THE TIMES, 20 March 2021
The stories, like the horses, came galloping at you. Three fences to jump in the Gold Cup and there are four great tales to be told. The one to go into the record books was the least sung beforehand. But let no one doubt for a moment that Minella Indo and Jack Kennedy deserve this Cheltenham glory.
For much of the three and a quarter mile journey it seemed that Bryony Frost and Frodon would top all the legends they have already made on the track. But their spring-heeled exhibition at the head of the field was about to be joined by stable companions Minella Indo and A Plus Tard with Al Boum Photo very much a threat in behind them. What a tale any of them would tell.
Al Boum Photo is so tough that his bid to become only the fifth horse to win three Gold Cups could not be discounted until the winning post was close but as they swept round the turn to face the last two fences and the pitiless Cheltenham hill, it was Minella Indo and Jack Kennedy who were in control with A Plus Tard coming with Rachael Blackmore in the saddle. Could this be yet another barrier that the lady from Tipperary could break?
The sight of her inspiring the horses beneath had become so familiar that a two length deficit jumping the second last seemed set to be shrunk by the sheer momentum of the history she was making. But this was a horse race. A Plus Tard is good but so is Minella Indo and in Jack Kennedy he had a rider in his own way almost as much a phenomenon as Rachael herself.
Three years ago on Wednesday Minella Indo won his only point to point in distant County Cork. Two years ago this week he and Rachael won the Albert Bartlett at 50-1. In last year’s Festival the same pair got chinned on the line by Champ’s swoop from the clouds. But now Rachael was on A Plus Tard, whatever happened Henry De Bromhead would become the first trainer to land the big Cheltenham triple of Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and Gold Cup, and at 21 Jack Kennedy had his chance to become the Gold Cup’s youngest ever winning rider.
Minella Indo had fluffed his chance at this final fence last year, he and Jack would not allow it this time. Five strides out he cocked his ears forward in concentration and then picked up in perfect flow. Behind him Rachael and A Plus Tard found the crossing more awkward and hard though she drove for inspiration the gap would not close. For a moment, 100 metres out, Minella Indo’s ears came forward again in hesitation but Kennedy was never going to let him throw away his chance.
But others had not been so fortunate. Champ whose jumping had been so slick at Newbury fluffed his lines at the first and proceeded so haphazardly Nico De Boinville had no option but to pull him up after the sixth. A fence later Champ’s stable companion Santini made a birch shuddering blunder and soon Aidan Coleman had also to call it a day. Kemboy was there for a while but faded away and while Native River plugged on to be a distant fourth he never had the pace to push the leaders as he could in days gone by.
Jack Kennedy has packed an awful lot of riding in his 21 years. In August 2012 he rode seven winners in a day including the Dingle Derby, pony racing’s highest prize run every year in Jack’s home county of Kerry. In March 2017 he won the Supreme Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham on the 25-1 odd ball Labaik, and he had four winners at the next year’s Festival. But his long lean frame has already suffered a full book of injuries and there was a touch of a veteran’s hurt behind the young eyes as he blessed his luck yesterday.
“It’s definitely the best day of my life,” he said of the Gold Cup he had won on the supposed second string from Rachael Blackmore’s stable. “You dream about winning those sorts of races when you’re a child. I know I’m still young, but I suppose I have been in the position where I could have been winning them for a couple of years, so to get it done is brilliant. I’ve broken my leg four times. I missed last year’s Festival because I broke it about two months beforehand, but thankfully I’ve had a year this year that I’ll remember for a long time.”
Kennedy has already given us a lot to remember. Talk of his talent had long preceded him and it was the disgraced Gordon Elliott who was his mentor and on whose former horses he rode his three other winners at this year’s Festival including Mount Ida who was at one stage so far out of it that she was offered at 999 – 1. Jack is tall but very lithe in the saddle and has his rides rolling very smoothly beneath him. If the fates spare him the future is bright.
So, after this redemptive week, it could also be for jump racing. On Gold Cup day let’s salute record breaking trainer Henry De Bromhead, a splendidly tough and athletic horse called Minella Indo, and a brilliant 21 year-old Jack Kennedy who in this Cheltenham found fulfilment of his own.