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Dublin: 11°C Saturday 19 September 2020

Johnny Ward: Presenting Percy's public deserve to hear more from enigma trainer Kelly

The Gold Cup favourite will likely be entered in the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse next week.

A racegoer salutes jockey Davy Russell on Presenting Percy after he won the RSA Insurance Novices' Chase at the Cheltenham Festival last year.
A racegoer salutes jockey Davy Russell on Presenting Percy after he won the RSA Insurance Novices' Chase at the Cheltenham Festival last year.
Image: David Davies

I SPENT LAST week in New York and stayed close to one of the state’s racetracks, Aqueduct, not far from John F Kennedy Airport in the borough of Queens.

My regular host likes gambling, horses and gambling on horses.

He could almost, by now, recite by heart what he hears from his Irish cousin: about how much it sucks to follow American racing compared to the product we have in Ireland.

Notwithstanding the fact that fixed-odds betting has long been banned in the US – albeit finally about to change – the fact that the racecourses are essentially the same model car painted in different colours renders the whole game far less interesting. Over here, and in Britain, we have dramatic differences.

Bath cannot water and looked like the Sahara last summer.

Even the all-weather tracks in Britain boast different surfaces. And we race both right-handed and left-handed, uphill and downhill.

Your man well-able for six pints of stout might be a lightweight in a whiskey drinking challenge. His buddy could drink the craft beer as if it were root beer. Horses for courses has found its corner of the lexicon for good reason.

If everything is the same, things tend to get tedious, be it horses or people. We should wallow in the sport of kings: we have so many different characters – bang-average trainers who can procure owners at the bar and brilliant trainers who quiver at the mere thought of the sales pitch.

Then there is Pat Kelly. He is, like yours truly, a native of County Galway – and the reality of having the Gold Cup favourite housed in a racing backwater west of the Shannon should not be underestimated. That was roughly what I said to Pat after Presenting Percy won at Gowran Park on Thyestes Day last month as I attempted to ask a simple question about the horse’s plan after the race.

Our common ground – horses and Galway – mattered not to Pat, who mumbled something or other about this or that but basically would not tell me anything. My task on the day was to find out where Presenting Percy was running next, with no other goal in mind than to inform the public.

In other words: doing my job.

Pat Kelly will not be dictated to by anyone, it seems, and he likely sees his job as training horses to win races – no more, no less. The past few years have been nothing short of extraordinary for the yard, which has barely a handful of runners yet saddled a winner at Cheltenham in three successive Festivals (two of them Presenting Percy).

When ‘Percy’ came to Gowran on Thyestes day, there was a patent excitement and enthusiasm among the crowd that arguably has been lost in Irish racing, partly because a select number of millionaire/billionaire owners are so dominant. The grassroots relate to ‘Percy’ because he could be one of theirs and also the style of how he races.

Gowran manager Eddie Scally had asked me to do a little bit of work in the parade ring on Saturday, even allowing for the reality that there was not much chance of me getting Pat Kelly in front of the roaming microphone. He canned the idea Friday morning when the star attraction, he gathered, would not be declared.

Kelly’s antagonistic attitude towards the media does him few favours in a year in which he has been in the news for the good and the bad. Last September, the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board’s head of anti-doping Lynn Hillyer rejected the suggestion that the trainer was absolved of blame in relation to his March point-to-point winner Warendorf testing positive for elevated levels of cobalt.

Phillip Reynolds celebrates Presenting Percy winning Owner Phillip Reynolds celebrates Presenting Percy winning at Prestbury Park last year. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Warendorf was disqualified at a referrals hearing; Kelly was fined €1,000  and ordered to pay €3,000 in costs on behalf of the regulator. To the best of my knowledge, Kelly has not spoken on the record about this.

What is unsatisfactory about it all is that, as far as I am concerned, when you train a horse like Presenting Percy, you cede a little ownership and emotional investment to the public, most of them living in Britain.

So when an odds-on antepost favourite is scratched for a big race such as Saturday’s feature at Gowran, without any input from the trainer, it is hardly satisfactory.

A friend backed the horse for the race at around 9am on Friday morning: he may as well have been backing the dodo.

Attempts to contact the horse’s popular owner Philip Reynolds, who is excellent with the media, were fruitless on Friday morning initially, but I finally reached him around 11.45am.

“The horse is absolutely fine, 100 per cent,” Reynolds said. “He schooled this morning over fences. I understand the public have a fondness for him, and I want people to know we couldn’t be happier with where he’s at and just decided he did not need to run at Gowran.

“He will be entered in the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse next Saturday but I wouldn’t be surprised if he goes straight to the Gold Cup now.”

That would mean going to the Gold Cup without a single spin over fences that season. Only Pat Kelly.

Before Gowran, we have Dundalk on Friday evening, and I rather liked the each-way chance of Kerosin in the 7.30 at around 14/1 for trainer Denis Hogan, who did followers a nice favour with 8/1 Lady Writer last Sunday.

However, he has been scratched, so Cerberus (5.30) gets the nap vote.

Back to Gowran tomorrow and, with no ‘Percy’ about which to worry, Killultagh Vic (2.30) might be the value if Ruby Walsh can get him into a jumping rhythm.

It is a high-class renewal, yet not what it looked likely to be. After snubbing me post-race, I bumped into my fellow Galwegian and congratulated him as I left the track on Thyestes day, prompting Pat Kelly to thank me warmly, out of the gaze of the TV cameras.

The enigma continues.

Murray Kinsella, Andy Dunne and Gavan Casey break down Ireland’s dogged win against Scotland in Murrayfield, and look at the room for improvement, in the latest episode of The42 Rugby Weekly.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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