Pat Kelly has pulled off some jaw-dropping tricks at Cheltenham this last three years, but the man’s ability to slip into the shadows in the winner’s enclosure while thousands toasted his genius has to be right up there.
When the Craughwell-based trainer won the Pertemps Network Final with Mall Dini in 2016 he shunned the usual queue of broadcast interviews and silence was golden again 12 months later when Presenting Percy claimed the very same race.
Kelly was eventually persuaded to offer up a few words to the written press on both occasions, but he bore the demeanour of a man woken by a bucket of water rather than someone celebrating such unlikely successes.
His contribution to the post-race discourse was somehow constricted further yesterday after Presenting Percy handed him a third Festival win in as many years, this time in the Grade One RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase.
The bigger they get, the less he says.
“Presenting Percy proved himself everything I think he is,” he offered at the umpteenth time of asking. “He was even more impressive than I imagined he would be. I’m lucky to have him. He travelled like a dream.”
Kelly has him because Philip Reynolds bought the seven-year old and handed him over to the man with the tiny stables in Galway. As for luck, well, Reynolds would say that the good fortune is all his rather than the trainer’s.
“Pat deserves all the credit, the route that he has taken with the horse,” said the son of former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds. “It’s toughened him up. We saw the result of it. You need to stay three-plus miles to win an RSA and he won over three-five in Fairyhouse.
“He took him out of novice company twice to toughen him up and that’s the result of it. The man is an absolute genius. How he hasn’t a yard full of horses is beyond me. He is an absolute genius to do what he has done three years in a row. I love my wife, but I love Pat Kelly even more.”
The truth is that the unremarkable size of Kelly’s yard suits them both. The trainer’s style is to know each of his animal’s ticks and twitches and he couldn’t do that with a fleet of equine talent spilling out of his yard.
That can only suit Reynolds.
The owner has about 20 horses in training right now and half of them are entrusted to Kelly whose deftness of touch and singular approach in claiming another winner from under the noses of the Closutton and Lambourn giants was echoed by Davy Russell.
“I just rode along,” said Presenting Percy’s pilot. “Jason Titley (who won the 1995 Grand National on Royal Athlete) told me, ‘Don’t be surprised to see him in over hurdles!’ And that’s the route he took. “Look, I promise you, I’ve never sat on this horse, only on the racecourse. Never laid a hand on him. Haven’t seen the horse. I don’t know what he does with him. He’s a brilliant man, a brilliant man. He deserves all the credit. A huge amount.”
Russell, like Kelly, can present a taciturn front in the midst of his greatest achievements, but there was a distinct mix of emotion here given it was a win banked so soon after the passing of his mother Phyllis.
“Look, they’re all special, but Mam was the most outstanding woman. She reared six kids and a business, along with my dad, and they’ll be in floods of tears at home. She was a great woman. She was my mother. It’s fantastic. She was a great woman.”
Emotion was evident with Reynolds, too.
The owner couldn’t halt the flow of tears in the immediate aftermath to the day’s second race and he touched on his inner feelings soon after when talking of his late father who, he said, would have dearly loved an occasion such as this.
“Every time I come into the Hall of Fame (at the racecourse) the first thought is dad. I know he’s up there and looking down. He would give everything he could to be here experiencing that because that’s what racing and life is all about.
“Moments like this, they’re here to be enjoyed.”
Who knows what joy Presenting Percy can still offer? His performance yesterday was enough to prompt giddy talk of a Gold Cup shot come 2019, but that would be to overlook the fact that Mall Dini is second favourite for today’s Kim Muir.
“I don’t know whether any of us will be fit for Mall Dini,” Reynolds joked. “But, you know, he has a chance as well. It’s just a pity that the ground is as dead as it is because Mall Dini is getting older and cleverer and saves a little bit for himself.“
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