A greyhound trainer with just three horses in training experienced a day he’ll never forget when winning at the Cheltenham Festival on Wednesday (17 March). Irishman Paul Hennessy sent out 33/1 shot Heaven Help Us to land the grade three Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle with Cheltenham debutant Richard Condon in the saddle.
“It’s unbelievable! It’s quite incredible, to be honest,” said Hennessy, who trains some 40 greyhounds and bred this mare himself.
“It looked a bit questionable, I suppose, coming up the first time, to make the running in a race of this calibre, and looked a bit cheeky, but that’s what we wanted to do and we thought she’d stay, and I must say Richie was absolutely incredible on her. I don’t think anyone could have ridden her better than that.”
Jockey Richard Condon is a 7lb claimer, who was having his first ever ride at Cheltenham, and his Irish colleagues emerged from the weighing room to give the returning heroes a guard of honour as they entered the Cheltenham winner’s enclosure for the first time.
“You wouldn’t think he was a 7lb claimer out there, would you? It’s off the planet to win here,” said the trainer. “I must be dreaming. Thanks be to God – I can’t believe what’s happening. We needed a miracle, and, Heaven Help Us, we got one.
“If someone said to you, you could have a wish in life – anyone would wish a winner at Cheltenham, wouldn’t they?”
Despite only having three horses in training, Hennessy has enjoyed plenty of success training greyhounds, including winning the English Derby for John Turner who owns Heaven Help Us.
“The Mullins family introduced me to horses and we’d go to Pony Club and gymkhanas together, and going racing with Paddy was the great excitement,” he said. “It was a great grounding for all the rest of it.”
Jockey Richard Condon showed great delight when summing up his first experience of the Cheltenham Festival.
“You dream about these kind of things and for it to happen in such an early stage in my career it hasn’t sunk it in yet,” he said. “That’s it now, one ride, one winner. I can go home to Ireland a happy boy.
“I’m disappointed the pubs aren’t open but back home in Ireland we are dairy farmers and there probably won’t be a cow milked for a week.”