If ever there was a day that might have convinced Michael O’Leary to reconsider his decision to wind down his racing operation, today was surely it.
The Ryanair supremo has seen his maroon and white colours carried to big-race victory after big-race victory over the years but few days could have given as much sustained delight as the events that unfolded at Leopardstown before a crowd of 16, 251 this afternoon.
O’Leary hadn’t been seen on a racetrack since dropping the bombshell news he was exiting the game last May so his presence in Foxrock was perhaps a hint he felt this was going to be a significant day.
Later, we learned it was, sort of. O’Leary had made the journey to see Apple’s Jade run in what he feared would be her last race but also because it fitted in with his kids’ weekend schedule.
He would end the day thrilled he made the journey. The supposed wake for Apple’s Jade turned into a glorious resurrection, the Gordon Elliott-trained mare bouncing back to something resembling her best to win the Frank Ward Memorial Hurdle in the hands of Jack Kennedy.
“If she hadn't run well today, she was going to be retired,” O’Leary confirmed.
“She jumped really well today. She may have jumped out to her right but she was kind of making ground at her hurdles and she seemed really keen.
"She was fairly lifeless, I thought, in Fairyhouse and Navan which is not like her. But it looks like she’s back which is great. It’s a great training performance by Gordon.
“Today’s a great bonus, it’s wonderful to see her back. I can’t imagine she’ll go to Cheltenham but that will ultimately be Gordon’s decision.
"One more bad run and she is getting retired but if she runs like that and jumps like that then we’ll keep going.
“You know yourself, it’s like with all ladies, when they decide they’ve had enough they’ve had enough! I can’t persuade them to do any more.
“My children picked a good day to come back racing. I was hoping to come tomorrow for Battleoverdoyen but I have two of them running in Athlone tomorrow so we’re allowed one day out today.
"It’s great, we’re having a great Christmas, I should have stayed away more often in my ownership career to date!"
A little over an hour later, a great Christmas got a little greater for O’Leary, Elliott, and Kennedy as Delta Work bounced back from a desperately disappointing seasonal reappearance at Down Royal last month to win the biggest race of the week here, the Savills Chase.
Monalee looked destined to prevail halfway up the run-in but Kennedy, who was completing a treble on the day, galvanised Delta Work to snatch the spoils close home.
“Delta Work’s always been a very good horse, he just ran badly in Down Royal last time out but, today, he jumped beautifully and Jack gave him a great ride,” O’Leary said.
Asked if the obvious enjoyment his children took from a day to savour might tempt him to reverse his decision to exit the scene, O’Leary replied: “Unfortunately, my children love winning.
"They’re very happy to come up here when there’s a presentation of a trophy to be got but you don’t see them too much in the unsaddling enclosure (for the losers).
“The conversation going home in the car will be ‘where can we have pizza, can we go and see the new Star Wars movie before New Year’s Eve’. They couldn’t care less about the racing.”
But will he miss the feeling of excitement winning brings?
“You’ll always miss the feeling but I’ve had a lot of those feelings, a couple of Gold Cups, a couple of Grand Nationals – it doesn’t go on.
"I get more satisfaction and a buzz now out of my children running around on a wet field, that’s where I get the buzz now, but these are great days.”
Racing may no longer be an obsession for O’Leary but it certainly remains one for Elliott, who was thrilled to see Delta Work re-emerge as a genuine Cheltenham Gold Cup contender.
“We thought he was a Gold Cup horse last year and our bubble got burst in Down Royal, but we’re not gone yet.”
Nor is O’Leary, but when he does go, he’ll surely miss days like this.