Gentleman John and the Paddys make it a day to remember

Quite a few of my late father’s closest friends worked with or were around horses horses all their lives. People like Ollie Cunningham and Frank McKeon and Nick Clonan, lord rest them all.

Connections between our family and the Mannings go back generations. And, God willing, if or when I ever get back farming, Brian and Tom will surely be on the list of back ups should something go wrong.

Now, as well as being a reliable cattle haulier when I was a kid, Mick Manning was also a horse trainer of some note. Portrade – whom he tended to in partnership with George Stanley – being among the better horses he had in his care.

Andrew Lynch, Martin McIntyre and Orlando Kelly were among the jockeys he used most regularly but reason for recalling Mick today is actually thoughts of his former head man, Mickey Gordon.

A native of Co Mayo, Mickey rode out in the Manning yard at Bennetstown, Dunboyne until he was well into his 80s, but whether he lasted quite as long as John Kiely and his brother Paddy cannot be said for certain.

If my information is correct, John Kiely gave the rider of his runner at Cheltenham on Wednesday – burgeoning amateur rider John Gleeson – nigh on 70 years in terms of age. Plus, the mere fact that the legendary Waterford handler had a Bumper runner at the Festival, never mind one good enough to win the showpiece flat race, suggests he has no intention of slowing down just yet.

Nor should he. Sure himself and his young protege have A Dream To Share. Literally. One which is of the unique kind which only Cheltenham can fashion. Young Gleeson’s father – RTE and ITV journalist and broadcaster Brian – bred A Dream To Share, but when the horse was deemed unworthy of going through the sales ring, shrewd Gleeson Snr held onto the youngster.

Once he did, there was only one place on planet earth the steed was going to be trained. With the brothers Kiely, of course. If I were in Gleeson’s position, I would get very hard to let a horse it was thought was that good go, even if the great Limerick man came calling.

As only the latter could, mind you, everything was done to have jockey son and breeder father front and centre in the post-race celebrations. There were plenty of other Irish ressons for celebrations on Day 2 of this year’s Festival at Prestbury Park.

Beginning with the Willie Mullins-trained Impaire Et Passe who emphatically continued the bountiful run of form for owners Simon Munir and Isaac Suede. This corner admittedly called that contest wrong as preference had been for the Barry Connell horse, Good Land.

Given the manner in which the double green’s representative ultimately won it may not have made any difference but, gut instinct here would be to assume the obvious softening of the ground overnight didn’t do the Leopardstown winner any good. That said, such was the bullish confidence behind the Closutton-based victor it may not have mattered if they were running on stubbles.

Speaking of unstinting faith, though, whatever about the story of the Gleesons and John Kiely, Cheltenham also throws up stories where the ‘ordinary’ man or woman can not only rub shoulders with the Galacticos of the sport, but often usurp them.

Brian Gleeson with his wife Claire and son John

Think of people such as Tom Foley and Oliver Brady – God be good to them both – or the Bradstocks, who all enjoyed special days in the sun at the foot of Clieve Hill. Yes, there has been an equivalent tale this year.

Except there were even more unique circumstances at play in that the protagonists in the case in question were Irish diaspora. Or put more simply, Irish racing folk who – due to the feverishly competitive nature of racing here – felt it more prudent if they were to have a viable business to relocate their operation to the UK.

To my knowledge, Adrian Keatley was the first to make the move, and following on from that, Mark Loughnane and, of greatest relevance to this offering, Paddy Neville. The latter is one individual in whom a special interest has been taken in this seat, primarily due to the fact that Paddy Merrigan is, or at least was, at the centre of the Nevillie stable.

If you haven’t heard of Galway native Merrigan, go read up on his story, it will do you good. A fine jockey in his own right, he often took mounts in the Gordon Elliott yard as well as other high profile establishments.

The Real Whacker and Paddy Merrigan (far left) return to the parade ring in triumph.

But Paddy has seen both sides of the track, in racing and life. On foot of same, he has been fulsome in his praise of how the Longwood-based genius helped him out when times were at their toughest. Indeed, those who would be quick enough to lambaste Gordon and make much ado about nothing regarding a photograph will never know the amount of unheralded good he does for people, some of which I have seen at very close quarters myself, with his supporting of the Autism unit in the National School here in Dunboyne.

Anyway, Merrigan has been commendably open regarding his off track struggles and through his Facebook blogs, Mad Merrigan and Cold Beer Sports, is always compulsive reading and anybody who has dipped into either in recent times needs no reminding of how effusive the two Paddys were in their confidence behind The Real Whacker.

So much so that the trainer had his stable star entered in the Gold Cup and was fully convinced of his merit in being thence. Hindsight being what it is there’s surely a percentage of him wondering should he have left his Cork-owned flagship horse in the big one. Still, Festival winners aren’t easy come by and nobody in the Neville camp will be overly upset today methinks!

Ironically, having just said how difficult it can be to attain, you’ll go a long way before you see a handier Grade 1 chase winner – without even mentioning the Cheltenham Festival – than Energumene in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. There are probably still post mortems in session as to why the Alan King-trained Edwardstone flopped so badly. However, in the one seeing eye of this observer, the outcome had more to do with the Mullins horse hitting form at the right time than anything else.

Elsewhere, one hopes some of you heeded warnings regarding Kleenex as, again on Wednesday, there were hugely emotional scenes as Henry De Bromhead’s Maskada came from the clouds to take the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase. In so doing giving the supremely talented Darragh O’Keeffe what was surprisingly a first Festival success.

The day, however, belonged to those who had A Dream To Share.

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