IT WAS an extraordinary Cheltenham Festival for racing fans on Leeside.
We had victories for Paul Townend, Davy Russell, Aidan Coleman, Gavin Sheehan and Maxine O’Sullivan who won the Foxhunters for her father Eugene O’Sullivan which was a real triumph for the Point to Point community across the County.
Townend combined with Cork man Joe Donnelly to win back-to-back Cheltenham Gold Cups while also being crowned Champion Jockey for the festival.
A treble on the final day of the meeting ensured Townend pipped Barry Geraghty to this special Jockey’s Title.
Donnelly got the festival off to a flyer with the narrow victory of Shiskin who just edged out Abracadabras under Davy Russell.
The leading Art Dealer was once one of the biggest rails bookmakers in this country but now resides in Paris.
He has very much adapted a behind the scenes role with his horse ownership and totally avoided the limelight at all stages last week declining all live interviews.
His horses are certainly doing the talking and what a lovely bunch he has.
It’s difficult for any jockey when a horse fails to fire around Cheltenham when there is so much expectation.
Paisley Park was the banker of the meeting for many people and Aidan Coleman had the unenviable task of riding a so called ‘certainty’.
Unfortunately the odds on favourite just had one of those non going days and that’s tough for any rider especially for one as talented as Coleman.
At least the Upton rider had the pleasure of riding Put The Kettle On to win the Arkle of the opening day of the festival Davy Russell is machine like around here but even the Youghal rider must have felt the pressure on the Irish banker Envoi Allen.
His celebrations certainly indicated that this horse is very special and the victory meant an awful lot to him.
Similarly for Townend who knew he had a great chance on Al Boum Photo in the Gold Cup. His relief was palpable and to see him surrounded by his two sisters and father in scenes of sheer joy was good for the soul.
Maxine O’Sullivan was in such control she could afford a glance at the giant screen in front of her which indicated that at least ten lengths was between he mount It Came To Pass and the runner-up Billaway.
For sheer brilliance and strength from the saddle the victory of Gavin Sheehan aboard Simply The Betts in the Brown Handicap on day three was magnificent.
The Dunmanway rider is extremely talented but he really had to cajole the 100/30 favourite after he made a couple of niggly mistakes on his way round.
The pair certainly looked in trouble at the top of the hill but Sheehan wasn’t taking no for an answer and eventually his mount saw off the persistent challenge of Happy Diva for Welsh trainer Kerry Lee.
After watching the entire festival again over the weekend this ride is up there with the very best of the week.
Reflecting on the victory Sheehan explained that he had fallen on an earlier fancied runner Itchy Feet and ran a great race to finish second to Min only losing out by a neck on Saint Calvados.
Sheehan said: “After having an up and down day on the Thursday it was fantastic to get among the winners.
“I got some spin from him as he winged his fences. He also dug deep when the others came after me. “You need a horse that can jump around Cheltenham and he certainly does that.
“Coming back, there was so many people from Cork cheering me on and I also met a big gang from Dunmanway.
“My parents travelled over in recent months and will come over in the summer. Saint Calvados ran his heart out but just got beaten.
“To be fair it was his best run in a couple of months. I had five rides on the day and getting a winner for Andrew and Kate Brooks was magic.”
Speaking after the race, Mr Brooks was thrilled.
“It’s named after a good friend of ours, who was a great colleague of ours and died of cancer three years ago so it’ll mean the world to his parents and the office.
“Thanks to Harry and to Gavin Sheehan who was so good today. It’s quite emotional because it’s an unbelievable feeling”
The victory of Simply The Betts certainly brought the house down as connections were all decked out in scarfs and hats.
Less than 30 minutes after his devastating defeat on Paisley Park, Aidan Coleman was one of first men to congratulate Gavin Sheehan on his day in the sun.
There are a big group of young Cork jockeys who are plying their trade in England and are like a band of brothers really.
Aidan Coleman, Gavin Sheehan, Johnny Burke, Adrian Heskin, Jerry McGrath and many more. They are driving up and down the highways of England on a daily basis and look out for each other.
They celebrate together and also pick each other up from the floor when required.
Finally, the racing industry faces a period of great uncertainty due to the Coronavirus.
The Aintree Festival has been postponed and that will be a real disappointment to Davy Russell and Gordon Elliot who were chasing the three-in-a-row dream with Tiger Roll.
Both men will appreciate that it is only a horse race and connections have already expressed the hope that the Tiger will make it to Aintree next year.