“What racing is all about.” Those five words echoed around Galway last night as the old track still reverberated to the ecstatic cheers of the connections of Galway Hurdle winner Rebel Fitz. Trainer Michael Winters has a small string in his Kanturk yard and the operation encapsulates the essence of jump racing. Family, friends and neighbours all work together to Days like yesterday are what they dream of.
Cork take on the Galway hurlers in a little over two weeks but the advance party of Rebel invaders conquered the City of the Tribes yesterday to celebrate a remarkable victory. Rebel Fitz was bought by Brian Sweetnam as a way of remaining connected to his roots and relaxing from the pressure of his job in the City. The horse has done that and more. Rebel Fitz has kept an extended family in touch and brought the community around Kanturk together. Now he has won the richest National Hunt race run in the country.
For a few heart stopping moments it seemed as if the dream was about to be snatched cruelly from the Rebels’ grasp. Jockey Davy Russell got a winning run out of the seven year old and after glancing up at the big screen saw he was a few lengths clear. The champion jockey uncharacteristically stopped riding and began showboating. What the screen didn’t show was Davy Condon galvanizing Cause of Causes and with the line looming ever closer the reserve was gaining ground with every stride. They crossed the line together but following an agonizing wait the judges confirmed that Russell and Rebel Fitz had held on. Relief flooded across the Youghal man’s ashen face when the result was relayed to him.
Ballybrit has witnessed celebrations like no other track in the country but it has never been part of anything quite like yesterday. Even before the result was confirmed joy and ecstasy exploded in the winners’ enclosure. Winters was swept off his feet and carried shoulder high around the parade ring by the exhilarated Cork throng.
“I saw these lunatics running and shouting because they thought we had won. I thought he had been caught on the line and were second. We gave Davy Russell no instructions. With top jockeys like that you have no business trying to interfere with them and tell them how to do their job,” was Winters’ sanguine post race reaction.
“We enjoyed the build up to it and we had a fantastic rehearsal and the owners really enjoyed it as well. The horses health was very well and I was often fretting a lot more going to a point to point. The horse was so relaxed this morning I was even a bit worried. I was relieved to see him a little on his toes at the races. When he won his bumper in Listowel I said he looked like the next Master Minded. He showed a Cork dash like Jimmy Barry Murphy,” he added.
An extremely relieved Davy Russell was honest in his assessment of the finish.
“It’s a marvelous win and he’s a classy horse trained by a shrewd man and owned by wonderful people. It’s what Galway Is all about. He’s a good horse, trained by a great man who I’ve known all my life. I deserve a kick up the arse for what I did at the end and it won’t ever happen again,” he told RTE.
For the Sweetnams it was a wonderful day. Galway won’t be hogging all the equine attention in the family this week. Brian’s brother Shane is one of Ireland’s leading showjumpers and has travelled to London as the first reserve for the Olympics
The race was a microcosm of jump racing. The agony and the ecstasy. Ruby Walsh was knocked unconscious in a horror fall when the favourite Drive Time was brought down by Lexi’s Boy. Walsh was knocked unconscious for over a minute and was taken to hospital. Tests revealed that he suffered a broken ankle and thankfully nothing more serious. Jason Maguire was uninjured.
Triumph and disaster are an intrinsic part of racing. Yesterday showed how close the line between the two really is.
|1st||Rebel Fitz (FR) (4)||11/2||Tote €6.40||€1.70|
|2nd||hd||Cause Of Causes (USA) (21)||25/1||€14.60|
|3rd||2 ¼L||Captain Cee Bee (IRE) (3)||12/1||€3.50|
|4th||4L||Plan A (IRE) (14)||16/1||€4.20|
OFF 4.50. Time 3m. 45.00 secs 20 Ran
Trainer Michael Winters Jockey D N Russell
Owner Brian Sweetnam
Breeder P de Maleissye Meul, EARL Guittet Debois
Tote Exacta €320.60 Tote Trifecta €7511.45