One of the great joys of sport is being there when an athlete is in the zone and you know, with certainty, they can’t be stopped.
It’s the footballer who will rifle one in from 30 yards, the flanker who will evade tackles with elastic hips en route to a try, the batsman who will dance down the wicket and hoick a drive out the middle of the bat. You can see the picture they intend to paint before it happens.
That’s how it was at Fairyhouse last weekend with Jack Kennedy, but, then again, that’s how it has been all winter for Gordon Elliott’s stable jockey. It has been one big prize pocketed after another by the 24-year-old.
‘I’ve only ever got good things to say about Jack,’ said Elliott after watching his rider produce a masterclass on Teahupoo to land the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle, Kennedy’s tactics having been to come with one sustained run to flatten Impaire Et Passe.
There’s more to it with Kennedy this season, however. Winning the top prizes is all well and good but he is jumping off his horses after races and eagerly looking for the next challenge. That refusal to dwell on success sets the very best apart.
At the moment, Ireland’s fantastic Jack Kennedy is in one of those unstoppable moods
Standing out as a jockey in Ireland is a huge task. The competition, which begins when riders are still children competing in pony races, is ferocious and the desperation to one day ride the top horses at Cheltenham equates to young kids here who dream of growing up to score the FA Cup final winner. Kennedy, though, has always been someone whose reputation has been that bit different.
To give you a reminder of his talent, it was Kennedy who somehow conjured a remarkable ride on an old rogue called Labaik — whose party trick was planting at the start and refusing to race — to win the 2017 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Festival. Jack was only 17 at the time.
You should really have heard more about Kennedy, whose 10 Cheltenham Festival wins include the 2021 Gold Cup on Minella Indo, but his career has been pockmarked with desperate, injury-induced bad luck. He has broken his leg, among other things, five times.
Perhaps you can understand, then, why he is in such a hurry to make up for lost time. His dream is to one day be Ireland’s Champion Jockey — it has been won for the last five years by Paul Townend — and 2024 might just be when that dream comes true.
After a career hit by unlucky injuries, he looks to be in a rush to make up for the lost time
Already Kennedy has established a 23-winner lead over Townend (73 to 50) and he is riding at a pace that may yet see him surpass the best total since the turn of the century — set by Ruby Walsh (131) in 2007-08 and 2016-17 — though nothing will be taken for granted.
‘All jockeys know you live for today as tomorrow is promised to no one,’ Walsh once said.
He’s right about that. This is the most unpredictable and fickle business, an industry where a jink or a false step can have calamitous and long-lasting consequences.
Kennedy, with all his falls, has the scars to prove it. You can see why he is in a hurry to prove himself the best.
Don’t write off Mullins’ prize fighter
The immediate reaction when a well-touted, odds-on favourite loses is usually to assume the burst bubble around them will never be reflated. Do not make that mistake with Impaire Et Passe.
Yes, it was disappointing he didn’t quicken up between the last two hurdles in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle on Sunday and there was a definite sense of anti-climax around Fairyhouse when the gelding came back in to unsaddle. But Willie Mullins, his trainer, was noticeably relaxed as he received a post-race debrief.
Impaire Et Passe was a picture of health beforehand, prowling around the parade ring like a middleweight boxer in his corner before a world title bout. He travelled well, jumped smoothly and — in what was his first run outside novice company — just got worn down in the latter stages.
Would he beat Constitution Hill on this form? Not in a million years. There is a long way to go until Cheltenham next March, however, and there are many good prizes up for grabs. Impaire Et Passe will definitely win one of them. Keep the faith in this prize fighter.
Trainer Willie Mullins was noticeably relaxed as he received a post-race debrief on Sunday
Why is Fighting Fifth not up north?
Great news that the Fighting Fifth Hurdle was saved and its presence at Sandown on Saturday adds to an already stellar card. You cannot help but feel a sense of disappointment about the fact it is being staged 307 miles away from its original venue.
Newcastle racecourse are proud to stage the race and racing fans in northern England love going to Gosforth Park to see it. There are 39 Grade One contests each season; 11 are staged at Aintree over three spectacular days in April but aside from that…?
The Fighting Fifth, the Betfair Chase at Haydock and the new Formby Novices Hurdle, at Aintree on Boxing Day, are the only other top-tier races that are staged in the North through the winter. That disparity isn’t fair.
Wetherby races this Saturday and has staged the Fighting Fifth Hurdle before. It’s a crying shame for everyone in the north, particularly the racegoers who love seeing proper animals, that they aren’t getting the chance to do so again. The powers that be must seek to redress the balance.
The Fighting Fifth Hurdle was saved and had a fantastic presence at Sandown on Saturday
Acheson shows his class
Acrimony , rivalry and controversy seem to be everywhere at present so here is an antidote; a reminder that good old-fashioned sportsmanship still exists.
The Bar One Juvenile Hurdle, a Grade Three contest that often provides pointers for Cheltenham, was a humdinger and had the Fairyhouse crowd roaring as Kala Conti, trained by Gordon Elliott and ridden by Jack Kennedy, and Joseph O’Brien’s Nurburgring jumped the last. Richie Deegan coaxed a fine late effort out of Nurburgring in the last 150 yards and passed the post first but then came the klaxon for a stewards’ enquiry.
From the head-on view it looked like the two runners had come together and connections of Nurburgring paced around anxiously.
Then Brian Acheson, the owner of Kala Conti, walked over to Con Sands — one of the main figures in Brosnan Racing — and shook his hand, saying: ‘Well done — there’s no complaints about that from me.’
Acheson might have had grounds to complain to the stewards and look for the placings to be reversed but the fact he did not spoke volumes. It’s all very well knowing how to win, and Acheson has done that a lot of late with horses such as Teahupoo and Gerri Colombe.
But what defines you is how you react to losses. Acheson’s actions were stamped with class