Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Keith Donoghue proved himself to be the Cross Country Chase king once again as Delta Work (11/10 favourite) made it back-to-back successes in this quirky Cheltenham Festival test.
Delta Work was the party pooper 12 months ago when raining on Tiger Roll’s retirement parade and he powered up the Cheltenham Hill once again to hand Donoghue his fourth win in the 3m6f marathon.
Donoghue, cheered on by his friend, Dublin footballer Ciarán Kilkenny, has been enjoying the best season of his career since going freelance – he already has 44 Irish winners on the board – but the Meath rider was reunited with former boss Gordon Elliott for another famous success.
“It couldn’t have gone any easier for me,” Donoghue said of his two-and-a-half-length victory over stablemate Galvin (11/4). “He’s brilliant over these and I have to thank Gordon for putting me on him. It’s just great to have a winner at Cheltenham.”
As for Elliott, it was a fifth win in the race – Cause of Causes won in 2017, and although the great Tiger Roll won three, one was when under the care of Denise Foster, soElliott was delighted to be reunited with a vital cog in the Cullentra wheel throughout some of his finest training achievements.
“Keith Donoghue started off with me when he was 14 and is having his best-ever season. He went freelance, so when Jack (Kennedy) couldn’t ride, I said there is no better man to have on him,” Elliott said.
It was also a welcome Festival success for the Michael O’Leary-owned Gigginstown House Stud, with the Ryanair chief no longer turning his nose up at such prizes since greatly reducing his stock.
“I used to be the most critical of this Cross Country race and why do we bother. When you are struggling for a winner at Cheltenham, I will take the Cross Country, the Martin Pipe, anything at all,” O’Leary said.
“It is not everyone’s cup of tea, but a winner at the Festival is a winner. The Grand National will be on the agenda, but I have won the Grand National three times already.
“And no owner, I think, has won it more than three times, so I’ve had my fill. He will go to Aintree, but will he win? No, he won’t.”
Willie Mullins ended the day with a whopping 92 Festival winners in his glittering career after commanding Grade One wins for Impaire Et Passe (5/2) and Energumene (6/5 favourite), but it was also a first for Darragh O’Keeffe.
The Cork rider was delighted to shed the tag of nearly man at the Cotswolds as a slick round of jumping helped Maskada (22/1) to a surprise success in the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase.
“It’s an amazing place,” O’Keeffe said. “I was just touched off in the Coral Cup last year and I was touched off here in the Paddy Power as well on French Dynamite. I was starting to get nightmares about this place.”
To partner a winner for Henry de Bromhead also clearly meant a lot to the Doneraile native after a heart-breaking year away from the track for the Waterford trainer with the passing of his son, Jack.
“I’m delighted to ride a winner for Henry and Heather (wife) as well, for the year that’s in it and what they’ve been through. I’m delighted to add another one to the board.
“He’s a fantastic trainer and he’s been brilliant to me. He gave me my first Grade One winner (A Plus Tard),” O’Keeffe, who rides in Down Royal tomorrow, added.
The battle for the Prestbury Cup looks almost done and dusted, with Ireland holding a 10-4 advantage going into the final two days, which they have dominated in recent years. Langer Dan (9/1), however, was a welcome success for the home team.
The seven-year-old made it fourth-time lucky at the Festival when getting up in the final strides to take the Coral Cup, much to the delight of the Skelton brothers – Dan (trainer) and Harry (jockey).
“He is a little pocket rocket. In these handicap hurdles, he can skip around and nip into gaps. I would think he is a lot of fun to ride. It is an amazing story. Colm (Donlon, owner) bought four foals and he was trotting around one day as a three-year-old,” the winning trainer said.
“I rang Colm up saying we will have to get your money back as this horse is tiny and he will never be a racehorse. To be fair to Colm, he said they all deserve a chance, so let’s see how he gets on and he has just been mega.
“It is brilliant seeing him get his head in front here as he is a proper tough little nut. We have had him since a foal and he is by Ocovango, who is growing in importance now as we have him at the stud. He has been an amazing little horse and he has now got his day in the sun.”