Keiran Burke makes a name for himself at Cheltenham

By Cornelius LysaghtBBC horse racing correspondent
Keiran Burke rides Holmwood Legend to victory at Cheltenham in March
Burke triumphed on Holmwood Legend at Cheltenham in March

With so many ongoing trials and tribulations, it's forgivable that the British Horseracing Authority is misspelling new trainer Keiran Burke's name in official documentation.

"Kieran" Burke is announced as being responsible for Holmwood Legend as the horse and his jockey-turned-trainer return to Cheltenham, the scene of their greatest triumph.

That win, at the course's National Hunt Festival in March, was among the fixture's most romantic as the pair belied odds of 25-1 to bring a prestige prize back home to their tiny base in rural Somerset.

Now, if things go right in Saturday's Paddy Power Gold Cup, Keiran Burke will find the spelling mistake swiftly corrected.

"He's in very good form," said the trainer for whom Holmwood Legend's Festival success was his last before a combination of injury and opportunity forced retirement from the saddle.

"We took him for a racecourse gallop. He's A1 and ready to go back to Cheltenham though, whatever he does, he should improve for the run.

"The worry is that I've had two dreams come true this year, at the Festival, and then training my first winner [with his first runner], and now this. These things just don't happen."

However, sporting fairytales do often come true, and Cheltenham has proved a happy hunting ground for the 25-year-old, who in the summer took over the small team under the care of retiring Pat Rodford for whom he was number one jockey.

Whereas many outside the elite of jump racing can only dream of entering the hallowed winners' enclosure at the sport's iconic HQ, Burke had done it all before Holmwood Legend.

Indeed, his very first winner came at this, Cheltenham's Open Meeting, in 2003, when steering a spelling mistake waiting to happen in Icare D'Oudairies, to victory in the hurdle race confined to young hopefuls like himself.

The link-up with colourful Rodford followed, and together, particularly with the redoubtable mare Sparky May - famously foaled during a storm, with sparks flying from an adjacent electric fence - their string of only 10 horses thrived.

When Rodford called time on his career, Burke was all for combining riding and training but a serious injury, incurred in May, put a stop to that hope.

"I ruptured my spleen being double-barrelled [kicked by both back legs] by a young horse, and spent a week in intensive care, which knocked me for six," he explained.

"I lost half a stone and was so weak I couldn't walk, and that kind of made the decision for me about the riding."

Operating from the same stables on Rodford's muddy farm near Martock, Somerset, Burke has been making plans for his small but select team.

While Holmwood Legend goes to Cheltenham as only his fourth runner, Sparky May - herself second at the Festival - races at Newbury later in the month, and hopes are high for a young hurdler named Buck Magic.

"We're only small," said Burke, "and I am so grateful to have two or three horses good enough to go to the big meetings. Some people are not lucky, and I really appreciate that."

This could be a trainer to follow, and remember, it's i before e except after c - unless you are Keiran Burke.

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