Donn's Articles » J J Slevin

J J Slevin

J J Slevin walked the track on Tuesday morning and thought, not bad.  Big week ahead, the Punchestown Festival.  Big rides.  Banbridge in the Punchestown Champion Chase on Tuesday, Fastorslow in the Punchestown Gold Cup on Wednesday.  

It was Banbridge ground.  Banbridge doesn’t like it when the ground is too soft.  He finds it difficult to get his feet out of soft ground, to jump out of soft ground.  That’s why his rider was happy to put a line through his run in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham and move on to Punchestown.  Down in trip to two miles but, better ground and cheekpieces on, he knew that he and his horse were going into the Champion Chase with a real chance.

“My plan was to get him comfortable through the early part of the race,” recalls the rider now.  “Try to keep him as close as I could to the leaders, keep him in contention, then ride the second part of the race.  Save a bit, have something left for the finish.”

Sixth of the seven remaining runners jumping the fourth last fence in Tuesday’s Champion Chase, Banbridge was still only fifth as they started to race around the home turn.  J J Slevin angled his horse towards the outside and asked him for his effort.  He closed over the second last fence but, when he landed over the last, he was still only third, he still had about three lengths to make up on the leader Captain Guinness.  Asked for maximum effort by his rider, the Joseph O’Brien-trained gelding responded and stretched his neck out on the line.

“I thought we had got there all right,” says J J.  “You generally know, but I didn’t want to think that I had got there until they called the result.”

He heard it as they called it.  First number two.

“That was a great feeling.  I was delighted for the owner Ronnie Bartlett, and it was brilliant to ride a big winner for Joseph.”  

He went home on Tuesday evening at ease with himself.  No jubilation, no elation, just a sense of self-satisfaction on a job well done.  It was nice to get home too.  That’s the thing about Punchestown week: you get to go home every night, walk through your own front door, sleep in your own bed.  Different to Cheltenham.  

Punchestown is a home match.  

Wednesday morning, you start again, another job to do, but you are going back there with the Champion Chase already in your swag bag.

“There is definitely a difference, going back there after you have had a big winner,” says the rider.  “No question.  Wednesday morning going in there, people saying well done to you.  All that.  It puts a pep in your step.  You go there with lots of self-belief.  I think that’s massive, it gives you confidence.  You see it with all the lads, when you go on a run, ride a few winners, things happen for you.”

Things happened for him in Wednesday’s Punchestown Gold Cup on Fastorslow.  He moved into second place after they had jumped the third fence, in front of Galopin Des Champs, behind the leader Conflated.  The leader was jumping to his left, so he stayed on the inside, a couple of lengths off him.

“Martin (Brassil, trainer) had a plan,” says the rider thoughtfully.  “Let him use his jumping.  At Leopardstown, we kind of gave away his jumping.  Our plan there was to have one go at Galopin Des Champs.  We thought that we out-sprinted him in the John Durkan Chase in November.  But this time, we just let him roll.  He got into a great rhythm from early.  It was all very smooth.”

Fastorslow moved into the lead at the third last fence and rounded the home turn on the inside of Conflated.  He jumped the last over a length in front, and he maintained that advantage all the way to the line.

“He was brilliant.  I couldn’t believe how easily he did it.  He’s very good at Punchestown, whatever it is about the place.  The drying ground suited us too.  I was so delighted for Martin, and for the horse’s owners Sean and Bernardine Mulryan.  Especially after what happened at Cheltenham.”

He beats himself up over what happened at Cheltenham.  Jockeys never like to be unseated.  On the run down the back straight in the Cheltenham Gold Cup final time, everything going to plan, in a racing rhythm and travelling well, just before the race started to get warm, Fastorslow stumbled a little on landing over the 16thfence and dislodged his rider.  It was just one of those things.  

“He was just lobbing away,” says J J slowly. “Then he took a step.  Just went down.  I was so disappointed for Martin, and for Sean and Bernardine.  It broke my heart.  He’s such a special horse for them.  And for that to happen.  When I walked away from them in the ring afterwards, I felt like crying.  Really.  They were brilliant though.  And Martin was brilliant.  I learned a lot from them, the way they handled that.  For all of those reasons, it was great that he could go and win the Punchestown Gold Cup.”

It has been some season for J J Slevin.  Two Grade 1 wins at Punchestown, the Champion Chase and the Gold Cup, another Cheltenham Festival winner on Lark In The Mornin, a second Fred Winter Hurdle, and a second Irish Grand National win on Intense Raffles.

“It has been a great year all right,” he says.  “It’s so competitive in Ireland.  It’s great when you get to ride a few big winners.  Hopefully I’ll get the chance soon to have a look back on it all soon.”

When he does, there will be no jubilation, no elation, just a sense of self-satisfaction on a job well done.

© The Sunday Times, 5th May 2024