Cheltenham dream come true

Brian Bunyan on board Age of Glory accompanied by his brother, trainer Darren Bunyan from Kildare.
Cheered on by his mum Mary from Kildare town, Brian Bunyan romped home aboard Age of Glory to become the first Irish man to win the St. Patrick’s Derby at Cheltenham last Thursday, March 14.

Cheered on by his mum Mary from Kildare town, Brian Bunyan romped home aboard Age of Glory to become the first Irish man to win the St. Patrick’s Derby at Cheltenham last Thursday, March 14.

Inspired by his dad Arthur who passed away from cancer, Brian applied to take part in the charity race to raise funds for a cancer research charity. As he crossed the finish line ahead of the 11 other amateur jockeys, he received a champion’s welcome.

“It was unbelievable. I still can’t believe it. It seems like it was just a dream. I woke up this morning and I had to pinch myself. We had some craic afterwards and the return to the parade ring afterwards was amazing. There was huge applause,” he told the Leinster Leader from Cheltenham on Friday.

The Kildare town native, who now lives and works in London for a bank, was overjoyed that his mum from Maryville was able to attend along with his sister Susan Duggan and niece Hayley. The victory was truly a family affair as the horse was trained by his brother Darren, who has a yard at Rathbride.

“The horse came of age. I thought he might be a bit immature but he was just brilliant. He was 50 to one, all my friends and family had backed him, it was great.”

As Brian approached the finish line, he said he didn’t dare think he’d win.

“I was afraid to think about it. I just said to myself, keep the head down, keep going,” he stressed.

When he was coming back into the parade ring, the noise was deafening as the crowd saluted his performance.

Brian returned to the Curragh the week before the festival to train with Darren, and Age of Glory. He hadn’t sat on a horse for 25 years since he had a brief spell as amateur, taking off class at the De Salle Brothers to go racing. His father trained horses for trainers on the Curragh for many years and would have been well known in the industry. He passed away 10 years ago.

Brian applied to take part in the race but never thought he would be accepted, as there are only 12 jockeys chosen from over 100 applications.

The St Patrick’s Derby is a charity flat race, over one mile and five furlongs. Over the past two years, in excess of £650,000 has been raised for Cancer Research UK, which works with cancer organisations globally in trying to find a cure. Brian aims to raise £10,000 and is well on target.

The 12 jockeys riding out included riders based in England, Ireland and France with a wide range of equestrian skills. Brian was competing against fellow Kildare riders, Equidia presenter Sally Ann Grassick, who is from Newtown Stud, and Graham Ross from Naas.

He said he was delighted with the support from home including all who have sponsored him, including Las Rada Wine & Tapas Bar in Naas, Red Mills, and Thoroughbred Remedies. He also thanked the Keadeen Hotel and the RACE Academy for allowing him to use their facilities.