Donn's Articles » Jordan Gainford

Jordan Gainford

The first false start didn’t help, and the second false start only compounded matters.  The Shunter was playing up a bit, kicking out.

“Number 14!” the starter shouted.  “Number 14!”

Jordan Gainford looked at his saddlecloth.  Number 14.  He nudged his horse forward, hoped that the starter would just let them go.

“Be good and positive at the start,” trainer Emmet Mullins had told him.  “Try to get a good position.  Then settle into your race.”

Jordan Gainford didn’t know that he was riding The Shunter on Thursday until he saw the declarations on Tuesday morning, until he saw his name down beside the horse’s name.  His agent Garry Cribbin had said to him that he might have a spare for him in the race, but he didn’t know that he would and, if he did, he didn’t know that it would be The Shunter, the favourite, the horse who was racing for a £100,000 bonus after winning the Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso 12 days earlier.  And he had never met Emmet Mullins before he saw him on the gallops on Wednesday morning and went up and introduced himself.

The Shunter got away well, sprang into action as soon as the starter released the tape and, actually, picked up in front at the first fence.  Then Gainford settled him back as Adrian Heskin on Kiltealy Briggs moved up on his outside.

“We went fast over the first three fences,” says Gainford.  “But he settled well after that, when I got in behind Adrian.  We sat there until we started off down the back straight, when he started to wing his fences.  I moved up on Adrian’s outside when we were at the top of the hill, and he said to me, don’t panic.  You’re grand there.”

The Shunter jumped up alongside Kiltealy Briggs at the third last fence, and he moved into the lead as they raced around the home turn.  That’s still a fair way out on the New Course at Cheltenham, over the last two fences and up the hill, but Gainford was travelling so well that he didn’t want to disappoint his horse.

“He had a little wander around on the run to the second last,” says the rider.  “And he got in a little tight to the last, but I was happy to let him do that.  I could hear Top Notch coming at me, I heard him flicking the birch just behind me and I saw Luca Morgan’s shoulder.”

Top Notch challenged, Farclas challenged but, when Jordan Gainford asked him to pick up, The Shunter found lots.  He galloped all the way to the line, through the line, all the way to the pull-up.

“I couldn’t believe it,” says the young rider.  “I looked to my left, I looked to my right, just to be sure that I had really won.  To win at the Cheltenham Festival.  Unreal.  It’s a feeling I had never had before.  I’m not sure that it has fully sunk in yet.”

The cheering masses weren’t there to funnel him back down the chute – and they would have been cheering, a well-backed 9/4 favourite – but it didn’t matter.  A smattering of people clapped.  Ruby Walsh shouted well done from his presentation position at the top of the stands.

“There were a good few people there all right when I came back into the winner’s enclosure.  They were all clapping.  And the music over the PA system.  It was some feeling.  I’m so grateful to Emmet and to the owner Paul Byrne for giving me the opportunity.”

Jordan Gainford had nothing to which to compare it.  He has never ridden at a Cheltenham Festival with crowds.  From Cain in County Wexford, he started off by riding ponies with local trainer Shay Slevin.  He spent a few weeks with Nigel Twiston-Davies in Britain, and rode out at Ballydoyle for a summer, before taking out an amateur licence and riding for Colin Bowe.  Envoi Allen was one of the first horses he schooled there.

He had had it in mind to turn professional for a while, he thought that he would continue as an amateur until the end of the season, but then the point-to-point season was curtailed by Covid-19, and plans changed.

“I asked a few people for advice, including Barry O’Neill and Davy Russell and Gordon Elliott and Colin, and they were all very supportive of me turning professional.”

Amateurs can ride against professionals just 21 times in a season, and Gainford reached his quota at the start of February, which meant that plans to ride at the Dublin Racing Festival had to be shelved.

“I was gutted, but nothing could be done about it.  HRI and the IHRB were great then in helping me to get my professional licence quite quickly.”

His first ride as a professional was on Fierami for Gordon Elliott in a handicap hurdle at Navan on 21st February, which he duly won, a 25/1 shock.  The following day, he rode Mt Leinster Gold to win a maiden hurdle at Fairyhouse for Colin Bowe, and he was on his way.

A Cheltenham Festival winner now on his CV, a good position at the start, and settling in nicely.


© The Sunday Times, 21st March 2021