Festival wins a dream but focus back on point-to-point crown
Published 25/03/2011 | 05:00
Prior to last week, Cheltenham was a place for which I had no great affection. I'm home-based and love everything about Irish racing, from the point-to-points that I ply my trade in every week to the big meetings at Punchestown, Fairyhouse or Galway.
Riding a winner at Cheltenham was just not something that I was ever hung up on, although I never had any luck there either, so that probably turned me off a bit too.
I had been placed at the meeting on Character Building, Parsons Legacy (twice), Silver Birch and Drumconvis, but could never really catch a break around there.
That all changed last week. Chicago Grey got me off the mark in the National Hunt Chase on Wednesday, before Zemsky rounded off a wonderful Festival for me in the Foxhunters' on Friday. I'm happy to admit now that winning there is the best feeling in the world -- like a dream come true even, despite my reservations.
In fairness, my task on Chicago Grey had been aided by Paul Carberry. Gordon Elliott told me the horse was fit and well and I had schooled him around Leopardstown, but I spoke with Paul about him on a number of occasions and he put me right.
You can't put a value on someone explaining to you in detail what a horse will be like through a race. For example, when Chicago Grey hit a flat spot I didn't panic because I knew it was coming and that might even have been the winning of the race.
Then to win the Foxhunters', the point-to-point man's Gold Cup, was simply unbelievable. Although Zemsky was a 33/1 shot, I hoped that he might be the third best horse in the race behind On The Fringe and Baby Run.
As it turned out, On The Fringe disappointed and Baby Run's exit at the second last presented the race to me on a plate.
You'd need a crystal ball to say what would have happened if Baby Run didn't unseat, but I know I was happy where I was taking a lead off him at the time. There wouldn't have been much in it either way.
The buzz of walking back into the winner's enclosure at Cheltenham, to lift the Tricolour and be surrounded by family and friends, is incredible. On an Irish winner, you get that famous cheer from the crowd -- you could die a happy man right there.
Everything that goes with a winner there is so special. The text messages, the phone calls, the well-done cards; just so many people wanting to show their appreciation for the achievement of riding a winner at Cheltenham.
When I arrived back in south Galway with my girlfriend Carol at 2.30 on Saturday morning, the welcome we got in Tubber was amazing.
There were friends and family there with bonfires lit, and we cracked open a few bottles of champagne.
Since then, though, it has been back to basics. I was at Lismore on Sunday, where I rode one winner. Jamie Codd, who is on my tail in the championship, rode three at Ballyragget, then got one on a disqualification on Wednesday. He is now two behind.
It is going to be a tough run-in, but I am riding for good people such as my brother Paurick, Robert Tyner, Wilson Dennison and Colin McKeever. This week, I have been in with Paurick -- who is having a great season with 13 winners already -- a few times, and a 4.30 start took me to the North for Colin and Wilson on Wednesday.
Getting about to those lads is vital. Going to the North means an early start, but sitting at home watching re-runs of Cheltenham isn't going to win me the title and getting up to school the stars of the future is a lovely morning's work anyway.
As for this weekend, I hope to be able to secure a few winners to keep Mr Codd at bay. Tomorrow I will be at Loughbrickland in Co Down, where my best ride of the day is probably Simonsig, which is handled by Zemsky's trainer Ian Ferguson.
I will be at Rathmorrisey in Galway then on Sunday. Paurick's Sky's The Limit, a winner at Cheltenham in 2006, is one I'm looking forward to there, but the horse I'm most excited about is Pat Doyle's four-year-old Royal Boy. That one has never run before, but we think he could be something special. We'll find out on Sunday if he is.
For more information on racing in Ireland this weekend check out www.goracing.ie