Cancer fight makes Kennedy appreciate success all the more

Whisperinthebreeze ridden by Paddy Kennedy. Picture: PA

Paddy Kennedy is easy to spot in the café where we’ve agreed to meet in Kildare - the puffy red Jessica Harrington Racing jacket the clear giveaway. 

He approaches the table with a broad smile, much like the one he has been wearing since recording his biggest career victory to-date just four days earlier.

Kennedy claimed the €73,000 winner’s purse aboard Whisperinthebreeze at Leopardstown a fortnight ago, carrying the famed silks of the late Ann and Alan Potts to victory in the Abbey International Handicap Chase. 

Kennedy had three and three-quarter lengths to spare over the Ruby Walsh ridden, livelovelaugh but the 29-year-old insists the run-in was by no means a precession he could enjoy,

“I didn’t realise it was Ruby behind me until I jumped the last and took a quick look at the big screen. I just thought, ‘Oh jeez, of all the lads to be following me, not Ruby with the day he is having’. He was already after getting two horses up on the line but thankfully my lad kept going”.

It’s a win that surged the emotions for Kennedy as he regurgitates personal struggles unknown to most. He casts his mind back to the Galway racing festival of 2017 where two winners fell his way. 

On the face of it, it was the stuff of dreams but Paddy had far more pressing issues to contend with.

2017 was my best year yet and I had two winners in Galway but I had a lot of things on my mind that week. They (doctors) had just found a tumour on my bladder and I was due to go for surgery the following week so while it was great to get the wins I just couldn’t really enjoy them.

“I go for regular check-ups now and have been given the all clear. I didn’t say anything about it at the time because I didn’t want people feeling sorry for me but touch wood, all is okay now. 

"It certainly puts things into perspective for me, I try and enjoy the likes of that Leopardstown a lot more now”, he states.

It was an obstacle Kennedy would rather not have faced but even if he is tempted to look back he barely has the time. 

His day begins at 5.45am with his first port of call being the pre-training yard of Kevin O’Ryan. He then schools a few lots in the majestic surrounds of Jessica Harrington’s Moone operation before returning to base in Kildangan where he is joined by younger brother Jack. 

Aside from being siblings, they are best friends and last year joined forces to buy a farm. Since then they have established a pre-training yard – a move made with one eye on life after race-riding.

“Dingle will always be home but our lives are up here now and it just made since when the place came up. You see lads retiring at 38 and then doing it, so, we just thought, ‘why not just do it while we’re not committed to it full time?’ We’re hoping to have a solid business by the time we are both retired.”

Paddy Kennedy and trainer Jessica Harrington. Picture: Healy Racing

Given the nature of the pre-training game, they are reliant on trainers sending them horses for the business to remain viable, so far so good in that regard,

“Jessie (Harrington) has been very good to us, she has given us an awful lot of horses to break and they’re all quality stock too which is nice to work with.”

At the centre of the life he has built in Kildare are his girlfriend Ciara and baby son Eóghan, “the Irish spelling” he reminds me. 

It’s clear his arrival has shifted the perspective on racing for Paddy - a loving welcome from his son is not dependent on whether he has graced the winners’ enclosure on a given day.

“I come home from racing and he cheers me up, smiling away in the corner. My girlfriend is very supportive too, when things aren’t going well I am very difficult to deal with, she could have jumped ship a long time ago.”

Would he advise his son to pursue a career in the saddle? 

To be brutally honest, if I didn’t think he was any good I’d tell him straight. I would never put him down the route of being a journeyman jockey and struggling because I have been down that road myself.

However, his experience of traveling that often rocky road, hasn’t been in vain: “I would have made a lot of mistakes since moving up to Kildare as a 15-year-old and I’m able to steer Jack clear from making the same ones.”

Paddy has been exposed to a higher calibre of horse in recent years, largely down to his association with Jessica Harrington. 

The affiliation has thrived for eight years now – a length of service that certainly wasn’t anticipated at the outset.

He has come a long way since the days of riding his grandfather’s pony,

“He had a pony on the farm but I was too small to ride it so I’d get on with my older brother, Michael and he would hold onto me”, he recounts.

Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

Michael now trains horses, for a living in Co Cork and saddled his first winner at Killarney in July of 2017, with Paddy aboard. 

That victory came courtesy of Touch of Gold that is owned by an enthusiastic bunch of lads from Dingle - that one was special.

With the Cheltenham Festival drawing ever closer, Paddy remains unsure of what mounts he may partner at Prestbury Park.

“I only found out during the week that I can still claim three pounds in England so someone may think it’s valuable. Some will and some won’t, you wouldn’t know.”

Of the Harrington string however, he is specific on one that may be worth keeping an eye on. 

“I think Walk To Freedom will run a big race in the Pertemps Final.

“He has had some good runs this year and was unlucky the last day. He’s a horse that you need a lot of luck on as he needs to be dropped right out but he goes on any ground really and adapts to different situations, which is what I like about him.”

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