Donoghue and Elliott combine to retain Cross-Country title at Cheltenham
Cheltenham Cross-Country Chase specialists Gordon Elliott and Keith Donoghue teamed up yet again to claim the race for the fourth time in six years and it was the Summerhill trainer's fifth win in that spell and sixth in the race altogether.
Delta Work reclaimed the cross-country race after winning last year's edition in a stunning finish with Tiger Roll. On that occasion the winner was ridden by Jack Kennedy with Donoghue on board the two-time Grand National winner.
However, Donoghue was back in the Delta Work saddle for today's race with Russell on board Galvin who had to settle for second place for the Elliott yard.
Donoghue's three previous successes in the race came on board Tiger Roll (2018, 2019 and 2021), while Elliott's first victory in the cross-country came in 2017 with Cause Of Causes.
Technically Elliott is not credited with Tiger Roll's win in '21 as he was suspended and Denise Foster took charge of his yard.
Speaking after the race Elliott was delighted with the win that moved him onto 36 Festival winners and he is the fourth most winning trainer in Festival history.
“I love the Cross Country race and it is great to have the one-two," beamed the Summerhill man.
"Galvin ran a great race. He (Davy Russell) said there was a couple of soft spots that didn’t suit him that well.
"The O’Leary’s have been brilliant to me and to train a winner around Cheltenham for them is unbelievable as they are massive supporters of Cullentra.
"Keith Donoghue started off with me when he was 14 and he is having his best ever season. He went freelance so I said when Jack (Kennedy) couldn’t ride I said there is no better man to have on him.
“Once the two of them got over the last I didn’t mind who won. Galvin is going to come on from it.
"If I’m being honest I was hoping it was going to be Delta’s day. We have just trained him for this race and the Grand National that is the plan. Both horses will go for the Grand National.
"It is great to see Jack Kennedy here in the winner’s enclosure with us as they are all his horses to ride and when he gets back he will be on them. It is brilliant (that Jack is here) as he needs to know when he is back all these horses are here for him. I’ve full confidence in him and he will be back on them as he is first jockey at Cullentra.
"I don’t care what wins I just love winning. A winner is all I want. No (it doesn’t feel different to 12 months ago) as a winner is all I want. We had one beaten a short head early on but to get one on the board again I’m absolutely delighted.”
Kennedy was delighted to be in the winner's enclosure and even though his leg is still in a boot he is hopeful of returning to ride Delta Work in the Grand National.
"It is tough not to be on them but I’m delighted for everyone. I had everything booked to be here so I thought I might as well come over. Hopefully I will be back for Aintree and I think it is a realistic target fingers crossed," said Kennedy.
"Hopefully I will be on Delta Work in the Grand National. He is better off than last year in the Grand National. I'm just hoping I will be on his back again in it.”
Winning jockey Donoghue from Dunshaughlin was delighted with the win and admitted it was a straight-forward win for Delta Work.
"It was very straightforward. He went a good gallop on the ground; I just asked him to travel and he went on the ground, he jumped brilliantly and it couldn't have gone any easier for me," said the Skryne footballer.
“Looking on ratings and betting, Galvin was my main danger, and I could see something coming to me at the second-last and I looked over, and as I looked over I was a little bit worried that it was him coming - I was hoping it would be something else, but when I asked my lad to go down to the last I felt he was quickening, and I knew he would stay well.
"Obviously that ground was going to disadvantage Galvin. I was a little bit slow at the last but when he was coming up the hill his ears were pricked and he was just doing enough.
"He’s very good at this race; he’s so quick. For a horse who probably wasn’t a great jumper over a normal fence, he’s brilliant over these and I have to thank Gordon for putting me on him. It’s just great to have a winner at Cheltenham.
"He’s probably a bit scopier over these obstacles than Tiger Roll was; he probably jumps them a bit more, whereas Tiger was probably quicker and went through them a bit more, but Tiger just did enough over them - that was his way of doing it and he was very good, whereas this lad can actually lose a little bit of time in the air, but he’s still very good.
"I think he has to go to the Grand National now. He bolted up here and didn’t have a hard race. He was third last year so he probably has to improve a little bit, but he has every right to go for it.”
Owner Michael O'Leary also suggested that Delta Work will go to Aintree for the Grand National, but the Ryanair boss was quick to write off any chance of glory.
“He will go to Aintree, but will he win, no he won’t,” suggested the Gigginstown boss.
"He has been a great horse around Cheltenham. He won a Pertemps here one year and that is his second Cross Country Chase winner and it is wonderful to have a winner around here.
"It is a great training performance by Gordon to win that race again. Every winner at the Festival is a big winner. It is so hard to win races here. With Gordon and the team at Cullentra (House) are one of the top teams and we are privileged to have days like this and winners like Delta.
"I was devastated 12 months ago (after beating Tiger Roll) and I was like kick him out (tongue in cheek) but now I’m very grateful.
"I thought Galvin was going easier and Davy (Russell) was tracking us the whole way. Galvin is a very good horse and he is owned by Ronnie Bartlett, who is a very good friend of mine, and if it wasn’t going to be won by us I would have liked to have seen Ronnie win it as at least it was going to stay at Gordon’s.
"I used to be the most critical of this Cross Country race and why do we bother. When you are struggling for a winner at Cheltenham I will take the Cross Country, the Martin Pipe, anything at all.
"It is a different test and it is very good for these older horses that are not quite Grade One level anymore. It is almost a bit like a veterans race. Galvin and Delta Work were two very good horses taking each other on. It is not everyone’s cup of tea but a winner at the Festival is a winner.
"Some horses do take to it and some don’t. Tiger took to it and Delta has taken to it well again. It (the Grand National) will be on the agenda but I have won the Grand National three times already and no owner I think has won it more than three times so I’ve had my fill," said O'Leary.
While Delta Work took all the plaudits Elliott was full of praise for his runner-up Galvin
"Delta had the experience but Galvin was brilliant. He ran his heart out and they’re two nice horses to come back for this race with for the next couple of years and both now head for the English National.
"I think better ground would have inconvenienced Delta more and given Galvin a better chance today but to be fair to Delta he stays very well.
"It’s great to have a winner as we’ve hit the frame a few times, but we’ve two on the board now and we’re very happy.”
The one that Elliott referred to as 'hitting the frame' was Gerri Colombe who was edged out of the Grade One Novice Chase by Paddy Neville's The Real Whacker.
"He has been beaten a short head in a Grade 1 and a stride over the line he is a neck in front, so of course I retain faith in him - he's top class," said Elliott after the race.
"However, whether he has another run this season is something that will have to be discussed with the owners as he has definitely had a race there."