Not since Easter Hero won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1929 has the race gone to a horse who was racing over fences for the first time that season.
But that’s what Presenting Percy will try to do on the back of landing the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park in January.
A statistic 90 years in the making would normally be an emphatic reason not to back the eight-year-old gelding for the £625,000 race.
Presenting Percy will try to break a 90-year hoodoo and claim Gold Cup glory on Friday
But what Presenting Percy has done in the past at Cheltenham makes him worth making an exception for.
Take a moment to watch the re-runs of his previous two visits from Ireland to the Cotswolds track. Two years ago, he waltzed away with the Pertemps Handicap Hurdle Final, nonchalantly defying top weight of 11st 11lb.
He arguably topped that effort last year in the RSA Chase when blowing away the rock-solid Monalee, who finished fourth in Thursday’s Ryanair Chase, with Friday’s opponent Elegant Escape back in third.
Pat Kelly with Presenting Percy, who has an impressive record at the Cotswolds track
It is a track record which strongly suggests, despite his unconventional preparation, that Presenting Percy will cope with everything thrown at him by 15 rivals headed by Colin Tizzard’s 2018 Gold Cup winner Native River and Clan Des Obeaux, the Paul Nicholls-trained King George VI Chase winner part-owned by Manchester United legend Sir Alex Ferguson.
Presenting Percy’s preparation is not the only unconventional thing about him. His trainer Pat Kelly is different, too — both off the track and on it, where the man with fewer than 20 horses in his stable has trained a winner at the last three Cheltenham Festivals.
Based in County Galway, Kelly keeps his thoughts to himself. PR is not in his vocabulary. He doesn’t talk to the media in a stand-off believed to hark back to an incident around the time Kelly twice won the ultra-competitive Galway Hurdle in the early 1990s.
There is talk of a ‘bad experience’ but no one is quite sure what over and Kelly is unlikely to elaborate. Even Presenting Percy’s jockey Davy Russell says he never talks to Kelly just before a race and claims he has never been to Kelly’s stable. Kelly repelled all attempts to interview him on TV after Presenting Percy’s RSA Chase win.
The person who does the talking for the Presenting Percy team is owner Philip Reynolds, the son of the late Irish Taoiseach Albert Reynolds. The picture he paints of Kelly, whose son Tony rode as a jump jockey in Britain, makes the trainer even more intriguing.
As is the story behind how he rekindled his relationship with Kelly after a chance meeting with the trainer at a time he was struggling. In a four-season period around the turn of the century, Kelly had one winner under rules in Ireland from just over 150 runners.
Reynolds said: ‘Pat is a very quiet man and stays very much to himself. He enjoys his drink when the work is done but doesn’t go looking for trouble and doesn’t invite publicity. Behind all that — and I know everyone uses this word loosely — he’s an absolute genius when it comes to training horses.
‘I have better facilities at home for a few hunters and showjumpers than Pat has for training racehorses. ‘He has the use of what used to be a point-to-point field outside Athenry, a barn with lots of holes in the roof, I kid you not, and about 20 loose boxes and his home. It’s quite incredible.
‘For him to do what he’s done off the back of that is just remarkable. Horses respond to him and he has a technique for training horses how to jump — and jump very efficiently.
‘Pat went through a very rough time in racing and practically disappeared off the scene for a long time.
‘I ran into him seven or eight years ago at Mallow racecourse and I said to him, “We really should buy a horse for old times’ sake”. He replied, “Yeah, I’ll ring you when I have one”. Two years later, he rang me and said, “I’ve found three horses in Tom Costello Jnr’s yard, and I’d be happy to train any one of them for you”.’
The first horse they chose was Grand National-bound Mall Dini, who won the Pertemps Hurdle Final at the 2016 Festival and was second in last year’s Kim Muir Fulke Walwyn Handicap Chase.
When Kelly and Reynolds went back to the Costello emporium the following year, they bought Presenting Percy, a winner of 10 of his 18 races and a horse whose Festival record is earning him cult status in Ireland.
Reynolds now owns the majority of the horses in Kelly’s stable. He says he wishes the trainer would sell himself more and widen his patronage. But that is not the Kelly way.
He is certainly popular in Galway. With unseasonal fast ground all winter preventing Presenting Percy having a chase outing, two private racecourse schooling sessions were arranged at Galway racecourse, where the track turned around their portable fences to switch from a right-handed course to a left-handed one like Cheltenham.
It was all part of the unconventional but meticulous planning of Kelly. This afternoon we will see if it comes off.