Racing / The Cheltenham Festival: Sporting life suits Kondrat: Ken Jones on a win that firmly silences a jockey's critics

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The Independent Online
ENTERING the parade ring, as handsome as a horse can be, the Gold Cup favourite Jodami underwent close scrutiny from the crowds on a bright afternoon.

Nobody paid much attention to The Fellow. Three times a loser in the great race, twice beaten a short head, it was generally agreed that the French challenger was history and would not trouble better contenders.

What's more, some serious doubts had been cast against the jockey, Adam Kondrat who looked misery itself two years ago after Cool Ground gained a crucial advantage in a hard-fought finish.

Kondrat did not need a better command of the English language than he possesses to be aware of the dark thoughts muttered about his horsemanship, the most hurtful being that with a different pilot, The Fellow would have entered Cheltenham's Hall of Fame. Two victories in the King George VI Chase at Kempton did not amount to very much when set against three Gold Cup defeats.

Sport can be like that. A man does his best with no small measure of talent but the breaks do not come his way and thus he is judged.

Setting off over the three miles and two and a half furlongs, The Fellow was quickly prominent and Kondrat seemed to find a way around the testing contours that allowed for a distinct lack of generosity on the part of his rivals.

A great roar always goes up when they reach the bottom of the hill and it was then that The Fellow came vividly into the crowd's mind, the crimson vest and green cap showing up among the leaders.

Coming over the last it might have been in Kondrat's thoughts that use of the whip other than as a reminder brings an admonishing frown to the face of The Fellow's owner, the Marquesa de Moratalla.

But confinement in the Chateau d'If would not have bothered Kondrat in that moment. 'I know very well how she feels about hitting horses,' he said, 'but I couldn't think about it. Coming up the hill I only wanted to win.

'Winning the Gold Cup is like winning the world championship. You have to live with criticism. Sometimes it helps when people say bad things because it makes you try harder than before.'

There was a broad smile on Kondrat's square Slavic features (he bears a resemblance to the Manchester United winger Andrei Kanchelskis) and it would remain there for a while. Brought to Lille as a boy of 10 from Poland, it appears that he comes across as something of a mystery in the weighing room.

Certainly, Kondrat repaid the faith shown him by The Fellow's trainer, Francois Doumen, who had remained deaf to suggestions that a change might bring about prosperity in the race he had set his heart on winning.

Plenty of hands reached out for Doumen as he followed The Fellow into the winner's enclosure. On his face and that of Kondrat there was all of sport. The triumphs, the failures, the determination to try again. Who was it who said that in the long run, persistence counts for more than genius?