After falling at Naas riding Top Bandit on Sunday, it has been revealed that jockey Jack Kennedy has sustained a fractured leg nine weeks away from the Cheltenham Festival.
The 23-year-old fell at the fourth hurdle and sadly Top Bandit suffered fatal injuries. Kennedy now faces a race against time to be fit for the ‘greatest show on turf’ in March and should he not recover in time, this could disrupt trainer Gordon Elliott’s plans for the Festival.
The Irish trainer feels that Kennedy could return to fitness in time for the Gloucestershire spectacle as he told the Racing Post: “It's unfortunate for Jack, but hopefully it's not as bad as we first feared. He was in good form on Monday and we will know a lot more when he visits his surgeon on Friday. I'd be hopeful he will be back for Cheltenham, but let's see what the surgeon says.
"Jack is a big part of the team here at Cullentra and we have some great young riders like Jordan Gainford and Sam Ewing, who have big futures ahead of them. Jack has been setting a great example for them to follow."
While this will be seen as a boost for Elliott and everyone associated with Cullentra House, there is no guarantee that Kennedy will be back to saddle up for Cheltenham. They need to devise a contingency plan. But if Kennedy is unavailable, Elliott will be at a huge disadvantage for the Festival because he has lost his top jockey and Kennedy only recently inherited that role following Davy Russell’s retirement three weeks ago.
As things stand Jordan Gainford could be set to be Ellliott’s go-to jockey at Cheltenham. Gainford has had an impressive season in Ireland, recording 22 wins so far and in his last season he registered 49.
If he is tasked to fill the void left by Kennedy if the latter isn’t ready for Cheltenham, Gainford will be handed a huge opportunity. It was only two years ago that he rode his first Festival winner, The Shunter, in the Paddy Power Plate Handicap Chase, which was also a first Festival triumph for trainer Emmet Mullins.
Gainford has been catching the eye in Ireland over the past couple of years and he could further thrust himself into the spotlight if he gets the chance to ride the best horses Elliott has to offer at Cheltenham. And while Russell may have recently retired, he is an idol of the promising jockey and he previously said in an interview that he can call upon the 43-year-old for advice whenever he needs it.
With Russell enjoying a lot of success at Cheltenham with the likes of Envoi Allen and Tiger Roll, this direct line could really benefit Gainford in the coming weeks as he prepares to fill in for Kennedy.
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