Sunday 23 April 2017

Jack the lad soars to victory as O'Leary pips Mullins to post with Apple's Jade

Wonderkid Jack Kennedy gets a congratulatory hug off his mum, Elizabeth Photo: Damien Eagers
Wonderkid Jack Kennedy gets a congratulatory hug off his mum, Elizabeth Photo: Damien Eagers

Sean O'Grady

Teenage sensation Jack Kennedy got Cheltenham off to a flyer as he soared to his maiden victory at the festival onboard outsider Labaik in the opening race.

The 17-year-old from Dingle was lost for words after he stormed up the fabled Cheltenham hill to beat Willie Mullins' Melon in the Supreme Novice's hurdle.

It was another great day for the Irish at Prestbury Park as JP McManus notched his 50th festival win and Meath-based trainer Gordon Elliott bagged a hat-trick of winners.

Michael O'Leary also enjoyed a satisfying win as Apple's Jade pipped former stable companions and Willie Mullins-trained Vroum Vroum Mag and Limini in the Mares' Hurdle.

But it was Jack's victory that had punters purring with delight as a roar rippled through the 66,000 people trackside when he crossed the line. Speaking after the race, he said: "Words can't describe what it's like. It's a dream come true. It's something I always wanted to do and thank God it all worked out today. The best day of my life by a long shot.

"It's great to get off the mark. I didn't think I'd get off to this good of a start. Hopefully, I'll keep it going for the rest of the week now," he told the Irish Independent.

The Kerry star was joined by his family in the parade ring to celebrate his win - which was made all the more special after he missed several weeks of training due to a leg injury last summer.

At odds of 25-1, Labaik would not have been a punter's dream, but a canny group of Irish backers had weighed in behind the Gordon Elliott-trained horse.

Ladbrokes spokesperson Hayley O'Connor said: "Some Irish geniuses did back him from 50/1 on Monday night, so while the masses were against him, a few brave Irish backers must be going ballistic."

Cheltenham was packed to the rafters again yesterday as Irish horses edged their British rivals by four wins to three. Trim trainer Gordon Elliott was the talk of the track after his three wins.

The victory of Apple's Jade would have been particularly satisfying for Michael O'Leary and the Gigginstown connections.

The Ryanair chief said: "I have never had a winner on the Tuesday, so it is great to have the pressure off.

"Now I know how Willie Mullins feels banging in winners on the first day. Normally, I am here sweating on the last day."

Irish punters were out in force but those looking to enjoy a few drinks were disappointed to learn of the new four-pint per round drink restriction.

A festival spokesperson said: "Twickenham have a similar policy in place for their rugby matches. It's a general tightening of our drinks laws to ensure everyone has the best day possible."

That did not stop Carlow woman Amanda Dermody and her friend Mia Morrissey enjoying the festival fun. Amanda said: "We have been coming for the last three years. We always go down to the gallops in the morning and see the horses going out, that's the best part," Amanda said.

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Irish Independent

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