Friday 22 September 2017

Watch: 'It's lovely to honour someone who meant so much to this place' - Cheltenham to pay homage to JT McNamara

JT McNamara Photo: Patrick McCann
JT McNamara Photo: Patrick McCann

Cormac Byrne in Cheltenham

One of the greatest horsemen of his generation will be honoured today when the white flag is raised for the JT McNamara National Hunt Chase.

Cheltenham have chosen to honour the Limerick native who died last June just over three years after he paralysed from a fall off Galaxy Rock at the Festival.

Nicknamed the 'King of the Banks' for his skill during the Cross Country races, McNamara was victorious with Rith Dubh (2002) and Teaforthree (2012) in the race that, tomorrow, will carry his name.

Speaking to Independent.ie, Cheltenham Managing Director Ian Renton told us why they have decided to bestow this honour on the 700-times winner.

"It's lovely to be able to commemorate the life of someone as brilliant as JT and we try and keep a race like the National Hunt Chase for occasions such as this and it's lovely to remember someone who meant so much to Cheltenham and had such success at Cheltenham," he said.

A record 715 Irish entries were made this year and despite the impact of Brexit and other factors, Renton is expecting those levels of Irish participation to rise and rise.

"It's a record number of entries and we have seen the quality of the Irish entries grow and grow, which reflects the quality of horses that are trained in Ireland," he added.

"There is no reason that's not going to continue. We very much hope to see similar numbers in the future.

"It is amazing. Most of the jockeys riding here are Irish born and bred, many of the trainers, whether they are domicile over here or in Ireland, there is a huge Irish influence on horses running.

"But also incredibly important for us, 30pc of the people attending are coming over the Irish Sea to attend this Festival.

"It's one of those great sporting events that has that great Anglo-Irish rivalry and camaraderie."

Racing suffered a somber day at the end of January when Grand National hero Many Clouds died shortly after beating Thistlecrack.

When asked about the tragedy, Mr Renton re-emphasised their commitment to the safety of both horses and jockeys.

"It is an incredibly important part (of what we do), animal welfare and the welfare of jockeys as well.

"We try to do everything we can to maintain the safety for all participants.

"Some people don't realise how wonderfully well racehorses are looked after.

"They are some of the best looked after animals on the planet and the trainers do a wonderful job but sadly tragedies like that which befell Many Clouds do happen.

"It was a day of huge sadness for a lovely horse."

With well over a quarter of a million spectators about to descend on Cleeve Hill, Renton was asked if the festival should be extended to five days and if the Gold Cup should be run on a Saturday.

"People talk about it, I don't think there is any likelihood in the near future. We are delighted with the way the four-day festival works," he said.

"We'll have a sell-out day on Gold Cup day. We capped the numbers at 70,000.

"We wouldn't have any more, even if it was on a Saturday.

"It works well. People enjoy it as it is."

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