Wednesday 22 November 2017

You can't beat a bit of Irish pride

Weird Wide World of Sport

Jubilant jockey Robbie Power after winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Sizing John
Jubilant jockey Robbie Power after winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Sizing John

Dave Devereux

What A wonderful week for Irish sport that was. Trainers from the Emerald Isle were banging in winners left, right and centre at the Cheltenham Festival before the coup de grace on Saturday when England's Grand Slam dream was ruthlessly shattered by a green wave.

Of course, you often hear over-the-top claptrap about it being a great day for the Irish punters at the Festival, when in fact most of the horses that were first past the post would have been as unfancied as an athlete with an aversion to taking a shower.

It's more than a little bit wide of the mark to spout the Irish eyes are smiling malarkey when a pile of unconsidered 33/1 cart horses suddenly sprout wings and storm up the Prestbury Park hill like a scalded cat.

Most racing followers go into Cheltenham prepared to lose a few quid, given the extra excitement the odd wager brings to the event.

However, punters are only ever really happy when they back a few winners, whether the horse is Irish-trained, English-trained or has been plucked from a little known stable in the heart of Kazakhstan.

Even when the mighty steed gets its head in front they'll find something to whinge about.

'I should have had more on it.' 'I could have backed it at a bigger price.' 'Why didn't I put them in a double?'

The roar when a highly-fancied Irish runner enters the winners' enclosure, like the Willie Mullins-trained Yorkhill on Wednesday, is when the real celebrations kick off.

Don't get me wrong, I love it when a small stable sticks it to the big boys, like Galway trainer Pat Kelly repeating the trick by saddling the winner of the Pertemps Hurdle after sending out Mall Dini to win the race twelve months earlier. However, when there's money involved the cold, hard cash will always come out ahead of sentiment.

Mercifully I came out on top in my personal battle with the bookies over the four days, mainly due to staying away from the wide open handicaps and sticking with the few horses I really fancied, meaning I was in a position to savour most of the Irish success stories.

The battle between Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins for the top trainer gong was an intriguing one, with the Meath man storming out of the blocks like Usain Bolt in a hurry to get the toilet, before Mullins, after enduring a torrid first two days, overhauled him with a succession of winners.

However, Elliott had the last laugh as Champagne Classic's victory in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle saw him crowned top dog by the skin of his teeth.

Jessica Harrington and Robbie Power teaming up to land the Gold Cup with Sizing John was also a glorious moment, while the three-way joust between Apple's Jade, Vroum Vroum Mag and Limini in the Mares' Hurdle was probably the race of the meeting.

However, the highlight for me was Jamie Codd's ride on Fayonagh in the Champion Bumper, when he picked his way through the field from last to first after the mare fluffed her lines at the start.

Back on Irish soil, the rugby team showed again the tag of underdog sits more comfortably with them than the expectancy of being the favourite when they summoned up the courage and no shortage of skill to deny England the Grand Slam and the world record for successive wins.

We're left with the nagging sense of a missed opportunity, considering the losses against Scotland and Wales, teams that we know Ireland are more than capable of beating.

Anyway, onwards and upwards and there's plenty to build on.

Another chance for chest-swelling Irish pride awaits us on Friday evening as we take on European Championship semi-finalists Wales in a World Cup qualifier in the Aviva Stadium.

A win would go a long way towards securing qualification for the tournament in Russia and would continue the feel-good factor on these shores.

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