McKenna lands first Cheltenham Festival winner with Good Time Jonny

The 27-year-old has battled back from a string of injury troubles in recent times

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Good Time Jonny with jubilant jockey Liam McKenna and connections after victory in the Pertemps Network Hurdle

Liam McKenna claimed his first Cheltenham Festival victory in a thrilling stampede finish in the Pertemps Network Hurdle, writes James Toney.

Coming to Cheltenham's famous hill, there was a wall of horses across the track but McKenna, a conditional jockey claiming five pounds, picked his way through traffic with a brilliant ride on Good Time Jonny.

"It's great and I'm just delighted and they'll be some great celebrations now and I'm so pleased to have seized the opportunity," he said.

“Ten strides from the line I knew I had it and that's some thrill."

They say racing is a hard sport and you won't find Co. Tyrone's McKenna, 27, disagreeing.

He broke his leg at last year's Irish National, returned for a career high at the Galway Hurdle and then broke his eye socket at Listowel.

"The hardest thing about injuries is the mental thing, watching horses running that you could be winning on," added McKenna.

"The plan was just to collect as much prize money as we could but going to the last we started to pick up and I knew he wouldn't stop.

Trainer Tony Martin has had seven previous winners at the Festival but it's been eight years since he last made the winners' enclosure.

And that sparked brilliant scenes for his syndicate of Irish US-based owners, who'd flown from New York for this race.

The owners include Aidan Shiels, who became a viral sensation when Martin's horse, Heartbreak City, was just edged out in a photo in the 2016 Melbourne Cup.

This time, it was all about the winning feeling.

"What a ride by that lad, I thought we were done, I thought it was over. I just can't believe it," he said.

Ten strides from the line I knew I had it and that's some thrill.

Liam McKenna