, his other runner at the Festival, just lost out to Savello in the finale. In the Foxhunters' Chase, Liam Lennon's Tammy's Hill led home Carsonstown Boy and On The Fringe for an Irish one-two-three under James Smyth.