Ryan Byrne/INPHO Winning owner Michael O’Leary, trainer Gordon Elliott, jockey Jack Kennedy and Anita Farrell celebrate.
# Back on the Horse
Michael O'Leary enjoys ideal flying visit to Leopardstown
Owner goes racing for the first time in 2022 and sees Conflated run away with the feature Savills Chase.

MICHAEL O’LEARY was known for leaving the races before the bumper, even if he had a runner in it, but he didn’t pick a bad day to go racing for the first time in 2022.

It might be 28 December and O’Leary was honest when he spoke in recent years of having too much to do to maintain his racing interests. The Ryanair supremo, who announced he was winding down his racing operation in 2019 but has only partially gone through with that promise, was on hand to watch his Conflated run away with the feature Savills Chase, providing Jack Kennedy and Gordon Elliott with a treble each.

With A Plus Tard being scratched just before noon and rendering the race a pretty run-of-the-mill renewal, Conflated produced something like a peak performance to slam his rivals, with Kemboy a gallant second on his fifth appearance in the Grade One, Paul Townend surprisingly without a winner on the day.

“Brilliant,” said Kennedy, having the best season of his short if injury-ravaged career. “The first couple of days have been kind of tough but we have certainly made up for it today.

“Paul slowed it up in front and this lad got a small bit lit up, so I let him on. He dropped it (bridle) again going down the back. He’d actually probably be better off a stronger gallop as well.”

This time last year, Kennedy was only reappearing after more injury woes. His wretched run of luck continued that November as the 23-year-old broke his arm at Navan. 

His woes began at Downpatrick in 2016 when he fractured his right fibula. He suffered a repeat of that injury the following month before breaking his left leg in May 2017. 

In February of 2020, just after winning the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown on Delta Work, Kennedy broke his right leg again. Collarbone issues plagued him in the last few years, while he damaged ribs in a fall last year. 

With Davy Russell, Conflated’s regular rider, having announced his retirement, Kennedy is emerging as potentially the great rider of his generation – as long as he can stay relatively injury-free.

For Elliott, things can’t get much better at the moment, and he has put some dark days behind him and emerged as a hungrier trainer than ever.

Elliott said: “Jack gave him a lovely ride, always in the perfect position, and the horse gave him everything. It is even better that Michael and (wife) Anita were here today, I think it’s the first time they were racing this year.”

Elliott and Kennedy scored handicap wins earlier with Pat’s Choice and Maxxum, Maxxum’s absurdly easy success putting him right on course for the Pertemps at Cheltenham.

There was perhaps a sentimental gamble on Bob Olinger in the staying hurdle, with the race honouring his trainer’s late son Jack, but it was 7-1 Home By The Lee who emerged best and suddenly emerged too as a live contender for the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Bob Olinger could make no impression but, with champion stayer Flooring Porter relegated to fourth, there was no fluke about this effort from Home By The Lee, now a 6-1 chance for Cheltenham.

Rider JJ Slevin, who was full of praise too for Monday’s winner High Definition, said: “He was sweet today and hopefully the best is yet to come.

“He travelled better than he would normally. He can be a bit claustrophobic when horses are around him but he did that very easily. He saves himself for the end of his races.”

Joseph O’Brien is supposed to be winding down his own jumps operation but that isn’t really working out either. He’s aiming High Definition at the Dublin Racing Festival and, in Home By The Lee, he has Ireland’s answer to Paisley Park, the British veteran who finishes with a flourish and isn’t beaten until the final whistle.

“Normally, Home By The Lee is not able to lie up with others but he was going easily today. You’d have to think the best is yet to come,” said O’Brien, who won’t turn 30 until next year.

It was a mess of a race for Danny Mullins, who eased off on Flooring Porter near the wire, lost third place and got a five-day ban. “He probably should have gone a stronger pace,” said a rueful but sporting Gavin Cromwell, who is nevertheless still looking forward to a hat-trick bid in the Stayers’ Hurdle come March.

Owner Brian Acheson all but kissed Mouse Morris, a trainer the characteristically ruthless O’Leary severed ties with in recent years, after Gentlemansgame won the maiden chase and Acheson has been key to Morris’ revival.

“You only have to look at this horse to know he’s good,” quipped Morris. “I don’t have many horses and I’m open to more but it’s sort of quality over quantity at the moment.”

It looked like Willie Mullins was going to go through the card without a winner 24 hours after a six-timer but Ile Atlantique saved the day. It wasn’t to be for de Bromhead and Bob Olinger but he was emotional after Deep Cave won the opening maiden hurdle, getting Rachael Blackmore off the mark for the Festival.

The County Waterford trainer, who has suffered personal tragedy this year on a level that is scarecely imaginable, pointed up to the clouds.

“Look at the rainbow in the sky,” he smiled. “Jack is always looking down on us.”

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment

    Leave a commentcancel