O’Con­nor re­news his Ed­wulf link

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - RACING -

ON Tues­day night, Derek O’Con­nor was pre­sented with a Horse Rac­ing Ire­land Award for the ride of the year, af­ter guid­ing ‘mir­a­cle horse’ Ed­wulf to an un­likely vic­tory in the Ir­ish Gold Cup at Leop­ard­stown last Fe­bru­ary.

The re­sult touched the heart of the rac­ing pub­lic given Ed­wulf’s much-pub­li­cised brush with death at Chel­tenham only 11 months pre­vi­ously, a neu­ro­log­i­cal mal­func­tion af­ter jump­ing the last in the Na­tional Hunt Chase leav­ing him tem­po­rar­ily in­ca­pac­i­tated and blind for 24 hours.

It was O’Con­nor’s first Grade One vic­tory, though that owed more to the scant op­por­tu­ni­ties for am­a­teur jock­eys to achieve top-tier suc­cess than to any lack of tal­ent, as ev­i­denced at the Foxrock venue that day. O’Con­nor is of­ten equated with AP McCoy in terms of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary im­pact he has had in the point-to-point sphere.

The Gal­way na­tive, whose late mother Jean Moore was one of the pi­o­neers for fe­male jock­eys and with­out whom there might well be no Rachael Black­more, set new stan­dards and his ac­cu­mu­la­tive tally of more than 1,100 win­ners be­tween the flags is stag­ger­ing for a week­end pur­suit, yield­ing 11 cham­pion rider ti­tles.

Throw in nu­mer­ous tri­umphs in bumpers and at the Chel­tenham Fes­ti­val, and you get a pic­ture of why no-one within rac­ing was sur­prised that O’Con­nor would be ca­pa­ble of pro­pel­ling Ed­wulf to such a mo­men­tous win for owner JP McManus and trainer Joseph O’Brien.

The 36-year-old has gar­nered count­less HRI Awards in the point-to-point cat­e­gory, but to be nom­i­nated by one of the great­est ever pilots, Ruby Walsh, and voted by the pub­lic for the in­au­gu­ral ride of the year hon­our meant a lot.

“I was hope­ful but I re­ally thought there were more wor­thy re­cip­i­ents,” O’Con­nor says with typ­i­cal mod­estly. “I thought Davy Rus­sell on Ap­ple’s Jade was bril­liant, and I thought Danny Sheehy in Gal­way was an­other tremen­dous ride. I sup­pose it was Ed­wulf that caught the imag­i­na­tion. It was a bit of a shock but it was won­der­ful and great for my fam­ily too.

“Point-to-point­ing is what we do dayin, day-out and I sup­pose we take it for granted a lit­tle bit be­cause we don’t know any­thing else. Ama­teurs don’t get too many op­por­tu­ni­ties in Grade Ones . . . You usu­ally only have one a year, which is the Cham­pion Bumper and that’s a very hard race to win.

“I had a cou­ple of near misses — I think I’ve been placed four or five times, so to win a Grade One at Leop­ard­stown has to be the high­light of your ca­reer, and rightly so, be­cause they’re so scarce.”

O’Con­nor is hope­ful they can add to their tally to­gether. “Ed­wulf ’s ap­petite for rac­ing is bril­liant. He’s the most gen­uine horse, as we’ve seen from that day in Chel­tenham, when he gal­loped him­self into ex­haus­tion for me and it’s very rare a horse will do that.

“He is rel­a­tively in­ex­pe­ri­enced. Be­fore Leop­ard­stown, he had 10 runs over fences and hadn’t com­pleted five of them. I think with any bit of good luck this year, we might see him run fairly con­sis­tently through the sea­son.

O’Con­nor re­ports the “gen­tle gi­ant” to be in good form ahead of his sea­sonal debut in the John Durkan Me­mo­rial Chase at Punchestown to­day.

“It would be very silly to try and fancy him against the likes of Min or Balko Des Flos, who are proven over the shorter trip and are faster, slicker jumpers. If he runs a nice race and is com­pet­i­tive, we’d be very happy.”

Joseph O’Brien and Derek O’Con­nor af­ter Ed­wulf won the Ir­ish Gold Cup at Leop­ard­stown

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