Kennedy fired up for more Festival success

By Sports Desk March 03, 2024

For a young jockey, Jack Kennedy is very familiar with the highs and lows that racing can supply.

The 24-year-old has experienced extremes of both throughout his career so far, winning 10 times at the Cheltenham Festival but missing the meeting completely due to injury twice.

He has suffered a broken leg on five different occasions, but each time has returned to action to seamlessly pick up where he left off.

Cheltenham success, which evades many good jockeys for years, came almost instantly to Kennedy when he partnered Labaik to victory in the 2017 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, despite the horse being a 25-1 chance with a history of refusing to race.

The triumph was no fluke, however, and at the 2018 Festival he rode four winners for Gordon Elliott, though the following year he drew a blank and returned to Ireland empty handed.

Injury prevented him from riding at the meeting in 2020, but the all-or-nothing nature of his Cheltenham fortunes was evidenced again in 2021, as he rode four winners, including the biggest prize of them all when partnering Henry de Bromhead’s Minella Indo to Gold Cup victory.

However, the whole event was held behind closed doors due to the coronavirus pandemic, something that struck him as he walked back to the paddock past an empty grandstand that would usually be brimming with people.

“It was class, obviously it was a pity there was no one there but the initial feeling I got when I crossed the line was the same as if the stands were packed,” he said.

“The walk down the chute and things afterwards, that’s when you realise there’s no one there, but it was a dream come true.”

Delta Work provided him with a sole victory in 2022 when winning the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase before a fall at Naas the following January scuppered any hopes of riding at the meeting last year.

“Missing it last year was tough and there’s a while to go yet, so hopefully I do make it there,” the rider said.

“I’ll keep going, as when you start thinking about those sort of things, then something goes wrong then. I’ll keep going as usual.

“I suppose it’s just the cards you’re dealt. We seem to be going well this year.

“Labaik seems a while ago and obviously there’s been a couple of years I’ve missed through injury.”

The Cheltenham Festival is the pinnacle of the sport for many and for the big operations, from which people expect success, there is a great sense of pressure to get off the mark as soon as possible.

Spectators will be keenly waiting for the first success from the power stables of Willie Mullins and Elliott and this is a pressure that trails into the weighing room, too.

“To get a winner is great, we’ll try to pick up as many as possible – but if I get one, I’ll be happy,” said Kennedy.

“It’s a big help if you can get one on the board early, it kind of settles you into the week better than if you’re left waiting for one. It’s a massive help if you can get one on the first day.

“If you haven’t had a winner by the Thursday, you’d obviously be getting a bit anxious, but you’d try to not let it get it to you and you just have to keep riding as best you can.

“I suppose I get a bit nervous, but I wouldn’t let it get to me. Sitting in the weighing room, maybe the 10 minutes before you go out, you’re wanting to get on with it, but as soon as you get up on them, it all goes away.

“The weighing room is quieter than everywhere else, as everyone is in the zone. Once you get settled into the whole thing, everyone will loosen up a bit, but before the race people are probably a bit tense.

“It depends what sort of week you’re having, if it’s a good week it flies by and if it’s a bad week it can be the longest week of your life. In 2019, I didn’t have a winner there, that was a long week.”

Kennedy may have ridden a Gold Cup winner for De Bromhead but Elliott is the trainer with whom he is most readily associated and the two have a well-established bond.

“Gordon has been unreal. From the minute I came in here, he hasn’t been afraid to put me up on good horses,” he said.

“I’ve been up here on school holidays since I was 12 or 13 and started here full-time just before I turned 16.

“Myself and Gordon have the same ideas about things and seem to work well together. I’m sure he’s been unhappy with a few rides around there, actually in 2019 after the County Hurdle (unseated from Eclair De Beaufeau at the last), I got a bit of a telling off after that!

“Even if I did something wrong, Gordon would tell me but he forgets about it straight away and it’s on to the next one.”

It is clearly a partnership based on mutual esteem and loyalty and Elliott is unreserved in his praise for the rider, simply saying: “In my mind, he’s the best jockey riding, on either side of the Irish Sea – he’s different class.”

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