Victory and tragedy: Connell takes his swing in fortunes in typically philosophical fashion

There may be a dictum that frowns on cheering in the press box, but the sight of Martello Tower persevering in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Chase was guaranteed to curry quiet favour among those tasked with covering these events. 

In Adrian Heskin we had a young Irish jockey claiming his first Grade One at the festival, in Mags Mullins a maiden win at this gathering for an Irish trainer and in Barry Connell an owner claiming a first success here since the sad demise of Our Conor a year before.

Victory and tragedy have always made for compelling bedfellows so this seemed set for a tale of one man’s luck turning, but Connell’s philosophical take on his swing in fortunes didn’t exactly fit so snugly with that narrative.

His was a matter-of-fact take to an emotional occasion, one fashioned from almost thirty years of involvement in the industry and not least an amateur riding career that earned him 34 wins and a box seat view into the vagaries of the game.

No, he insisted, this meeting didn’t owe him anything after last year.

“Ah I don’t think so,” said the man who reportedly shelled out a seven-figure sum to buy Our Conor after the horse claimed the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2013. “Look, this place is a roller-coaster ride. It’s been very good to me.

“I rode two winners here myself as a rider, in the bumper at the open meeting, so it has great memories here. Look, it’s a coliseum. You have very high highs and very low lows. That’s just the way it is. It’s all part of the deal.

“That’s why it’s such a magic place and why people keep coming back.”

The margin of victory here was marginal with Mags Mullins first win at the festival denying her son Danny — retained rider for Connell until last October — the win on board Milsean who led for most of the race.

“It’s great to see Danny ride the second and I also have the mother of this horse at home as well, so it’s a real family affair,” said the winning trainer who was married to Willie Mullins’ brother Tony. “Danny actually rode him out this morning and he said he thought he had a big chance too.

“I’ve only had one runner at the Festival before and he came third in this race,” she said of Travino who finished behind Black Jack Ketchum in 2006. “It’s great to win but the main thing is they all came back in one piece.”

For Heskin, who replaced Danny Mullins as Connell’s retained rider, this marked a second visit to the winners enclosure at this March meet. His first, on A New Stoey for Michael Hourigan, in the Albert Bartlett five years ago is something of a blur now.

“It was a long wait (for a second win), but by God I will enjoy this one,” said the young jockey from Kilworth in Cork whose career in the saddle, like so many, started on the pony circuit.

“I was only 17 (in 2010) and I didn’t realise what it was. It was my first ride here. I’ve put a lot of hard work in since then and great thanks to Barry Connell for giving me the opportunity to ride in these races. Without him I wouldn’t be here today.”

Connell described Martello Tower as his nap of the day and Heskin had told anyone and everyone at the innumerable preview nights in recent weeks that the seven-year old was an each-way tip to take notice of.

Not everyone agreed. Martello Tower drifted out to 14/1 before the start yesterday afternoon.

Heskin noticed as they trotted out of the parade ring and wondered if someone knew something he didn’t, but his faith was fully justified.

“Martello Tower is a real tough horse but all he does is find off and find off the bridle. He pricked his ears about five times after the last and I said ‘I have plenty here’ so I got stuck into him and he delivered.”

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