Kingdom races ahead in 2018

2018 was a truly successful season track for the Kingdom's top jockeys

Jack Kennedy celebrates after winning the JCB Triumph Hurdle on Farclas during day four of the Cheltenham Racing Festival at Prestbury Park in Cheltenham. Photo by Sportsfile
Jack Kennedy celebrates after winning the JCB Triumph Hurdle on Farclas during day four of the Cheltenham Racing Festival at Prestbury Park in Cheltenham. Photo by Sportsfile

Stephen Fernane

A look back at 2018 reveals a hugely successful year for Kerry jockeys. It's a year that will long be remembered for two stand out moments: Jack Kennedy's remarkable Cheltenham campaign at the foot of the Cotswolds in March, and the glorious breakthrough summer for Killarney jockey Oisín Murphy and his mammoth success aboard the John Gosden trained Roaring Lion.

The season is also noteworthy for the return to form of multiple Grade 1 winning jockey, Bryan Cooper. 

The year started in style for Kennedy when he rode a treble for Gordan Elliott and Gigginstown owner Michael O'Leary in Thurles in January. The Dingle man scored on the card with Pete so High, A Toi Phil and Dinaria Des Obeaux. On the same weekend in Navan, Tralee jockey Philip Enright rode Hareth to victory for trainer Charles Byrnes.

Kennedy got February off to a flyer when adding the Goffs Thyestes Chase to his long list of achievements. A race he won on the Elliott trained, Monbeg Notorious.

Kennedy kept up his momentum heading into the Cheltenham Festival in March.

This is a week when Kennedy's rise to the top reached a new level. Kennedy went into the week with one festival winner, Labaik in 2017. He finished the 2018 Cheltenham Festival with an incredible four wins to take second spot in the festival jockeys' championship. Davy Russell also had four wins, but took the title by having more placed efforts.

On day two of the festival, Samcro was a 4/6 favourite and Kennedy had him in front a long way from the finish. But Samcro stayed on well. Kennedy won a competitive Fred Winter on 20/1 shot Veneer of Charm in a race that showed all of Kennedy's class. The horse wandered badly when clearing the final hurdle, but Kennedy steadied him to lead home strongly.

The opening race on day three was the JLT Novices' Chase in which Jack and Shattered Love took the honours. Friday's action opened with another win for Kennedy when Farclas won the JCB Triumph Hurdle.

There was lovely scenes after the race as Gigginstown owner Michael O'Leary searched the paddock for Jack's parents, Liz and Billy, and brought them to the winner's podium for a priceless photo with Jack. Kennedy had 11 rides at Cheltenham with four wins and three thirds.

A few days later at Limerick, Kennedy won aboard Pete So High, while Bryan Cooper won with Castafiore Park for trainer Paul Nolan. Kennedy maintained his good form into April and Aintree's Grand National when against all the odds he got Bless the Wings (40/1) into a good rhythm early in the race and stayed on to finish a game third.

The return to form of the talented and hard-working Bryan Cooper also received its just rewards in May when the Tralee man rode a treble on the card at Wexford.

Two of the wins came courtesy of horses trained by Paul Nolan - Castafiore Park and Monoytype. Cooper's treble was completed when the Andrew McNamara trained Flamingo's Court stayed on strongest.

High summer brought with it high stakes for the ultra-cool Oisín Murphy. The Killarney man won his first UK Group 1 in July when taking the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown. Oisín and Roaring Lion finished strongest when just shading the Aidan O'Brien trained, and 2000 Guineas winner, Saxon Warrior in a tense finish.

At Limerick, brothers Jack and Paddy Kennedy both had winners. Jack won aboard the Elliott trained, Mill Quest; while Paddy steered Neverushacon home for trainer Jessica Harrington.

Also in July, trainer Jim Culloty announced his decision to step down from training. The Killarney native held a trainer's licence for over twelve years in which time he had 44 winners between Ireland and the UK; most memorable being the 2014 Gold Cup win with Lord Windermere.

As a jockey, Culloty rode Best Mate to win three Gold Cups in succession (2002, '03 and '04). Culloty also rode Bindaree to win the 2002 Grand National. Few people involved in the sport can look back on their retirement and savour a career as successful as Jim Culloty's.

By October the year was shaping into a memorable one for Kerry connections with success coming at home and abroad. Ascot was the setting for the finale of the British Flat season with 'Champions Day' glory going the way of Oisín Murphy and Roaring Lion.

The pair won the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes to round off a remarkable season. The win marked the fourth straight Group 1 success of the season for Murphy and Roaring Lion. Murphy rode over 190 winners in the season and won his first classics in the UK (Coral Eclipse) and in Ireland (Irish Champion Stakes).

Also in October, jockeys Sean McDermott and Jack Kennedy had big wins at the American Steeplechase meeting at Fair Hills, New York. McDermott had a double on the card with Two's Company in the $50,000 New Jersey Hunt Cup for trainer Jack Fisher. He followed this up with a win on Invocation in the €50,000 Appleton Hurdle.

The Ballymac man is a well-seasoned national hunt campaigner in the US having started riding there in 2013. In 2015 McDermott won his first Grade 1 in Belmont Park on Scorpiancer. The Kennedy/Elliott partnership was on target at the meeting when taking The Gladstone Hurdle, worth $30,000, as Kennedy rode Caldbeck to victory.

Back on home soil there was no shortage of joy for the Kennedy brothers at Cork in October. Trainer Michael, with Jack on board, enjoyed watching Smithscorner win over hurdles.

Five days later at Dundalk, Michael's horse, Touch of Gold was a winner. The five-year-old won again in Dundalk on November 9.

Bryan Cooper won impressively on Discorama at Nass in early November, while Kennedy's win on Apple's Jade in the Hatton's Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse in December also caught the eye.