Mark Walsh completed a remarkable comeback from hospital
bed to Cheltenham Festival glory with a long shot Stayers' Hurdle victory in
relentless Cotswolds drizzle, writes James Toney.
The jockey was rushed to hospital after a brutal fall just 39 days ago at the Dublin Racing Festival and admitted he thought his hopes of adding to his career tally of seven winners at the meeting were gone.
The 37-year-old fractured vertebrae in his neck, his season already disrupted by a six week lay-off after suffering rib injuries following another tumble last year.
Trainer Gordon Elliott praised Walsh's commitment to his rehabilitation and he got a perfect tune from 33/1 shot Sire Du Berlais, whose excellent Cheltenham record - this was his third win here - has been scarred by a lacklustre season to date.
Sometimes - for horse and rider - the prospect of the big and familiar stage is what you need to get back on track.
"It was a bit of rush to get back for the Festival but thankfully I got here with the help of all my surgeons and doctors, they've really patched me up and I'm so grateful to them," said Walsh, after riding a 71st Festival winner – and second
of the meeting – for billionaire owner JP McManus.
"To be honest, about three weeks away, I was getting a bit worried about missing out but this makes all the hard work to get fit worthwhile.
"The ups and downs are racing are something I'm used to experiencing, sometimes you on the top of the world, then next you are on the turf getting kicked around, that’s the sport.
"Sire Du Berlais just loves this course, he went a great gallop and he travelled great the whole way. I had to work on him but he stuck his head down and made it happen. I really couldn't be happier. I just hope he comes back again next year to win another."
Elliott's day improved when third-placed horse Teahupoo, the 9-4 favourite, was promoted to second ahead of long-shot Dashel Drasher following a stewards' enquiry.
"We've had three winners and our horses have been running great all week, we've had a lot of seconds too, I don’t want to be greedy but we are absolutely thrilled," said Elliott.
"Sire Du Berlais had the perfect position the whole way, the girls look after him brilliantly and my niece Eliece is super with him. It's a team effort always, I'm just the name on the licence.
“He’s a horse we’ve all got a lot of time for, he’s given us some great memories here and this was the most special yet.”