Wexford eyes proudly smiling in winners' enclosure
Wexford eyes were proudly smiling in the winners' enclosure at Cheltenham last week, as Colm Murphy, Jamie Codd, Aidan O'Brien and J.J. Slevin all had reason to celebrate.
Slevin, who is attached to the Nigel Twiston-Davies stable, started the ball rolling for the Model county when he was groom to Ballyandy, winner of Wednesday's Champion Bumper race.
Finishing a nose behind the winner was Cleariestown jockey, Mikey Fogarty, on the Willie Mullins-trained Battleford.
Fogarty was excruciatingly close to bagging another Cheltenham winner after setting the Festival alight on board Don Poli in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle two years ago.
On Thursday, the Irish raiders took six of the seven races on the card, with Killenagh's Colm Murphy first to strike for Wexford connections when the Gigginstown House Stud-owned Empire of Dirt swooped to conquer in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase.
Subsequent Gold Cup winning jockey, Bryan Cooper, gave the nine-year-old a steady run on the outside to put in a challenge from two out. The 16/1 shot kept on bravely up the hill to beat Tango De Juilley by four lengths.
It was party time in Killenagh, near Ballycanew, at the weekend as the winning team returned home.
'I was a bit animated coming down to the last, it's fantastic,' said Murphy reflecting on the race. 'He hit the ground a few times along the way but he's been a good buy and we gave him every chance. He settled really well.
'He has been hard on himself initially but he's starting to enjoy his racing now. It was nice to get a winner for Eddie and Michael (O'Leary) on Ryanair day.'
Empire of Dirt was in relaxed form amid all the recent attention, and back taking it easy in his stable by the weekend, while his trainer plans his next move.
Murphy also had Sizing Granite running in the Queen Mother Champion Chase on Wednesday, but after a mistake at the first fence, his race ended prematurely. There is a possibility both horses will now travel to the Aintree meeting in a few weeks' time.
Mayglass jockey, Jamie Codd, celebrated his fifth Cheltenham win on board Cause of Causes (9/2) by scoring yet again on Grotesque (8/13f) for Mouse Morris in the concluding Flat race at Gowran Park on Saturday (where Crossabeg trainer Liz Doyle took the maiden hurdle with One Can Cally at 12/1).
Codd, and last year's National Hunt Chase winner, gave the Irish their sixth winner of St. Patrick's Day when storming home in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Chase. The well-backed 9/2 shot was held up throughout and looked out of contention four fences from home. However, coming down the hill, the son of Dynaformer stayed on very strongly and quickened clear at the second last to win easily.
Codd said afterwards: 'Gordon Elliott has brought him back to this race in top form. I have been riding him out for the last three weeks and he has really come to form. He loves the spring and the sun on his back. I am grateful to J.P. McManus and Gordon Elliott. They are a brilliant bunch of people and it is great for me to be involved.
'This horse's biggest asset is he is Flat-bred and has a lot of speed but also stays very well. I didn't want to be that far back and he takes a long time to warm up. He is not a very big horse but he is very economical over his fences and once you get him into a rhythm popping over them, he always comes home for you, well, he has for me thankfully anyway.
'It was not a straightforward race, I wanted to get him into a rhythm but I was never happy the whole way.
'I was hoping they had gone too quick as he is not the sort of horse you can ask to make big jumps so I was trying to get him to the top of the hill on the bridle.
'Coming down the hill, he then came alive and started to pass horses. Once I passed one, I passed another six or seven in ten or 15 strides. I was probably there too soon but there was no looking back once I had got to the front.
'It is just incredible to win for Gordon and J.P. It's magic. Cheltenham is Cheltenham. There is no better way place to ride horses in the world. When you have winners and horses with chances like I had, it is a great position to be in.
'I am in the latter stages of my riding career but I am just so lucky to be associated with Gordon Elliott who has looked after me since he started training, so it is great to be associated with his team.'
Codd also finished in the places in Wednesday's Cross Country Chase when Elliott's Bless the Wings (33/1) was an impressive third.
On Friday, Ivanovich Gorbatov (9/2f) gave Clonroche man, Aidan O'Brien, his sixth Festival winner, and first since Istabraq in 2000, when landing the JCB Triumph Hurdle. O'Brien's son, Joseph, who recently retired from a highly successful riding career, oversaw the young hurdler's preparations ahead of the big day.
'Joseph has done brilliantly, he told me the first day what he was, he loved him and he loved him for today. He had him so well schooled - I'd say he (Joseph) can only do well (training),' said winning jockey, Barry Geraghty, afterwards.
The revisionists might label it 'a Cheltenham for the ages' as the script had something for everyone, with comeback king Sprinter Sacre's Queen Mother victory the icing on the cake for many.
It is also a compliment to the extraordinarily high standard of National Hunt racing in Wexford that we now travel to Cheltenham each March with an optimism that come the end of the week the purple and gold will be spotted in some corner of the winners' enclosure, in whatever form it might take.
That's the action over for another year, roll on Cheltenham 2017.