Cheltenham 2021 came with a pre-warning that it would be much different to the norm and that wasn’t misplaced - a record 23 Irish-trained victories over the four days underlined an incredible festival for Irish-trained, ridden and Irish-bred horses.
Pride of place on day four went to Minella Indo, a brilliant winner of the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup for Jack Kennedy, Henry De Bromhead and Barry Maloney. He led home an Irish-trained one-two-three with stablemate A Plus Tard gallant in second and dual champion Al Boum Photo back in third.
It capped a stunning week for De Bromhead who had landed two feature races earlier in the week with two brilliant mares: the Sportingbet Queen Mother Champion Chase with Put The Kettle On, and the Unibet Champion Hurdle with Honeysuckle.
There were plenty more in between for De Bromhead and his chief rider Rachael Blackmore and they got the final day of the festival off to a flyer when Quilixios ran out a taking winner of the JCB Triumph Hurdle in the colours of Cheveley Park Stud.
Next up in the McCoy Contractors County Hurdle was Peter Fahey and Direct Bloodstock who watched their colours smuggled into contention just before the last on Belfast Banter before jockey Kevin Sexton encouraged enough effort from his mount to cause a 33-1 upset.
Gavin Cromwell has a phenomenal record with horses he travels to Britain and Vanillier, in the colours of Mrs H Keaveney, rediscovered some of his early season form to rout the field in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. It was a first win of the week for Mark Walsh who came out on the wrong side of a photo finish later in the day when his grey mare, Elimay, was outfought by the classy novice and stablemate Colreevy in the inaugural Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase for owner Niall Flynn.
It was another Cheltenham winner for Willie Mullins who went on to be the Festival’s Leading Trainer once again when Galopin Des Champs won the concluding Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Race under Sean O’Keeffe for Audrey Turley.
Colreevy’s victory brought winning jockey Paul Townend onto the three-winner mark for the week but it wasn’t enough for the Corkman to regain his Leading Rider Title at Cheltenham because so much of this week revolved around the brilliance of Rachael Blackmore.
No stranger to Irish sports audiences with a handful of Cheltenham victories also to her name, this was a seminal week. From Tuesday’s Champion Hurdle right through to Friday’s Triumph Hurdle, the Killenaule native dominated on the track and ascended into superstar status. Her final tally of six winners has only been bettered by Ruby Walsh.
An opening day saw field sizes shy of the norm, but not on quality. Willie Mullins brought an enviable record into the SkyBet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and his Appreciate It brought a dominant display to the table to win by 24 lengths from the Denise Foster-trained Ballyadam. And while that winning margin was exaggerated by the fall of the chasing Blue Lord, a stablemate of the winner, there was no doubting the superiority of the Michael Masterson-owned son of Jeremy.
In truth it was a day of scintillating shows. In the Sporting Life Arkle, Shishkin was simply brilliant but the highlight unquestionably came in the Unibet Champion Hurdle. Rachael Blackmore and Honeysuckle brought an unbeaten record and a huge reputation into the race and came out of it with both more than intact. Blackmore tracked the pace until a good jump two hurdles from home brought her to the front and she charged up the Cheltenham hill to beat compatriot Sharjah by over six lengths with last year’s victor, Epatante, back in third.
Honeysuckle had previously taken the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2020 for Blackmore, trainer Henry De Bromhead and owner Kenny Alexander, and despite her absence this week the Irish challenge still had too much for the home team in this year’s renewal. Jack Kennedy gave Caren Walsh and John Lightfoot’s mare Black Tears a beautiful waiting ride to nail the favourite, Concertista, right on the line.
Kennedy wasn’t done yet and offered up a similarly brilliant ride to nudge Galvin home in the Sam Vestey National Hunt Challenge Cup. Trained until recently by the suspended Gordon Elliott, Galvin was saddled to victory by Ian Ferguson for owner Ronnie Bartlett.
In between, a fifth Irish victory on day one came when Jeff Kidder sprang an 80-1 shock in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle for Noel Meade and Sean Flanagan, running in the colours of Albert Dravins and Eamonn Scanlon.
Day two was another incredible day for the Irish-trained horses with six of the seven races going to the visitors. Choosing a highlight is difficult: Put The Kettle On showed her bravery once again at Cheltenham to storm up the hill to take the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase for De Bromhead, jockey Aidan Coleman and the One For Luck Racing Syndicate.
Then there was Tiger Roll, rolling back the years for Gigginstown House Stud, with a stunning 18 length win in the Glenfarclas Chase under Keith Donoghue, regaining his crown at the tender age of 11.
And what of Heaven Help Us? Paul Hennessy is better known for training greyhounds and yet, with only two horses in his care, he saddled one of them, the Dublin Racing Festival winner Heaven Help Us, to win the Coral Cup under Richie Condon in the colours of John Turner.
Outside of those three there were classy victories for Rachael Blackmore on Bob Olinger for De Bromhead and owner Robcour; for Paul Townend, Willie Mullins and Susannah Ricci on Monkfish in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase; and in the closing Weatherbys Champion Bumper, Blackmore again in the winners’ enclosure, this time aboard Sir Gerhard for Mullins and owners Cheveley Park Stud.
That same combination teamed up to take the Ryanair Chase on Thursday with Allaho, who produced a simply awesome front-running display to easily land the Grade 1 chase.
