By Simon Jackson
Jim Culloty won the Cheltenham Gold Cup three times as a jockey and added another as a trainer when he saddled Lord Windermere to win the feature race of the week.
Culloty bagged a successive hat-trick of Gold Cups in emphatic style on Best Mate in 2002, 2003 and 2004. But there was nothing clear cut about the victory of Lord Windermere who crossed the line a short head in front of On His Own but then had to survive a lengthy stewards’ enquiry before he was confirmed as the winner after drifting right in the closing stages.
The victory was the highlight of a tremendous day for winning rider Davy Russell who rode three winners on the day and capped a great festival for Culloty who also scored with Spring Heeled in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Trophy on Thursday.
“I’m in a total state of disbelief to be honest,” said Culloty.
“I couldn’t believe it during the race and then when the stewards was announced, I thought we were certain to lose it given my luck. He’s just idled in front, like he did last year [when winning the RSA Chase]. He doesn’t go a stroke sometimes when he’s in front but Davy’s got him over the line in front.
“Cheltenham has made all the difference to him – he loves it round here. We suspected he needed to come back here to show his best and I just told Davy to drop him out and ride his own race. Last year, people kept saying that Boston Bob would have won but I always knew we were the worthy winners and he’s showed just how good he is.
“Everything this horse has done suggested that the Gold Cup was the perfect race for him. When we ran him at Leopardstown [at his previous start], we learned a lot about him and decided the best thing to do was to drop him out and let him find his own way into the race.
“I’ve always said there is a lot more pressure on you as a jockey than a trainer. When they walk into the parade ring before the race, my job is done but I was always very hard on myself as a jockey.
“The horses just haven’t been right this year but, then again, I’ve only got about four that are mature enough to run. Two have won now at this meeting so it’s ended up being the best season ever.”
Russell said: “I honestly thought on the first circuit that I could be pulling him up and keeping him ok for Punchestown. We managed to keep going though and, all of a sudden, I knew I had a lot of horse under me. I thought I had a squeak jumping the first fence on the second circuit and then, at the top of the hill, I knew we were in with a chance.
“He’s jumped super. If you leave him alone, he has more confidence so I didn’t want to do anything for show. He’s a confidence horse so I didn’t want to pick my stick up.
“He’s a big horse and when he saw Silviniaco Conti coming across from the left on the run-in, he went the same way. He’s run all the way to the line though and was definitely the best horse.
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