CHELTENHAM, England (Reuters) - Jim Culloty, who won the Cheltenham Gold Cup with Lord Windermere on Friday, has found the going harder as a trainer than he did as a jockey, so much so that he questioned his own ability when times got tough.
Irishman Culloty quit the saddle a year after his third successive Gold Cup triumph in 2004 on the horse he will be forever associated with - Best Mate, who propelled him and trainer Henrietta Knight into the limelight.
His move into the training ranks has not been paved with gold - until this week.
On Thursday he ended a long drought by celebrating his first winner since August when Spring Heeled won the Kim Muir Challenge Cup.
A day later he was back in the winner’s enclosure toasting the biggest prize of all, the Grand National apart, at the home of jumps racing.
“Quite literally, I can’t believe it. There were days this season when I said I couldn’t bother riding them out,” said the 40-year-old after Lord Windermere had survived a lengthy stewards’ enquiry following a thrilling finish in which the winner caused minor interference on runner-up On His Own.
“I will ride them in a field. The horses just weren’t right. By God, they have come right at the right time.”
Culloty retired as a jockey following a string of injuries to set up a training base in Churchtown, Co Cork.
But after his first winner came in late 2006, the going has proved tough - with Culloty forced to seek advice from fellow trainers.
“I took out a trainer’s licence to give me something to do, to make a few bob, which everybody told me I wouldn‘t, and to one day have a horse to run in, or possibly win, the Gold Cup,” he said.
“I have been in the doldrums on numerous occasions since I started training - I suppose all trainers are but you don’t think that, you think it’s just you.”
His problems were such that he admitted: “Two or three years ago, not only was everyone saying ‘he hasn’t got a clue how to train a horse’, but I was actually saying the same thing.”
Culloty turned to four-time Gold Cup-winning trainer Paul Nicholls, among others, for help.
”I was on the phone to everybody,“ he said. ”Paul Nicholls ... I phoned up all these guys for advice and to be fair they were all very helpful.
“I changed the feed, the gallops, we even changed the type of horse we were buying. And what it all came down to was one little thing - a bit of fungus in the stable, and once that was eradicated the rest is history.”
Culloty could not have managed, he said, without the backing of Dr Ronan Lambe, owner of Lord Windermere. Their association was forged during Culloty’s riding career when the jockey rode a winner on the first horse Lambe had owned.
“Without his support and patience I wouldn’t be here today,” Culloty said.
“I can go out and buy a horse and he will trust my decision.”
For Culloty, despite the ups and downs since quitting as a jockey, training horses is “less pressure” than riding them.
“I love training horses. It’s a 24-7 job, when you’re not actually doing it you are thinking about it,” he said.
”But I was able to relax in the parade ring today. My work was done. It was up to him (Davy Russell).
“As a jockey I put tremendous pressure on myself because you have five minutes to get it right, and if you get it wrong you know about it.”
Editing by Stephen Wood