Owner Philip Reynolds is “counting down the days” to the Cheltenham Festival as he eyes Magners Gold Cup glory with Presenting Percy.
The son of former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds, the likeable owner does not possess the numbers of Gigginstown House Stud and JP McManus - with a string of “20-odd” horses in training - but has enjoyed a Cheltenham Festival winner in each of the last three seasons.
His love affair with Prestbury Park started long before he entered the hallowed Prestbury Park winner’s enclosure, as he told the assembled media at a Cheltenham Festival press event at The K Club in County Kildare.
Reynolds said: “I love Cheltenham. After every year I’m counting down the days to the next Festival.
“I started going to Cheltenham with my father 35 years ago. He was a huge racing fan - particularly of National Hunt racing. Every year - long before I went with him - he was taking the pilgrimage to Cheltenham.
“One of the regrets for me, of course, was that he wasn’t around to see the success that we have had. He would have got a huge kick out of that.”
Mall Dini set the ball rolling for the owner when winning the Pertemps Final in 2016 and 12 months later the same combination of Reynolds, media-shy trainer Pat Kelly and multiple champion jockey Davy Russell landed the same prize with the popular Presenting Percy.
The latter returned to the Cotswolds to win the RSA Chase and, despite remarkably not having run over fences since, is now the clear favourite to win the most prestigious prize in National Hunt racing on March 15 - a position Reynolds is not taking for granted. “The first runner I had in Cheltenham was Stephanie Kate, who was fifth in the Mares’ Hurdle for Charlie Swan (in 2011). I thought that was as close as I’d ever come to a winner in Cheltenham,” he said.
“For years prior to that I was stood like all of us do - looking into the parade ring excited for the people that were in there and looking at the expressions on their faces, just wishing that at some point you’d have a horse that might be able to do that.
“It’s very hard to put into words how exciting it is and what a thrill it is to do it.
“With Mall Dini we went there thinking that if he ran into a place we’d be satisfied. That kind of happened and was over before I realised it.
With Percy I have to say we fancied him for a long time before he went for the Pertemps, so that was different, and then last year was completely different as you went there with a favourite’s chance of winning and you’re carrying more than your own expectations with you.
Reynolds made his fortune in the pet food industry after taking over the running of family business C & D Foods in 1990 at the age of 25 - only recently selling his remaining shares “to pay for Percy and the others”.
He bought his first horse with Kelly when purchasing Sovereigns Parade out of Nicky Henderson’s yard in the late 1990s and is now the County Galway-based trainer’s principal owner, with 10 of around 15 horses he has in training carrying the green and white Reynolds silks.
Like Mall Dini before him, Presenting Percy was sourced from Tom Costello - and Reynolds revealed it did not take connections long to discover he was no ordinary horse.
He said: “Pat has always said he’s a really special horse. His first race was in a bumper at Punchestown and he was second at 50-1. Pat expected him to win that day and was shocked that he got beat.
“Ever since then Pat has told me he’s a very special horse. Whether he’s special enough to win a Gold Cup, I don’t know, but he’s as special a horse as I’ve had around me or am ever likely to have.
“We’ve waited all year to run him. I don’t know how many more opportunities Pat is going to have a horse going to the Gold Cup - I certainly doubt I’ll have many more opportunities - and we just decided to be ultra-careful.
“I don’t understand the whole people’s horse thing, but he’s a horse that goes out and gives you everything he’s got.”
While there can be little doubt about his training capabilities, Kelly is largely a man of mystery to the racing public - refusing to conduct interviews with the press after any of his Cheltenham wins, or since.
In his absence, Reynolds has become the spokesman of the Presenting Percy camp and gave the media some insight into the mind of workings of a man he describes as a “genius”.
He said: “I’m a politician’s son, so I can spoof all day long!
“I’ve been trying to encourage Pat (to speak to the media). There’s very few trainers that have done what he’s done and I think he should talk about that. I think people would love to hear it.
“It’s a privilege to be by his side and watch how he trains horses. I’ve had horses with many different trainers and what he does is very different to what the others do.
“Whether that’s part of the reason why he’s as shy as he is - maybe he feels he’s best keep that to himself - but I understand the media’s frustrations. It would be better if Pat would speak and give people an insight into how much of a genius he is. I think he’d do a lot better off the back of that, to be honest, but he doesn’t want that.
“We’re all different and I think we should respect that. He’s a very honourable and loyal man and a man of deep faith. He’s a huge family man and visits his mum daily.”
Reynolds has or has had horses in training with the likes of Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott and Aidan O’Brien - to name but a few.
Of Kelly, he added: “I know everyone uses this term loosely - but he is a genius when it comes to training horses. I have better facilities at home for a few show jumpers and ponies than Pat has for training racehorses, and I’m not kidding you when I say that.
“He has the use of what used to be a point-to-point field just outside Athenry, which is probably five or six miles from the yard. He takes the horses there and you’ve heard stories about people who used to train racehorses in a field and time them to see how long it takes for them to get from one gap in a field to another - that’s still how Pat does it. He has a barn with lots of holes in the roof and about 20 loose boxes and that’s it. It is quite incredible.”
So as the Festival draws closer, one of the big questions is will Kelly finally give in should Presenting Percy pass the post in front in the feature event of the meeting.
Reynolds is in little doubt, saying: “I saw Paddy Power were offering 10-1 about it happening and I thought we could make a few quid!
“I told Pat and he said ‘you can bet away as what you’re losing is your own’. I don’t think there’ll be an interview - win, lose or draw.”