In the colours of Manverton Limited, Mrs Milner continued the fine week for racemares when taking the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle for trainer Paul Nolan and jockey Bryan Cooper.
The Shunter continued his upward progression over both hurdles and fences with a swashbuckling win in the Paddy Power Plate for young rider Jordan Gainford, trainer Emmett Mullins and owner Paul Byrne.
The star-turn on Thursday though was Flooring Porter, with drama before during and after the Paddy Power Stayers Hurdle. First regular jockey Jonathan Moore made the selfless decision to stand himself down with injury and advise trainer Gavin Cromwell to put Danny Mullins in the saddle. Mullins didn’t need a second invitation and set a searching pace to see off all comers and take the big prize for the Flooring Porter Syndicate.
But the day closed out with wins for the Festival’s two brightest riding talents: Blackmore this time riding patiently to take the Partnell Properties Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle on Telmesomethinggirl for the Honeysuckle connections, and Jack Kennedy simply incredible on Mount Ida to come from nowhere and win the Kim Muir for Denise Foster and KTDA Racing.
It set the scene for another incredible day at Cheltenham for Irish horses and this afternoon’s finale confirmed what the rest of the week had suggested. A record 23 wins exceeds by four the previous high of 19 and saw 10 different Irish trainers provide winners for 20 different owners with 20 winners carrying the (IRE) suffix for being Irish-bred.
Brian Kavanagh, Chief Executive of Horse Racing Ireland said:
“A record 23 Irish-trained winners at Cheltenham is a remarkable achievement and I would like to congratulate all those who enjoyed success this week – from Rachael Blackmore, who has captured the imagination of Ireland and Britain, to Willie Mullins for another leading trainer’s title, and to all those trainers, riders, grooms, stable staff and breeders.
“What has happened on the track this week underlines the current strength and quality of racing in Ireland, in what has been a particularly challenging year with Covid. To see 20 of the winners being Irish-bred will be a source of great pride to the breeders all over the country.
“Our gratitude goes to Cheltenham and the BHA for facilitating the Irish team in a very safe environment at the racetrack and to all the staff in the Irish yards, the teams in HRI and IHRB, who made this week possible. We can now look forward to seeing many of the stars back in action at the Fairyhouse and Punchestown Festivals next month.”
Irish trained winners – Cheltenham Festival 2021
TUESDAY MARCH 16
Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1)
APPRECIATE IT (IRE) (M Masterson) Willie Mullins / Paul Townend
Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1)
HONEYSUCKLE (K Alexander) Henry De Bromhead / Rachael Blackmore
Close Brothers Mares Hurdle (Grade 1)
BLACK TEARS (C Walsh/J Lightfoot) Denise Foster / Jack Kennedy
Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3)
JEFF KIDDER (IRE) (A Dravins/E Scanlon) Noel Meade / Sean Flanagan
Sam Vestey National Hunt Challenge Cup Novices’ Chase (Grade 2)
GALVIN (IRE) (R A Bartlett) Ian Ferguson / Jack Kennedy
WEDNESDAY MARCH 17
Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1)
BOB OLINGER (IRE) (Robcour) Henry De Bromhead / Rachael Blackmore
Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase (Grade 1)
MONKFISH (IRE) (S Ricci) Willie Mullins / Paul Townend
Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3)
HEAVEN HELP US (IRE) (J Turner) Paul Hennessy / Richard Condon
Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase (Grade 1)
PUT THE KETTLE ON (IRE) (One for Luck Racing Syndicate) Henry De Bromhead / Aidan Coleman
Glenfarclas Chase (Cross Country)
TIGER ROLL (IRE) (Gigginstown House Stud) Denise Foster / Keith Donoghue
Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Grade 1)
SIR GERHARD (IRE) (Cheveley Park Stud) Willie Mullins / Rachael Blackmore
THURSDAY MARCH 18
Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3)
MRS MILNER (IRE) (Manverton Ltd) Paul Nolan / Brian Cooper
Ryanair Chase (Grade 1)
ALLAHO (Cheveley Park Stud) Willie Mullins / Rachael Blackmore
Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle (Grade 1)
FLOORING PORTER (IRE) (Flooring Porter Syndicate) Gavin Cromwell / Danny Mullins
Paddy Power Plate Handicap Chase (Grade 3)
THE SHUNTER (IRE) (Paul Byrne) Emmet Mullins / Jordan Gainford
Parnell Properties Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 2)
TELMESOMETHINGGIRL (IRE) (K Alexander) Henry De Bromhead / Rachael Blackmore
Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Champion Chase
MOUNT IDA (IRE) (KTDA Racing) Denise Foster / Jack Kennedy
FRIDAY MARCH 19
JCB Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1)
QUILIXIOS (Cheveley Park Stud) Henry De Bromhead / Rachael Blackmore
McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3)
BELFAST BANTER (IRE) (Direct Bloodstock Ltd) Peter Fahey / Kevin Sexton
Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1)
VANILLIER (H Keaveney) Gavin Cromwell / Mark Walsh
WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase (Grade 1)
MINELLA INDO (IRE) (Barry Maloney) Henry De Bromhead / Jack Kennedy
Mrs Paddy Power Mares' Chase (Grade 2)
COLREEVY (IRE) (N Flynn) Willie Mullins / Paul Townend
Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle
GALOPIN DES CHAMPS (A Turley) Willie Mullins / Sean O’Keeffe