Thursday 24 October 2019

Quiet 'genius' Kelly works his magic once again from modest Craughwell yard

Presenting Percy looks a Gold Cup prospect after RSA cruise under Davy Russell

Davy Russell celebrates after riding Presenting Percy to victory in the Novices’ Chase for trainer Pat Kelly. Photo: Andrew Boyers/Action Images via Reuters
Davy Russell celebrates after riding Presenting Percy to victory in the Novices’ Chase for trainer Pat Kelly. Photo: Andrew Boyers/Action Images via Reuters
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Pat Kelly waves our microphones away like a man who's been interrupted doing the stations of the cross.

It isn't his style to trot out grins and anecdotes, not even when the world around him has become a gorgeous lyric line.

So he seeks out familiar company, pointedly turning his back on the commotion that has followed Presenting Percy to the winner's enclosure.

We keep saying Cheltenham is no place for small yards anymore, but Kelly keeps making liars of us.

For three years running, he's strolled back into this enclosure, his murmur of a Craughwell yard having saddled a Festival winner and - just as the whole of Cheltenham is reaching out to slap his back and hear how a man of such unprivileged circumstance can pull lightning from the grey Cotswold skies - he closes the door.

Kelly's is again, arguably, the most interesting Cheltenham story, but it's one for others to tell.

Escape Even the TV cameras get short shrift and just as he is called to RSA dais as winning trainer, Kelly momentarily turning away as if contemplating escape. What do we know of him? That he is a genius. Davy Russell says it. Philip Reynolds says it.

Actually they recite it like a mantra, having seen it at close quarters as Kelly masterminded the Pertemps victories of Mall Dini and Presenting Percy and, yesterday, a first ever Grade One with the latter.

So how do you prepare a horse for a Novices' Steeplechase? Run him over hurdles of course. It seemed the entire industry was inclined to squint at Kelly's preparation of Presenting Percy, but the industry really should know better now.

As Russell told us when asked if he'd maybe been scratching his head too: "Ah not with him genuinely. I just rode along. Jason Titley told me, 'Don't be surprised to see him in over hurdles!' And that's the route he took. Look, I promise you, I've never sat on this horse only on the racecourse. Never laid a hand on him. Haven't seen the horse. I don't know what he does with him.

"He's a brilliant man, a brilliant man. He deserves all the credit. A huge amount."

A pocket history of Kelly? He trained a couple of Galway Hurdle winners (Natalie's Fancy 1991 and No Tag '93) before slipping into anonymity.

For three seasons out of five in the early 2000s, he failed to train a winner. Rumour has it actually that he trained a total of just 15 in ten years and was contemplating handing in his licence.

Then a chance reunion with Reynolds, son of the late Taoiseach, Albert, set a new story in (slow) motion.

Kelly agreed to Reynolds' suggestion that they might get a horse together "for old time's sake", then took two years to call back. When he did, he'd finally identified two horses at Tom Costello junior's yard, one of which was Mall Dini.

The rest has unspooled into a fairy tale.

When Presenting Percy won last year, Kelly did offer a brief glimpse into the stark life of a struggling yard, telling people he had just seven horses in his care and two staff. "You don't make a living out of this," he reflected, "it's a way of life. It's not about money."

But that was as much as he was willing to reveal, stopping himself almost in mid-sentence as if uncomfortable with the scrutiny. Yet, as the skies were darkening in the valley last night, people talked about Pat Kelly now having a Gold Cup horse in his yard.

"Ah listen, an RSA is enough," said Reynolds. "It's amazing to even have a horse good enough to come to Cheltenham. So to have a horse go and do what he is doing...

"Listen all the credit has to go to Pat. I love my wife, but I love Pat Kelly even more!"

And as to his job as spokesman for a Craughwell yard?

"I'm obviously doing a bad job. He still has only 15 horses in training!"

Irish Independent

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