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Dublin: 12°C Tuesday 11 May 2021

Unflappable 16-year-old admits it's a dream come true to ride at Cheltenham

Jockey Jack Kennedy has been tipped to be a roaring success.

Jack Kennedy has a bright future in horse racing.
Jack Kennedy has a bright future in horse racing.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

THERE’S NO DANGER of a big occasion ever getting to national hunt sensation Jack Kennedy. He doesn’t do nerves.

It’s just as well too as the 16-year-old, an apprentice at trainer Gordon Elliott’s County Meath yard, is going to the Cheltenham Festival as a jockey for the first time next week.

But it’s all just business as usual for the unflappable Dingle native.

With rides on Elliott’s Taglietelle in the Pertemps Network Final on Thursday and Squouateur in Thursday’s Coral Cup or Friday’s Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle, Kennedy admits it’s all a bit surreal having been to the festival twice as a spectator.

There is plenty to like about his rides too; Squouateur has won three of his five runs and is currently the 6-1 favourite for the Martin Pipe and a 14-1 shot for the Coral Cup. Taglietelle is also a proven winner, with four wins on the flat and five national hunt victories to his name, and is currently considered a 16-1 chance to get the win on St Patrick’s Day.

“It’s a dream come true,” Kennedy told The42.

“I’ve been watching it on the telly and I’ve been over there twice.

“There’s a great atmosphere there and I’m looking forward to going over and seeing it from a different perspective.

“I couldn’t ask for it to have turned out any better the way things are going at the moment.

“I’m very lucky to be in the position I’m in and it’s nice to be going over but I won’t let the occasion bother me too much.”

He may not be long in the tooth but the Kerry teenager clearly has a wise head on his young shoulders.

He oozes calmness, the tone of his voice doesn’t even flicker as he describes how it feels to be on the verge of achieving one of his major career goals at such a tender age.

Kennedy’s remarkable levels of composure clearly help him on the race track; winning is all he has ever known.

He burst on to the national hunt and flat scenes last year, after turning professional in May, picking up early careers wins in both disciplines.

His success isn’t that surprising when you consider he was a three-time pony racing champion and was named Irish Field National Champion Jockey and overall horse and pony champion in the southern region at the age of 13.

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Gordon Elliott. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

He has flourished under the tutelage of Elliott and has been soaking up all the tricks of the trade at the Cullentra House stables.

Kennedy singles out Elliott’s brother Joey, Shane McCann and Bobby McNally as colleagues who have aided his rapid development while regularly working alongside the likes of Bryan Cooper and his boyhood idol Davy Russell has been an invaluable experience.

Any dangers of feeling homesick, as a 16-year-old living a four-hour drive away from Dingle, are easily quashed by the daily routine of a busy jockey.

And living with a number of his colleagues makes getting to work much easier for the youngster who is not yet old enough to get behind the wheel.

“When you’re enjoying what you’re doing every day it’s a big help,” Kennedy explained.

If you weren’t enjoying it you’d miss home a lot more but I don’t have any problems with living away from home anyway.

“The apprenticeship runs out after five years but hopefully I’ll be staying here longer than that.”

Kennedy turns 17 in April, let’s put that in perspective. The month he was born, Paul Carberry steered Bobbyjo to Aintree Grand National glory for his father Tommy to become the first Irish-trained horse to win the famed race for 24 years.

Paul Carberry riding Bobbyjo 10/4/1999 Paul Carberry celebrates victory aboard Bobbyjo. Source: Allsport/INPHO

There has been plenty of talk about Kennedy over the past few months, particularly since he claimed a treble at Navan in November, including victory in the valuable Troytown handicap.

Elliott has also been full of praise for the Kerry youngster, whose brother Paddy is also a jockey, highlighting his temperament as a major strength. And it’s easy to see why, he has never felt overawed by a big occasion.

“I was excited for my first ride going in riding against all the top lads but it never bothered me too much. So hopefully it will be the same when I go to Cheltenham.”

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About the author:

Alan Waldron

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