Seven years ago Co Down man Johnny Flanagan knew next to nothing about horses.
But on Wednesday his gelding — Moscow Mannon — fended off over a dozen others to finish a respectable fourth at the Cheltenham Festival — one of the year’s biggest racing meets.
The horse — bred, owned and trained in Northern Ireland — proved his worth during the last race of the day, ridden by a young amateur jockey from Co Down.
Despite failing to place, Moscow Mannon is likely to have a bright future ahead of him.
Before Wednesday, Mr Flanagan — who had no background in horses until he began breeding them as a hobby — said if Wednesday’s performance had gone well they would “be drinking champagne”.
With only a handful of years experience he, along with trainer Brian Hamilton, managed to forge a top thoroughbred racer — capable of keeping up with the big boys.
Going into the race there was an air of positivity surrounding the six-year-old, who was named after the townland of Carrickmannon.
Still in his first racing season, Moscow Mannon’s trainer Brian Hamilton, who hails from just outside Downpatrick, had said he hoped to add the Weatherbys Champion Bumper title to his three previous wins at Galway, Fairyhouse and Gowran Park.
It was not to be as the six-year-old missed out on victory after an exciting race.
Ridden by 20-year-old Declan Lavery, he finished behind winner Champagne Fever, who romped home to victory in the finale of the second day of the Cheltenham Festival. At 8/1 going into the race he stood a solid chance at landing a victory for an all-Ulster horse, but one of Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins’ four entries stole the show — fending off another of his runners, Pique Sous and favourite New Year’s Eve who came in second.
The race was closely followed by punters in Ballygowan — who were preparing a heroes’ welcome for Brian Hamilton and young Declan Lavery.
Speaking amid the celebrations on Wednesday night, another jockey, Conor Greeves, was looking ahead to next year.
“Mannon’s performance is going to be even bigger and better,” he said.
Stable hand Jordan Devlin added: “I’d like to say a big well done to Brian. To get him that far is amazing.
“And to young Decky, I’d like to say a big well done.”
All hope is not lost for punters keen to back a winner, with several local jockeys and owners still in the running.
Co Kildare’s Ruby Walsh — who finished third riding Pique Sous during Wednesday’s race, is in with a chance of victory during today’s Gold Cup riding previous winner Kauto Star.