Culloty recalls his Gold Cup agony and ecstasy ahead of today’s Legends ride

Connections of Lord Windermere including trainer Jim Culloty, centre, celebrate after winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup back in March (Picture: Joe Giddens/PA).
Connections of Lord Windermere including trainer Jim Culloty, centre, celebrate after winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup back in March (Picture: Joe Giddens/PA).
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JIM CULLOTY will not be short of advice when he rides Patriotic in the Clipper Logistics Leger Legends charity race at Doncaster today – his nephew is the tenacious teenager Oisin Murphy who will almost certainly be this year’s champion apprentice.

While the Irishman is now known in Flat racing circles as ‘Oisin’s uncle’, it is his legendary achievements in the National Hunt sphere that have earned Culloty a coveted invitation to take part in today’s one-mile race in aid of the Injured Jockeys Fund and Northern Racing College – the opening-day highlight of the St Leger meeting.

He is just the fifth person, after Danny Morgan, Pat Taaffe, Fred Winter and Jonjo O’Neill, to have ridden, and also trained, the winner of the blue riband Cheltenham Gold Cup courtesy of three successive victories aboard the brilliant Best Mate from 2002-04 before Davy Russell partnered Lord Windermere to an unlikely success in March.

“Everyone will tell you that training a big race winner is the more satisfying,” Culloty told The Yorkshire Post.

“I feed the horse every morning. I’ve looked after him every morning since he was four. You hope to win a race like the Gold Cup – but you never know. It is very, very rewarding... it is a gamble.

“The idea was for Davy to sit last – but not necessarily 10 lengths last. It was a brilliant judge of pace on his part.

“The horse jumps and stays. He wasn’t 10 lengths last because he was slow; he was 10 lengths last because he was relaxed.”

Culloty’s coolness six months after Lord Windermere’s triumph masks his shredded nerves in the minutes after the race while the stewards investigated interference with the runner-up On His Own. Just the shortest of short-heads had split the two equine warriors on the line and the result hung in the balance for several minutes.

“It was agonising,” said the 40-year-old, who revealed that his stable star will be aimed at Leopardstown’s Lexus Chase at Christmas, and then the Irish Hennessy, before attempting to defend the Gold Cup crown.

Just one horse – the aforementioned Best Mate – has managed this feat since Arkle was in the ascendancy 50 years ago.

However, Culloty says there are striking differences between Best Mate and Lord Windermere. The former, he says, was at his best on good ground while the latter excels in softer conditions. “When Best Mate lost at Ascot in 2001 to Wahiba Sands, it wasn’t because of the weight that he was conceding, it was the going. If it had been good ground, he would have p****d up,” he explained.

He is the first to admit his good fortune at riding such a great champion for Henrietta Knight and her much-missed husband Terry Biddlecombe, a former champion jockey.

He appreciates why the top horses have to be raced sparingly – a trend that was instigated by Knight – but his training regime in County Cork is less fastidious than that of his former employer who would molly-coddle her horses.

Culloty also offered an update on Spring Heeled which won the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup at Cheltenham 24 hours before Lord Windermere’s Gold Cup win. This season’s target is the 2015 Crabbie’s Grand National and the horse is unlikely to run until next February after the big race weights have been 
finalised; Culloty is keen to protect the horse’s handicap mark.

This is also the horse that Culloty’s nephew would ride each morning before school. It was an arrangement that suited horse, trainer and jockey.

“Oisin lived with me for two years,” he added. “He’s doing extremely well, and it’s not because he is lucky; he is the real deal.

“As well as being able to ride, he’s got a great brain on him. He’s also the right attitude. He wanted a horse to ride before school and I wanted a light jockey on Spring Heeled. It worked a treat.”

As for Murphy, who celebrated his 19th birthday with a final stride win at York on Sunday aboard Brian Ellison’s Zeus Magic, his advice to his uncle is simple – and not altogether sympathetic.

“Sit still for as long as possible because the last furlong will feel like an eternity,” he suggested.

Jim Culloty should know – this, after all, is where Cheltenham Gold Cups are won and lost.