With a small yard of racehorses, which he trains when not running his Armagh-based kitchens and bathrooms business, the odds are stacked against Ronan McNally when it comes to taking on the big boys and girls of horse racing.
But he continues to get a tune out of his horses, and that has helped McNally to enjoy some fine days in racing both in the Republic of Ireland and in England.
One of the standout fixtures of the National Hunt calendar is the Cheltenham Festival, and McNally has previously gate-crashed the party courtesy of his horse The Jam Man.
So will the Armagh trainer be seen in action at Cheltenham in 2023?
A Mixed Bag
Unfortunately, the recent form of his horses suggests that McNally has work to do if he is to send a genuine contender to Prestbury Park in March.
Those that enjoy a horse racing bet may have had a flutter on The Jam Man at the popular Aintree meeting in December, with the Becher Handicap Chase seen as something of a proving ground for those with aspirations of taking on the longer-distance races at Cheltenham. At 33/1, however, The Jam Man was considered only an outsider.
And so it proved. The horse racing results reveal that the nine-year-old was pulled up by jockey Gavin Brouder, with the electric pace set on the surprisingly dry ground proving too much.
The Jam Man was back at it in a meeting at Ayr in January, and the softer ground was expected to prove more to his liking given that his best day in racing, winning the Troytown Handicap Chase at Navan, came on similarly heavy footing.
#ThrowbackThursday to last Sunday and The Jam Man winning the @Ladbrokes Troytown Chase for @McnallyRonan under @PTownend 👏 pic.twitter.com/AVf2qF3Opj
— Navan Racecourse (@NavanRacecourse) November 12, 2020
Sadly, the Leo O’Reilly bred stayer seemed to lose fluency towards the business end of the race and had to settle for third place.
McNally needs the handicapper to be generous, you feel, for The Jam Man to play a role at the 2023 Cheltenham Festival.
But the Armagh man may have another ace up his sleeve.
Petrol Head had been a rather unremarkable sort in the early days of his career, but the seven-year-old defied a lowly rating to win a decent handicap hurdle outing at Fairyhouse in November 2021.
Unfortunately, Petrol Head struggled in the first half of 2022 on soft ground, but in the latter part of the year, he rediscovered his best form in drier conditions.
Victory at Roscommon was followed by a narrow second at Kilbeggan, so this is a horse that favours life on faster ground.
Whether those are the prevailing conditions at Cheltenham seems doubtful, but a dry start to the spring could give McNally cause to consider taking another outsider to the Festival in March.
It was another McNally horse, Dreal Deal, that was expected to become the jewel in his crown following a valuable win in the Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle at Punchestown in 2021.
🐴 Grade 2 delight for @McnallyRonan as Dreal Deal, a huge drifter in the betting, lands the Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle at 22/1 under @DenisFORegan at @punchestownrace.
😲 It was only in September that Dreal Deal won a handicap hurdle off 84
at Navan! pic.twitter.com/8UillRafXd
— Racing TV (@RacingTV) January 17, 2021
But follow-up success has proven hard to come by on the turf, although a switch to all-weather racing has yielded a return to the winners’ circle at Dundalk.
So McNally has options, and while he continues to be written off this former Grade 2 winner could yet cause a surprise or two at major meetings in the weeks and months ahead.