Winning and losing put into perspective by fallen few

An unmistakable air of sobriety descended on the Cheltenham Festival towards the end of ‘St Patrick’s Thursday’ when news emerged that amateur jockey JT McNamara was airlifted to Frenchay Hospital in Bristol after suffering a serious injury.

Winning and losing put into perspective by fallen few

The 37-year-old from Croom in Limerick, who hails from well-known racing stock, was treated trackside by paramedics after his horse Galaxy Mount took a tumble during the Fulke Walwyn Muir Challenge Cup late on in the card.

Racing was delayed for almost half-an-hour while the amateur rider was transferred from the venue and it was reported later that McNamara had been placed into an induced coma before being taken to the regional spinal unit.

It had already been a day bedevilled by injury with leading jockey Davy Russell forced out of the Ryanair Chase and Ladbrokes World Hurdle due to a punctured lung suffered the day before and made worse in the second race yesterday.

Russell will also have to sit out today’s Gold Cup in which he was due to ride second-favourite Sir Des Champs for Willie Mullins and the list of casualties, unfortunately, extended still further than that.

Matuhi, a David Pipe trained 10-year-old, was put down after suffering a serious spinal injury on falling at the last fence in the Byrne Group Plate and such incidents spoke volumes for the danger that can never be eradicated from the sport of kings.

In such a context, it was impossible to rue what, until then, had seemed like bad luck for punters burned by a succession of favourites that failed to cut the mustard with the likes of Sam Winner, First Lieutenant and Oscar Whiskey all falling short.

There were, as there always are here, stories to elicit plenty of smiles in a sporting sense, with young Tralee jockey Bryan Cooper’s paramount among them after a day that kept getting better and better.

The 20-year-old claimed his first Festival winner on board Benefficient in the day’s opener, the Jewson Chase, before being parachuted into two major rides on board First Lieutenant and Bog Warrior in the day’s two biggest races as a result of Russell’s misfortune.

Yet it was, in truth, a strangely subdued ‘Paddy’s Day’ at the Festival this year.

Unlike past times, there was no one selling sprigs of shamrock at the front gates yesterday morning and the course itself lacked the imported greenery of yesteryear.

Even staples such as fake red beards, tiny leprechaun hats and outfits were in much shorter — no pun intended — supply, although there were the usual dependable few eager to make use of the excuse to dress outrageously. None outdid Margaret Connolly for effort.

The regular racegoer from Westmeath won Best Dressed Lady here 12 months ago but showed her true colours with an eye-catching combination boasting various shades of green.

Wearing a bright green ‘Top-O-Da-Mornin’ leprechaun hat with buckle, Tricolour wig, powder green jacket and T-shirt, frilly white skirt, black tights and green suede high heels earned her a kiss on the cheek from Sky Sports’ football personality Chris Kamara and an entire day of second glances.

The Festival will come to a close today shortly before tea-time, although the crescendo will come shortly after 3.30pm when the Gold Cup has come and gone with Irish hopes resting on Sir Des Champs, who should have been partnered by the fallen Russell.

It is seven years since the Festival’s blue riband was claimed by an Irish raider, War of Attrition doing the honours then, so a success would be nice.

Positive news from Bristol would, of course, be of far greater worth.

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