Niall Cronin is chasing the Cheltenham chairty dream

HE’S a two time Punchestown winner and now he can dare to dream about becoming a Cheltenham winner. On March 15 (Gold Cup Day at the famos festival) Naas man Niall Cronin will be one of twelve riders lining up in the one mile, five furlong Charity Race in aid of Cancer Research UK, a charity he must raise 5,000 for before the big event.

HE’S a two time Punchestown winner and now he can dare to dream about becoming a Cheltenham winner. On March 15 (Gold Cup Day at the famos festival) Naas man Niall Cronin will be one of twelve riders lining up in the one mile, five furlong Charity Race in aid of Cancer Research UK, a charity he must raise 5,000 for before the big event.

Like most Niall Cronin’s life has been affected by cancer, indeed his mother Kathleen has suffered from breast cancer, while he has also lost aunts and uncles to the deadly disease so raising money for a worthy caused, coupled with riding at the Cheltenham Festival is a dream come through for the 25-year-old.

Thus far Cronin, who is the Evening Herald’s racing correspondent, has over E1,000 in the kitty, so there’s a considerable way to go but a forthcoming Cheltenham preview night in a well known Naas pub and generous donations from friends and family should see Niall hit the target.

“I have just over E1,000 now at the moment and there’s a few people out there pushing for me. I think my godson went round in Carbury the other day and get a lot of people in the club house after the Kildare Tyrone game, so everyone is helping out. It’s not easy though especially because of the times we’re in but it’s such a good cause and sadly cancer has hit so many people,” Cronin told the Leinster Leader this week.

“I’m having a massive Cheltenham Preview Night in Kavanagh’s (Naas) on March 5 with Paul Carberry, Katie Walsh, Jessica Harrington and Matt Chapman from At The Races. Boylesports, with the Evening Herald, are sponsoring it so it will be a great night. We had one last year that was a great success and we’re hoping to pack it out again this year for Cancer Research. It’s E15 a ticket and it will include a E5 free bet. We’re going to have a big auction and we’re hoping to get a signed Dublin jersey, a signed Kildare jersey and a signed Ireland rugby and soccer jersey,” he added.

Four years ago Cronin had never even rode a horse and now he’s on the verge of riding at the biggest national hunt festival there is. Indeed he has come a long way.

He’s a life long racing fan, was born and bred with the Punchestown festival, would count many jockeys among his best friends and always wanted to ride at the aforementioned festival. In 2009 that dream came through but there was even bigger and better things to come in 2010 and 2011.

In 2009 Niall finished fourth on board Paddy’s Star but the following year he came home ahead of the pack on Prospectorous, while last year her repeated the feat on the Philip Dempsey trained Jackonslady.

“I would have been friendly with an awful lot of jockeys, I always loved the whole racing scene and I always wanted to ride in that race in Punchestown. I bored people to tears telling them how much I wanted to ride in it and so much so when I was at a 21st a few years ago a lad said he’d teach me how to ride. He brought me out to his place and started me and then I went to Philip’s (Dempsey) and have been there ever since,” explained Cronin, who is a former secretary and treasurer in Naas GAA football club.

“The first year I finished fourth in a race I was convinced I’d finish last in. The buzz of it is unbelievable so I went back a second year and won it and that was incredible because it’s the local track, I’m from Naas so I was born and bred with Punchestown so it meant so much to me. To come back the following year again and win it was special because it was also one of my mother’s first times really being out after getting the all clear.

“It was also especially nice to do it twice for Philip Dempsey because only for him I wouldn’t be in the position to do it. I’ve been out there with him for about five years and before that I had never sat on a horse,” he admitted.

To win in Cheltenham on March 15 would be the stuff of dreams for the Naas man and he’s putting every effort in to doing so. Preparing and fundraising are paramount for the next few weeks and very little else is going to get a look in.

Cronin has been amazed at the generosity of people thus far and in particular saved praise for Calverstown native Shane Mulryan, a man who used to work in Berney’s Saddlery in Kilcullen, for sponsoring his britches and gear, and of course to everyone that has contributed thus far.

“I know times are tough but I’m so grateful to everyone that has contributed so far. I’m not expecting people to be parting with big sums of money and even a euro would make a difference and a fiver would make a massive difference,” insisted Niall.

If you want to make a difference don’t forget to get your ticket for the Cheltenham preview night on March 5 in Kavanagh’s or go to www.justgiving.com/NiallCronin to make a donation.

“I’d break the bank to ride at the Cheltenham Festival. I’ll never forget ringing my father from Cheltenham the first year I went over there for the Evening Herald. I was walking the track and I was looking back across and it was unreal. It’s the Olympics of horse racing and you can’t beat it. My dream is to ride an Irish winner over there but just to ride there full stop is incredible,” said Niall.

Lets hope his dream comes true!

- Ruth O’Brienf