‘St Patrick’s Thursday’ didn’t bring with it much in the way of Irish-trained successes, but it did at least deliver a victory for a son of these shores that was greeted with unequivocal glee by racing folk on both sides of the Irish Sea.
AP McCoy’s retirement at the end of the current jumps season was always going to lend a touch of wistfulness to this year’s gala, and the win everyone craved for the perennial champion jockey duly arrived with his victory on Uxizandre in the Ryanair Chase.
Even punters burned by his 16/1 win showed their appreciation.
McCoy’s popularity is nigh on impossible to overstate and his entrance into the winners’ enclosure was applauded by, among many others, Uxizandre’s owner JP McManus, Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary, and his wife Chanelle, who admitted to fighting back the tears.
“It’s great for him to be in the winners’ enclosure one more time in Cheltenham before he retires in six weeks time,” said Mrs McCoy “He was slightly melancholy this morning, but my goodness he’s going to be absolutely just burning with happiness inside now.”
McCoy isn’t exactly the type to externalise his emotions, which meant it fell to his wife to sum up what this win and this year’s festival meant to them both on a day when his father Peadar and his three siblings flew in to watch the action.
“I’ve made a conscious effort to really think that I’m going to absolutely enjoy every day’s racing I go to,” she said. “I’m not going to feel sad about the retirement because I am very happy inside. It’s dangerous what they do, so this winner is just extra special today.”
As AP is wont to say, all winners are special, especially around a track as revered as Cheltenham which, for all its tradition, has never been stuffy enough to turn its nose up at the less hoity-toity types who choose to frequent its concourses.
This being the festival’s designated Paddy’s Day brought out the leprechaun suits, the Guinness hats, and the various other paraphernalia, though there seemed to be distinctly less of the comic-book green worn as years go by.
Willie Mullins’ Vautour delivered the only winner trained by a ‘raider’ with the performance of the day in the opening JLT Novices’ Chase, but there were other Irish angles to be divined on what is always the least anticipated of the four cards.
Three Irish jockeys piloted winners — aside from Ruby Walsh, who bagged his fourth win on Vautour — with Gavin Sheehan from Dunmanway in Cork guiding Cole Harden to the spoils in the World Hurdle.
“This is what dreams are made of,” said 22-year-old Gavin.
Today brings with it dreams of even greater scope as the festival-defining Gold Cup assumes centre-stage. The Irish challenge will be headed by Djakadam, trained by Mullins and piloted by Walsh who, like AP, know a thing or two about winning in the Cotswolds.
Read more of today’s news here