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Tuesday 20 March 2018

Another day of triumph for Irish at festival

Louise Hogan

Louise Hogan

On his most successful day at the Cheltenham Festival yet, it was the tiny tremor in the normally determined voice of Ryanair chief Michael O'Leary that gave it away.

He had just seen the first of his two winners yesterday -- the Mouse Morris-trained First Lieutenant -- squeeze home to victory in the Neptune Novices' Hurdle.

Then, amid the backslapping and congratulations, O'Leary revealed a private heartache he is currently enduring.

"My father is suffering with cancer at the moment, he is going through chemotherapy," O'Leary said.

"Today's win is a tribute to him. He may not be with us for many more Cheltenhams. It's an emotional day," he said.

"He's 77 or 78 or something like that, my mother now will give me a bollocking for getting the number wrong," the Ryanair chief added, joking about the man better known as Ted, to a select few.

"I think he'd be very proud of the horse, my brother who bought him, and probably less proud of me because I'm an idiot pouring so much money into National Hunt racing but we all have our crosses to carry.

"He's watching at home. I suspect he is on the phone already. My mother thinks I should have worn a tie. I'll be getting all the usual criticism."

You could be considered a lucky owner once you've made it into the winner's enclosure once, he mused.

But less than two hours later, O'Leary was again looking on as his horse, the Gordon Elliott-trained Carlito Brigante, with a tricolour draped around delighted jockey Davy Russell's shoulders, was led in after running away with the Coral Cup.

The young whipper-snapper trainer from Co Meath was responsible for ensuring Irish eyes were smiling from the off.

And it turned out to be a memorable day for Irish-trained and bred horses, with six wins out of seven races.

Romping home in the first six races made it the best day ever for Irish trainers at at the Mecca for jump racing.

Plenty of pints of the black stuff were being sunk early on as Elliott delivered the 5-1 favourite Chicago Grey in the first.

It was to be the 33-year-old's day as he later notched up his second ever win at Cheltenham with O'Leary's horse.

"We'll celebrate tonight all over Cheltenham," said the delighted owner of Chicago Grey, Co Galway horse-breeder John Earls, after buying the striking grey for €11,000 as a foal.

His last win coincided with his son Sean's 21st; this time it was his daughter Michelle's 27th birthday.

L'Ecrivain chef Derry Clarke was left pondering the recipe for success at the course.

"I'm not disappointed, he ran a big race," the chef admitted after the breathtaking mistake by Oscars Well -- whom he owns a leg of as part of the Molly Malone Syndicate -- had put him out of the running.

Also enjoying the tumultuous ups-and-downs of the parade ring -- which saw Waterford trainer Henry de Bromhead's 10-1 shot Sizing Europe take the Queen Mother Champion Steeple Chase -- were Limerick horse-owner JP McManus and former agriculture minister Joe Walsh.

The other Irish-trained winners were the 16-1 Jessica Harrington-trained Bostons Angel, which had won the RSA Steeple Chase race, while long-shot What A Charm won the sixth.


Others enjoying a day out were Sunderland chairman Niall Quinn, Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp and football commentator Chris Kamara.

Elsewhere, punters were being kept amused by the ladies who were creating a dash of colour amid the sea of tweed.

"Ah Jaysus, me grandad he's embarrassed, he's like Holy Jaysus it's like a spaceship on me head," laughed Liberties belle Gemma McNamee (26).

And, true to form, the aforementioned grandad, Vincent McNamee, over from Dublin for the races, was keeping a distinctly low profile in the stands.

Down below, his granddaughter was entering her wide-brimmed white hat in the Ladies Day fashion stakes.

As the punters left the track their wallets were not quite as laden-down this time, as in many cases the Irish favourites -- including Big Zeb and So Young -- were pipped by Irish-trained outsiders.

Yet, as O'Leary had contemplated, there's always that little matter of the rugby match for the English to get their revenge.

Irish Independent

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