Joe & Marie Donnelly

Bookmaker turned art collector and property investor Joe Donnelly has rekindled his interest in National Hunt racing in recent years and alongside his wife, Marie, has been thrust into the limelight primarily because of the exploits of Al Boum Photo. Bred and originally owned by French trainer Emmanuel Clayeux, Al Boum Photo was bought by the Donnellys and transferred to Co. Carlow trainer Willie Mullins in December, 2016.

Al Boum Photo made his debut at the Cheltenham Festival in 2018, as a six-year-old, but was held in third place when falling at the final fence in the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase won by Presenting Percy. Nevertheless, he returned to the Festival in 2019 to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup and defended his title in 2020, before finishing a highly creditable third on his attempt to become the first horse since Best Mate to complete a hat-trick in the ‘Blue Riband’ event.

Of course, Al Boum Photo isn’t the only horse to carry the increasingly recognisable yellow and black colours of his owners with distinction at the Cheltenham Festival. The luckless Melon finished second in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the Champion Hurdle twice and the Marsh Novices’ Chase at four consecutive Cheltenham Festivals between 2017 and 2020, before pulling up in the Ryanair Chase in 2021. Shishkin, another expensive French import, won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2020 and followed up in the Arkle Challemge Trophy in 2021.


Dorothy Paget

The Honourable Dorothy Paget, who died from heart failure, at the age of 54, in 1960, had many claims to fame, not least that she was, at one time, the richest unmarried woman in England. However, from a Cheltenham Festival perspective, she owned seven winners of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, making her the leading owner in the history of the ‘Blue Riband’ event, and four winners of the Champion Hurdle.

In 1931, Paget was persuaded by trainer Basil Briscoe to purchase two geldings, Golden Miller and Insurance, for a reputed £12,000 – over £800,000 by modern standards – from the late Philip Carr. The money proved well spent, with Golden Miller winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup five years running between 1932 and 1936 and Insurance winning the Champion Hurdle in both 1932 and 1933. In 1934, as a seven-year-old, ‘The Miller’ also won the Grand National and remains the only horse to have won the two premier steeplechases in the British National Hunt calendar in the same season.

In 1940, Paget completed the Champion Hurdle – Cheltenham Gold Cup double, courtesy of Solford and Roman Hackle, both of whom were trained by Owen Anthony. In 1946, she won the Champion Hurdle again, with Distel, trained by Charles Rogers and, in 1952, her seventh and final Cheltenham Gold Cup with Mont Tremblant, trained by Fulke Walwyn. Walwyn saddled no fewer than 365 winners for Paget, but even he found the eccentric, richly difficult heiress ‘so trying’; on one famous occasion, after Walwyn had sent out Paget-owned horses to win the first five races on a six-race card at Folkestonem, Paget abused the revered trainer for failing to win the sixth race.

Philip Reynolds

Irish businessman Philip Reynolds is, in fact, the son of the late Albert Reynolds, who served as Taoiseach of Ireland between 1992 and 1994, and freely admits to having inherited his love of horse racing from his father. Reynolds Jnr. has owned racehorses since the Eighties, but what has been described as his “overnight 20-year success story” only came to fruition in 2016, when Mall Dini became his first winner at the Cheltenham Festival.

Trained by Patrick Kelly, in Craughwell, Co. Galway and ridden by Davy Russell, Mall Dini had won comfortably won a maiden hurdle at Thurles the previous December, but, after three subsequent defeats in handicap company, was set off an unheralded 14/1 chance for the Pertemps Network Final. Nevertheless, the six-year-old made headway from midfield approaching the second last flight and, despite hanging left in the closing stages, stayed on strongly up the hill to win by three-quarters of a length. An incredulous, but nonetheless triumphant, Reynolds said afterward, “I’ve wanted to do this all my life. I can go now.”

Lo and behold, though, twelve months later Reynolds’ green and white silks were in the winners’ enclosure at the Cheltenham Festival again, this time courtesy of Presenting Percy, also in the Pertemps Network Final. Trained, once again, by Patrick Kelly – whom Reynolds describes as a ‘genius’ – and ridden, once again, by Davy Russell, Presenting Percy stayed on strongly in the closing stages to win by 3¼ lengths.

Presenting Percy returned to Cheltenham for the Festival in 2018 and, after making a successful transition to fences, justified favouritism in the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase, jumping and travelling well throughout to win by 7 lengths. Described by Reynolds as a ‘very special horse’, Presenting Percy has yet to make his seasonal reappearance in 2018/19, but is ante post favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, so the story may yet continue.