He is a few days down the track but Paddy Kennedy is still floating on air after guiding Magic Of Light to finish second in Aintree Grand National, on his first ever ride at the track.
Kennedy and the gutsy mare trained by his boss Jessica Harrington have already been assured of a form of racing immortality, because the 2019 renewal will be replayed in perpetuity, Tiger Roll having become the first horse since the mighty Red Rum in 1975 to garner the coveted prize not just for a second time but in succession.
The 30-year-old from Dingle was magnificent, particularly in sitting tight when Magic Of Light ploughed through The Chair, even if there was a touch of fortune in his head meeting hers to prevent the laws of physics propelling him to the turf. It left him bloodied, but it kept the partnership intact.
From there, Kennedy was patient in not rushing Magic forward. The only change he made was to ask her to concentrate at the obstacles and she obliged. She was still answering his every call up to the finishing post and her rider was thrilled. There would just be no denying Tiger Roll.
When Kennedy was growing up, the National was the only race he knew existed. His mother Liz is a childminder, his father Billy a welder.
It was the eldest sibling Mikey that got into horses first, though as a Kerry U21 panellist, football might have taken over had a badly broken leg not intervened. They seem to have an issue with the pins – younger brother Jack has had three leg breaks, Paddy an eye-watering six (three each leg) to go along with a fractured knee, ankle and the garden-variety collarbone.
These setbacks were in the future. When pony racing, Billy drove his sons all over the place.
“Mikey used to train the pony racers and my father used to drive them” Kennedy recalls of happy times.
“I don’t like saying it to people because it sounds like I am gloating but from a very, very young age you could just see that Jack was a natural horseman. He never had to work hard at changing anything. Everything just came natural for him. I probably didn’t start riding horses until I was about 13 or 14. Whereas Jack, from where he could walk he was around them.”
Paddy got a job with Kevin Prendergast and then moved to Dessie Hughes’ but the injuries kept coming. He had no momentum and in racing, when you are out of sight, you don’t exist.
He has been based with Harrington for a long while now and had to bide his time but the last two years have been his best, now that he has managed to stay sound for a prolonged period.
In February, he claimed his most important winner to date when he rode Whisperinthebreeze to a pillar-to-post victory in the Leopardstown Chase on the big stage of the Dublin Racing Festival. That would have been dwarfed however, had he prevailed in the same colours of Ann & Alan Potts Limited last Saturday.
“The National is probably the only race that I can ever remember watching growing up because I don’t come from a racing background.
Jack was on board Dounikos and the Kennedys were one of two sets of brothers participating – Sean and James Bowen the others.
“It was a very proud moment walking down the steps to ride in the Grand National with your brother. We walked down the steps side by side. Even for the two of us to be there. No-one has ever pulled strings for us to get us to where we are.
“We come from a non-racing background. We worked hard and it just felt like we had accomplished something with the two of us walking down the steps together.
“We have had a lot of help along the way and wouldn’t have made it without the support of some important people along the way, but we came from outside racing. We work hard. So I just felt very proud that the two of us were riding it together. It was great.”
Harrington was having her first runner in the race so she told him to take it as he saw it. He walked the track with Jack and Carl Llewellyn, who was a two-time winning jockey in the ‘90s. Llewellyn told them that it was important to be able to see the first two fences in the cavalry charge to give themselves the best chance of getting over.
“I lined up good and handy and we didn’t go a mad gallop, so it was grand. I got to sit there. I didn’t get to dictate it but I was in a position where I could do whatever I felt I needed. I had a lot of room where I was, to manoeuvre the tricky fences. For the Canal Turn I was able to make my own line for that.
“I kind of went out with the frame of mind, ‘I manoeuvre the first three now, try and get out handy for the first three fences and we get into position then.’
And when the crazy thought first entered his mind that he could win the most famous race in the world?
“When I was crossing the Melling Road I said I would try and get a breather into her. I was expecting horses to come around me at this stage and I was just filling her up. They never did. I went down to the second last, I was still travelling. Now it is a long way from home but I was thinking, ‘Jesus it is getting real now. I have a chance.’
“I winged the second last and just coming to the last, Tiger Roll arrived up beside me. I had a quick glance and I could see the tension on Davy (Russell)’s reins. He was pulling hard so I knew that it was going to be hard. But it is a horse race, anything can happen. I wasn’t going to give up then.
“So I went for a long one. I was hoping he wouldn’t have the scope that my one has… that he would make a mistake and I would get away at the back of it. But it didn’t work out. We were unlucky that we came across a freak. He is definitely not a horse anyway.”
There are no regrets and Harrington was ecstatic. Kennedy was delighted that he could repay her faith, when stable jockey Robbie Power was released to ride Jury Duty.
“I am very grateful for the chances Jessica Harrington has given me. I just like when I am given the chance to be able to give something back.”
Agent Garry Cribbin has been vital in recent years but there is one trainer who has a direct line. Mikey has been making steady strides since taking out a licence. Booting Touch Of Gold to victory on Kerry sod on July 20th two years ago was a career highlight for Paddy because it was Mikey’s first.
“It was like winning the Grand National because my father and a few friends of ours from Dingle owned it, and Mikey trained it. It was a special day.”
Planning for the future, he has gone into business pre-training with Jack in Kildangan. But race riding remains still very much the present.
“I am still in love with the game. Saturday made me fall in love with it even more. I just have it in my head now that I want to win a National. I always did but a dream nearly became a reality last week and it just showed me that it can be done.”