BY CHRISTINA FARRELL
THE WINNER of the Cheltenham Gold Cup had more than good breeding, a tenacious jockey and the luck of the Irish on his side.
Kicking King was blessed by racing pundit Fr Sean Breen before he left his stables in Kildare to make the journey to Gloucestershire.
Fr Breen, whose parish is sandwiched between the great Irish racecourses of Punchestown and the Curragh, visited trainer Tom Taaffe last Saturday to offer a blessing for all the contenders and reported them to be in “good order”.
The priest doubled his intercessions with a Mass at the Thistle Hotel, Cheltenham, on St Patrick’s Day when he prayed for more Irish winners at the Festival. “I’m sure you won’t want me to give a sermon,” he said. “The old head isn’t quite there. We pray for winners. They are hard to get. And we pray for Irish winners, wherever they come from.” He added: “The Irish horses are the best in the world, although the French are quite good as well.” At Fr Breen’s first festival in 1964 he saw the legendary Arkle win the first of his three Gold Cup wins. The Irish gelding, known simply as “Himself”, was partnered then by jockey Pat Taaffe – Tom Taaffe’s father.
Fr Breen admitted he had a small bet last Friday – “nothing big” – on another Irish contender. Sadly, his money went on Beef or Salmon, who was pulled up early in the race.