Fleet Commands respect - Churchtown's Cheltenham prospect can add to long line of success stories from Cork
Churchtown in Cork is well known as the birthplace of the legendary trainer Vincent O'Brien. Many good horses have also hailed from here, the latest being Commander Of Fleet, who is a firm favourite for honours at next week's Cheltenham Festival for his owner Michael O'Leary and trainer Gordon Elliott.
It was back in 1902 when the first Churchtown-bred horse, St Brendan, rose to prominence when winning the Irish Derby at the Curragh for his breeder Edward Flannery.
The Irish Derby title also went south in 1919 thanks to Loch Lomond who was bred at Churchtown House Stud by the Cowhy family. On that occasion, his owner Bessie Cowhy became the first female owner of a horse to win this prestigious race.
Churchtown House Stud is now owned by Tom and Michael Gaffney and, for the past number of years, has bred and produced winners both in national hunt and on the flat.
Among these is the Group 3 winner Raise A Grand and Celestial Halo, winner of the JCB Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2008.
Another Churchtown man, Jack Moylan, was a leading flat jockey during the late 1920s, 30s and 40s, while there have been many celebrations held there in recent years owing to the successes of former jockey and trainer Jim Culloty and his superstar Lord Windermere. Between them, they have four Cheltenham Gold Cups to their name. A native of Kerry, but a resident of Churchtown now for many years, Culloty was best known for his association as jockey of Best Mate when a three-time winner at Cheltenham from 2002-2004. He was later famed for sending out Lord Windermere to win the same race in 2014.
Not surprisingly, the village of Churchtown has also been the home to many dual-purpose winners, including Solford, winner of the Irish Cambridge at the Curragh in 1939 when trained by Vincent O'Brien's father Dan at Clashganniff House. He was later sold to Dorothy Paget and won the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham the following spring.
In the late 30s, O'Brien was supervising the training of the horses at Clashganniff, although the licence was held by his father up to his death in May 1943. Vincent got his licence to train shortly after and that was the start of a glorious period of success.
Clashganniff is now owned and run by Vincent's nephew, Noel O'Brien.
One Churchtown man who worked there for over 40 years was Danny O'Sullivan. He rode Cottage Rake to his first victory at Limerick Races on St Stephen's Day in 1945.
Another was Jimmy Gordon, who still takes a keen interest in racing through his friendship with Mike Winters. More recently, the Coghlans of Annagh, Churchtown, have been linked to some good horses too - in particular, their home-bred Commander Of Fleet who is among a strong entry for trainer Elliott at next week's festival.
Winner of the Grade 1 Lacy & Partners Solicitors Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown last month, the five-year-old will be one to watch when he runs in the colours of Gigginstown House Stud.
His named breeder Patricia Coghlan comes from a strong farming family who have kept a nice band of broodmares over the years.
"My father Pat rode in point-to-points back in the day and we always had a few horses here. One of our first mares was Collopys Cross. We bought her unbroken from Geoffrey Thompson and she was lucky for us with two bumper wins in Limerick and Killarney."
Collopys Cross was well bred being a half-sister to the useful dual purpose winner Shannon Spray, so when she got injured in 1990, she was sent to stud.
She went on to produce nine foals, among them Coonagh Cross, winner of a bumper in 2009. She too was retired to stud and produced her first foal, a colt by Presenting, in 2012. Later named Boston Spray, he is now in training with Joseph O'Brien.
In 2013, Patricia sent Coonagh Cross to Fame And Glory and the resulting progeny was Commander Of Fleet.
Sold by his breeder as a foal for €35,000, he was picked up by Mags O'Toole for €47,000 at the 2017 Goffs Land Rover Sale before going on to win that lucrative bumper the following year.
Now 16, Coonagh Cross is still breeding and is shortly due to foal to Walk In The Park.
Of Commander Of Fleet's chances at Cheltenham, Coghlan said: "It's like winning the lottery to win there. I hope to go over, but I don't want to be superstitious. The only time he didn't win - at Fairyhouse - I wasn't there."
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