The Connells were in a bullish mood early on Tuesday morning on the Cheltenham gallops.
Barry Connell, alongside his son and assistant trainer Rory, were busy in the early hours before the hoards descended, riding out with jockey Michael O’Sullivan.
Good Land was the horse getting the work in, but it was Marine Nationale, the other of Connell’s horses running this week, who kickstarted the festival in remarkable fashion, jumping clear at the last in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle to power clear of pre-race favourite, the Willie Mullins-trained Facile Vega.
It was a first Cheltenham win for the 22-year-old jockey O’Sullivan, less than a year out from graduating from UCD. Hours later, he added a second aboard the Gordon Elliott-trained Jazzy Matty.
For Connell, who has ridden a pair of winners at the November Cheltenham meet, owned another at the festival itself with Martello Tower in 2015, it is a maiden Cotswolds victory as a trainer less than three years after he took out his license; the career triumvirate complete.
In an interview on Monday with The Irish Times, the Carrickmines native said nothing could beat the feeling of riding a winner of Cheltenham. Now he has trained one, he is more than happy to change his tune.
“It’s 150 per cent better, or 200,” said a jubilant Connell in the winner’s enclosure.
“It’s the best feeling of all time. I came over on the boat and I told every Irish person on there to back the two horses [Marine Nationale and Good Land, who runs on Wednesday in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle]. I said they were the best two novices in Ireland, so at least I’m off the hook partially after today! I’d have had to go back in disguise if we’d got beat.
“We’re absolutely blessed to have found the next superstar of the weighing room in Michael O’Sullivan, you mark his name. Have you ever seen a cooler ride in Cheltenham? Unbelievable. If you gave me any jockey riding I wouldn’t swap him.”
“Barry being confident didn’t put pressure on me, but I suppose the punters took it into account and that brings a small bit of pressure but I can only do what I can do,” said O’Sullivan. “Barry put his neck out and he was right.
“I’ve been dreaming of this day since I was a kid. It’s a bit surreal and it won’t sink in yet, this year has been so good it’s hard to appreciate it, I don’t think it can be topped but I’m just enjoying every minute of it.”
Overnight rain in Cheltenham led to soft conditions in the gallops on Tuesday morning. Despite that, the underfoot running was of no concern to Barry’s son, Rory, assistant trainer to both Marine Nationale and Good Land. The latter has seen his stock rise after his stable mate’s stunning run on Tuesday.
“There was a good bit of drying between this morning and the race. The ground was never going to be an issue. He’s [Marine Nationale] a class horse, Michael gave him another super ride. He looked snug everywhere, jumped the last and picked up and went.
“They’re two different horses, but they’ve both been working very well together,” explains Rory. “They’ve both been working with the guy that won on Sunday in Naas and galloping all over him, so we knew the two were in good shape.
“We were confident in your man today, we’re very confident in your man tomorrow. It’s still a horse race at the end of the day, you need a bit of luck in the running but if Michael gets up and does his thing he’ll be there or thereabouts jumping the last.”