Early St Patrick’s Dayfails to gee up Irish success

All in all, it wasn’t exactly the most memorable of St Patrick’s Days for the Irish at Cheltenham yesterday.

Yep, you heard right. Paddy’s has been and gone. In this part of England at any rate. Why? Well, with Mar 17 falling outside the boundaries of the four-day event this year, organisers decided to label yesterday as St Patrick’s Thursday.

The cheek.

In truth, it didn’t really catch on. OK, so there were a fair few of those fluffy, green top hats bobbing about and plenty of diddly-eye music emanating from the various hospitality enclosures but the buy-in was less than total.

Maybe it had something to do with the fact that this has been a rotten old week for the Irish. The sole win yesterday, for Sir des Champs in the Jewson Novice Chase opener, brought to just three the total of Irish-trained winners with one more day to go.

A far cry from last year’s overall total of 13.

Yet again, it was Willie Mullins who obliged yesterday with a horse ridden by Cork’s Davy Russell and owned by Westmeath’s Michael O’Leary whose Gigginstown Stud has become a major player in the country’s horse racing industry.

“When you die and go to heaven, this is what it is going to be like,” said the Ryanair chief.

O’Leary was joined in the winners’ enclosure later in the afternoon by Northern Irish actor James Nesbitt whose horse Riverside Theatre squeaked home in a thrilling running of the — wait for it — Ryanair Chase.

“It’s just extraordinary,” said Nesbitt who has starred in TV series such as Cold Feet and Murphy’s Law and who will have a small role in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings follow-up The Hobbit later this year.

“Nothing really prepared me for that. I’m rarely lost for words but I’m very emotional now. This is the greatest sport in the world and I think racing is sometimes a bit hard on itself. There are tens of thousands of people here today enjoying themselves.

“In a way I felt an extra bit of responsibility because all the cameras were pointed at me. I hope a few people put their money on him back home in Northern Ireland. It’s only a wee place and I hope they have a pint tonight to celebrate.”

There was no such joy for Munster and Irish rugby star Ronan O’Gara whose horse Your Busy ran in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Steeple Chase later in the day, although jockey Nina Carberry brought the nine-year old home in a respectable tenth place.

O’Gara will be hoping for a better result tomorrow, on the real St Patrick’s Day, when the Irish squad of which he is a part take on England in the last of this year’s Six Nations matches at Twickenham in London.

Maybe then Irish eyes will be smiling.


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