Saturday, 1 September 2018

Cheltenham Festival 2017: Gordon Elliot Makes His Mark

For once, the Festival started poorly for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh, who were both winless after the first two days. However, four winners on Thursday, all trained by Mullins, were enough to give Ruby Walsh his fifth jockeys’ title in a row. Willie Mullins saddled two more winners on Friday, for a total of six, but was pipped at the post by Co. Meath trainer Gordon Elliot, who lifted his first leading trainer award. All in all, Irish-trained horses won 19 out of the 28 races run during the four days.

Notable winners during the week included Buveur D’air in the Champion Hurdle, Special Tiara in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, Fayonagh (Elliot) in the Champion Bumper, Nichols Canyon (Mullins) in the World Hurdle and Sizing John in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Labaik, who virtually refused to race in his last race before the Festival and his next race afterwards, set the tone for the week, quickening clear to win the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at odds of 25/1 for Gordon Elliot and Jack Kennedy. The 3/1 favourite, Melon, trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Ruby Walsh, could only finish second, in the first of several notable reverses during the week.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Cheltenham Festival 2016: When Irish Eyes Are Smiling (Again)

Cheltenham Festival 2016
No surprises for guessing the leading trainer and leading jockey at the Festival in 2016; Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh once again carried all before them, as they’d done for the last three years running, with seven winners apiece during the four days. Mullins’ haul also helped Irish trainers to a final tally of 14 winners, equalling the record achieved three years earlier.

The Stan James Champion Hurdle went the way of Annie Power, but Sprinter Sacre took the Queen Mother Champion Chase, Ballyandy the Weatherbys Champion Bumper and Thistlecrack the Ryanair World Hurdle for the home team before Don Cossack headed a 1-2-3 for Irish-trained horses in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup. The 9-year-old, who’d won his last six completed starts since finishing third in the Ryanair Chase the previous year, was pushed out to beat the Mullins-trained pair Djakadam and Don Poli by 4½ lengths and 10 lengths.

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Cheltenham Festival 2015: Novice Coneygree Wins Gold Cup

Cheltenham Festival 2015
The contest for leading trainer and leading jockey was over almost as soon as it had started, with Willie Mullins saddling three of the first four winners, all ridden by Ruby Walsh. Douvan, in the William Hill Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Un De Sceaux, in the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy, and Faugheen, in the Stan James Champion Hurdle, all won with the minimum of fuss. So, too, did Vautour, for the same connections, in the JLT Novices’ Chase two days later and that was that as far as the leading jockey title concerned. Mullins, though, added another four more winners to set a new record of eight wins by a single trainer at the Festival.

Other notable winners during the week were Dodging Bullets in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, Moon Racer in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper and Cole Harden in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle. The headline story, however, was the victory of Coneygree, trained by Mark Bradstock and ridden by Nico De Boinville, in the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup. The 8-year-old, having just his fourth start over fences, became the first novice to win the race since Captain Christy in 1974.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Cheltenham Festival 2014: Six of the Best for Quevega

Cheltenham Festival 2014
In 2013, Ruby Walsh announced that his decade-long association with Paul Nicholls would end and, consequently, the Cheltenham Festival in 2014 was his first as stable jockey to Willie Mullins. Not that it made much difference, because the partnership were off the mark at the first time of asking – as they had been the previous year – with victory for Vautour in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. The story on day one, however, belongs to another Mullins-trained runner, Quevega, who made it 6-6 in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle, for which she had started favourite on all six occasions, the last four at odds-on.

Willie Mullins was also on target with Faugheen, ridden by Ruby Walsh, in the NIM Novices’ Hurdle and Don Poli, ridden by Michael Fogarthy, in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle. Mullins and Walsh were crowned leading trainer and jockey, respectively, for the third year in a row.

Other notable winners during the week were Jezki in the Stan James Champion Hurdle, Sire De Grugy in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, Silver Concorde in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper, More Of That in the Ladbroke World Hurdle and Lord Windermere in the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup. The latter was trained by Jim Culloty, better known as the jockey of Best Mate, who won the Blue Riband event in 2002, 2003 and 2004.

Friday, 11 May 2018

Cheltenham Festival 2013: Sprinter Sacre Reigns in Queen Mother

Cheltenham Festival 2013
Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins set out his Festival stall early in 2013 with a treble on day one. Champagne Fever, the winner of the Weatherbys Champion Bumper in 2012, won the William Hill Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Hurricane Fly regained his title in the Stan James Champion Hurdle, reversing 2012 form with Rock On Ruby, and the admirable mare Quevega won the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle for the fifth year running.

All three were ridden by Ruby Walsh, but Mullins’ son, Patrick, joined the party early on day two, making up 6 lengths on the run-in to win the John Oaksey National Hunt Chase on Back In Focus, also saddled by his father. Mullins Snr. and Walsh added Briar Hill – unbelievably a 25/1 chance – in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper later in the day to their respective totals and that was enough for the pair to take the leading trainer and jockey titles.

Elsewhere, Sprinter Sacre turned the Queen Mother Champion Chase into the anticipated procession, barely coming off the bridle to win by 19 lengths, Solwhit won the Ladbrokes World Hurdle and Bobs Worth won the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup. The hitherto unbeaten Our Conor, trained by Dessie Hughes and ridden by Brian Cooper, was the easiest winner of the JCB Triumph Hurdle for many a year, effortlessly drawing clear in the closing stages to win by 15 lengths.