Jim Culloty, who rode Best Mate to win three Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cups while living in Oxfordshire, was in a state of disbelief after Lord Windermere gave him his first success in the race as a trainer.
The 40-year-old Irishman had an anxious wait while a stewards’ enquiry into interference took place yesterday, before his charge was confirmed the winner after passing the post a short head in front of On His Own.
It came at the end of a dramatic race, with the 20-1 shot, ridden by Davy Russell, appearing to be struggling earlier on.
However, he worked his way into the contest, and flew up the hill to pip On His Own (16-1) despite hanging badly right across the course, with The Giant Bolster (14-1) three-quarters of a length back in third.
“I’m in a total state of disbelief to be honest,” said Culloty, who rode Best Mate to his Gold Cup treble from 2002-4 for Henrietta Knight when she was training at West Lockinge, near Wantage.
“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 Lord Windermere won the RSA Chase at The Festival). He doesn’t go a stroke sometimes when he’s in front, but Davy’s got him over the line in front.”
Culloty is just the fifth man to ride and train a Cheltenham Gold Cup following in the footsteps of Danny Morgan, Fred Winter, Pat Taaffe and Jonjo O’Neill.
And he added: “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.”
Culloty, who trains at Churchtown, near Mallow in County Cork, lived at Stanford in the Vale while riding for Knight.
And he added: “If he were here, Terry Biddlecombe (Knight’s late husband) would probably say that he taught me all I know about training.”
Jockey Davy Russell punches the air as Lord Windermere returns to the winner’s enclosure
It was the middle leg of a 3,926-1 treble for Russell, with his other wins coming on Tiger Rag (10-1) in the JCB Triumph Hurdle and Savello (16-1) in the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase.
He said immediately after the race: “I cannot believe it, I really can’t. The whole way round, I was hunting because the race was gone.
“I honestly thought on the first circuit that I could be pulling him up and keeping him OK for Punchestown. “The credit has to go to Jim Culloty – what a man.
“It’s very special to win the Gold Cup.”
Dr Ronan Lambe, owner of Lord Windermere, is no stranger to big-race glory, having won the Ascot Gold Cup with Rite Of Passage in 2010.
“There’s very little between the races,” he said.