Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 December 2014

Cheltenham: Thoughts turn to JT McNamara after cousin's triumph

There was a poignant winner of the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup as Robbie McNamara partnered Spring Heeled to victory at Cheltenham.

McNamara's cousin, JT McNamara, was left paralysed from a fall in the same race 12 months ago.

Riding for Jim Culloty, famous for the three Gold Cup wins of Best Mate, McNamara had won the closing bumper on Wednesday in the same Dr Ronan Lambe colours on Silver Concorde.

McNamara got his mount into a beautiful rhythm at the head of affairs and despite market leaders Indian Castle and Cause Of Causes looming large, McNamara had saved enough to kick on again.

A mistake at the last from Cause Of Causes secured the win for Spring Heeled, to give Culloty his second Festival win after Lord Windermere 12 months ago. Roberto Goldback was third with Balnaslow fourth. It was Culloty's first winner since August.

"That was unbelievable," said Culloty. "He was a bit fractious as a young horse, a bit of a worrier and as a result of giving him time he ended up well handicapped.

"I thought if things went his way he had a right chance but there were 24 runners so he needed luck.

"After jumping the first I couldn't have asked for anything better as he got a soft lead, and he had the right jockey on his back to give him a great ride from the front.

"You could call him the winner after jumping the first.

"I hope I'm here at the same time tomorrow (when Lord Windermere runs in the Gold Cup)."

McNamara said: "We didn't really have a game plan, Jim said to jump off handy in fifth or sixth but they didn't go mad and I was happy to just lob away in front.

"From some way out I was thinking that as long as he jumped his fences it would take a good one to come and get him.

"I didn't know the runner-up was behind until I was just about to land and I heard something give it a clout.

"He'd run well here before and Jim just blamed the ground the last time, without that he could have been favourite today – Jim fancied him big time.

"This is lovely, yesterday was more of a relief as I'd been trying for so long to get one here. I'll never forget that first one but this is magic, too."

Fingal Bay defied top weight to win the Pertemps Final in a thrilling finish from Southfield Theatre and Pineau De Re.

The Philip Hobbs-trained Fingal Bay was a Grade One winner as a novice but spent last season on the sidelines through injury before returning to win a qualifier for this event last month.

Sent off the 9-2 favourite, Richard Johnson challenged after the last and Southfield Theatre could just not fend off his charge, eventually being beaten a nose, much to the distress of jockey Daryl Jacob.

Pineau De Re came from way back and weaved through to try and get in on the act just a neck back.

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