Thursday 14 December 2017

O'Leary is flying as Don Cossack wins Gold Cup

'It's like I've died and gone to Heaven,' says Ryanair boss Michael

Michael O’Leary gives his wife Anita a kiss as Bryan Cooper arrives into the parade ring with Don Cossack after winning the Gold Cup. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Michael O’Leary gives his wife Anita a kiss as Bryan Cooper arrives into the parade ring with Don Cossack after winning the Gold Cup. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Sky Sports News presenter Rachel Wyse. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Outgoing Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald at Cheltenham yesterday. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Aileen Morrin from Naas. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Joseph O'Brien, son of trainer Aidan O'Brien. Photo: PA
Michelle Reynolds, from Sligo city, at day four of the festival. Photo: Cody Glenn

Jane O’Faherty

Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary praised his wife Anita following his second-ever win of the coveted Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The Ryanair CEO called the victory an "out-of-body experience" after Bryan Cooper sped to the finish line on Don Cossack, claiming the first Gold Cup victory for Gigginstown House Stud in 10 years.

It came as Irish stables cleaned up with a string of successive wins at what has been called the "Olympics of horse racing".

Mr O'Leary said he was delighted to have his glamorous wife by his side for yesterday's historic victory. "I always like to try and have a winner when Anita is here, as she doesn't go racing that often with the children," he said. "So it is very nice to win a Gold Cup when she is here.

"She was here when we won 10 years ago, but there wasn't as many children 10 years ago so it's wonderful. I can't believe it."

It was a difficult start to the week for the Gigginstown House Stud, with Mr O'Leary losing out on first place in two of the races that Ryanair sponsored. But he said his second Gold Cup win felt "equally as good as the first one".

"These things are bloody hard won," he said. "It's like I have died and gone to Heaven. It is like an out-of-body experience."

Horse trainer Gordon Elliott was almost left speechless following Don Cossack's success, describing it as "brilliant" and "unbelievable".

"To be honest, I need to look at the race again - I was so nervous all the way around. That was something special.

"I've never been so nervous in my life. I'm just so happy for all of us, all the staff in the yard, my mother and father."

This year's festival had been bittersweet for Mr Elliott, who saw his horse No More Heroes put down.

Meanwhile, Meath Gaelic Football star Louise Dunne took time out from training to serve as Don Cossack's groom.

The goalkeeper said the winning steed had "always been a star since day one".

"[He's] a superstar. You know just by looking at him," she said. "He's stunning."

The dramatic feature race saw some stunning Irish performances, with Irish horses in the first four places by the finish line.

Winning jockey Bryan Cooper gushed: "I can't believe that's happened - it was over so quick.

"We've put all the doubters away now - they all said [Don Cossack] wasn't good enough. All the people who said I didn't get on with him - we've put them in their place today."

Willie Mullins secured yet another victory as he took home the Irish Independent Leading Trainer Award early yesterday morning.

Outgoing Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald paid her first visit to the festival.

"It is uniquely Irish. I have been hearing about it all my life," she said.

"My dad was in the army and we lived near the Curragh, so it feels like I have been here before, even though it is my first time."

Ms Fitzgerald was visiting the Irish Ambassador to Britain, Dan Mulhall, as part of this year's St Patrick's Day celebrations in London.

"We have had 20 events in London this week, so there is a very vibrant UK and Ireland link so Cheltenham symbolises that link," she said.

Sky Sports presenter and former show jumper Rachel Wyse was also spotted in the stands.

"I was in a box overlooking the Gold Cup so I had a wonderful day, I had one or two winners" she told the Irish Independent.

"One of my highlights was seeing Victoria Pendleton come fifth."

Meanwhile, 22-year-old Joseph O'Brien has been credited with JP McManus' second Cheltenham win.

Joseph, the son of Wexford trainer Aidan O'Brien, worked extensively with the victor of the JCB Triumph Hurdle on the final day of the festival.

Joseph said the sensation of winning as a trainer felt "slightly surreal".

"It's completely different to being in the saddle," he said.

"When you're riding, you don't get a chance to take in the whole occasion but now, you don't have much to do on the day itself as the job is done. When you're riding, everything you do is on the day."

Bookies were down as they counted four days of continuous losses.

Liam Glynn of BoyleSports called it the "worst Cheltenham in the history of bookmakers", but noted that it had produced numerous highlights such as the victories of Annie Power, Sprinter Sacre and Vautour.

There was a fierce chill in the air but that didn't stop the fashion forward from throwing on their glad rags for the last day of the festival.

Naas native Aileen Morrin was celebrating after capitalising on "plenty of Irish winners" during the week's races.

"I lost a few bob, but won a few bob," she said.

"My son comes every year and I do two or three days."

More than 70,000 people attended the final day of the festival. Overall figures for the four days were 260,579, a new festival record.

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