Patrick, fittingly, gets his day in the sun

Patrick’s day? You bet it was.
Patrick, fittingly, gets his day in the sun

And about time, you could say, given the first Festival win for Patrick Kelly with Mall Dini in yesterday’s Pertemps Network Final arrived a good 26 years after the Galway trainer first pitched up here with a horse and hope in tow.

Art Trail was his first offering back in 1990. That ended with a broken leg.

Four years later and a certain Willie Mullins was unseated by Take The Town in the National Hunt Chase. Look at it that way and you would have to say Kelly earned his luck this time.

And he did have some.

Confirmation of the victory was delayed by a stewards’ enquiry after the 14/1 chance, partnered by Davy Russell, veered left after jumping the final flight which caused interference to the eventual runner-up Arpege d’Alene and third-place finisher If In Doubt.

Hey, what’s a delay of another few minutes when you’ve already waited almost three decades?

Kelly isn’t the type to sweat this stuff anyway. A man of few words, he begged off an interview with the course commentator before finally agreeing to a few minutes with the press.

“I don’t get too excited because back in the ‘80s I was assistant trainer to Pat Hughes. He had a lot of winners here and at Leopardstown, The Curragh. The whole lot. You just get used to it, but it is nice to have a winner. At Cheltenham especially.”

Kelly is based in Craughwell in Galway.

His yard is tiny: Seven horses, two staff. Prior to this his biggest successes was a pair of wins in the Galway Hurdle, but he played down the benefits that this achievement could possibly accrue for his operation.

“I’m quite happy with what I have at the moment,” he said. “I don’t want to be big.”

This, then, is the very epitome of a small stable’s success on the grandest stage.

Mall Dini’s owner is Philip Reynolds from Mullingar, a man who, understandably, was far more excitable than his trainer as he stood in the winners’ enclosure comprehending what had just happened.

“I can go now,” he laughed after his first Festival winner.

“I am happy to go now. This is just unbelievable. This is a small man’s day, to come to Cheltenham and take on the big guys. Pat brings one (horse) and has one winner. 100%. What about that?”

Kelly and Reynolds go back a long way.

The latter owns a fair few horses, more than he would care to admit yesterday “because my wife might read this” and he tells a good tale about the early days when he teamed up with the trainer.

“One of the first horses that I had was actually with Pat was back in the mid-80s.

“We should have won that day. We were in the McDonagh Handicap in Galway on the Tuesday and Jason Titley was riding.

“He fell off in the two at the dip. And I said ‘Pat, the next time we get a decent horse we’d want to find a proper jockey’. Now, jaysus, Jason is a lovely lad, but we sure found one in Davy (Russell). That was fantastic.”

Titley, by the by, went on to partner Royal Athlete to victory in the 1995 Grand National, but Reynolds’ praise for Russell remained valid as the Youghal pilot parked frustrations from his controversial unseating in the opening JLT Novices’ Chase to claim another Festival win.

Russell was furious at the time, throwing his whip to the ground in disgust after Zabana was only side-on and bumped by Outlander after the starter let them go.

The fact his mount was an 8/1 shot made it all the worse.

A subsequent enquiry found no fault with the proceedings.

“I didn’t say anything to the starter,” said Russell later. “I was just frustrated, not for me, but for the connections of the horse.

“I can go 40 minutes later to ride a different horse for a different trainer but Andy Lynch (Zabana’s trainer) is 70-odd years of age and has come here with one horse.

“He is a good loser as well as a good winner and understood. It’s the game we’re in.”

Kelly and Reynolds understand that better than most.

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