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.