A magnificent weeks racing took place in Cheltenham last week and it was crowned by amazing performances by Irish bred and trained horses. Irish trainers scooped a record-breaking 13 of the 27 races run including six of the seven races on Wednesday. Irish bred horses won 15 races including 8 of the 12 Grade 1 races. Irish bred horses dominated the Arkle Chase, the Champion Hurdle, the Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Albert Bartlett Hurdle, with the first three home in each race bred in Ireland. In summary, a record 42 Irish bred horses finished in the first three, representing a 52% share of the win and place results, twice the amount of French bred horses who came out second best. To top it off Irish born jockeys won 22 of the 25 races with Ruby Walsh, Willie Mullins and Michael O’Leary finishing the week as leading rider, trainer and owner. This success is a massive boost to the whole Irish bloodstock industry at a badly needed time and the fact that a lot of the success came with young progressive novices suggests the future is bright for Irish national hunt racing and breeding.
There is not enough space to recount in detail the glory of every Irish bred and trained winner last week so I will just concentrate on the Grade 1 winners. Captain Chris (IRE) began the Grade 1 haul when winning the Arkle from Finians Rainbow (IRE) and Realt Dubh (IRE). Trained by Philip Hobbs for Grahame & Diana Whateley, Captain Chris was bought on their behalf by Aiden Murphy for €250,000 at Tattersalls Ireland Derby Sale. Apart from being a fantastic physical specimen, being a son of Kings Theatre and former top class race-mare Function Dream (by Strong Gale) helps explain his lofty purchase price as an unbroken 3yo. It is often said that owning a Cheltenham winner is worth any money so you could now say he was good value! Philip Hobbs is already eyeing up next seasons King George at Kempton but we may see the Noreen Walsh bred 7yo at Punchestown before that.
Hurricane Fly (IRE) had missed the last two Festivals through minor injury but he made up for lost time when beating the gallant Peddlers Cross (IRE) and Oscar Whisky (IRE) in a thrilling renewal of the Champion Hurdle. It was a first Champion Hurdle for both Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh and a victory both will savour. Various so called pundits on the run up to Cheltenham were making an issue out of the fact that Montjeu had never sired a Cheltenham winner. A.) Montjeu is not meant to be siring Cheltenham winners and B.) he has now sired two! (Noble Prince in the Jewson). Hurricane Fly is a great Champion and has now won eight Grade 1 hurdles. His ability to quicken off a lightening fast pace is his crucial asset and he has given his owners, the Creighton and Boyd family some memorable days. He was sold at Goffs as a yearling when consigned by the Irish National Stud. He began his flat racing career in France before being sourced for Willie Mullins by Richard Hobson. The runner up Peddlers Cross (by Oscar) deserves equally as much praise as the winner. A beautifully made horse who looked fantastic in the preliminaries, he won a 4yo point to point in Liscarroll before rattling off seven in a row for Donald McCain and owner Tim Leslie. He lost absolutely nothing in meeting defeat for the first time and is a horse of immense ability.
Irish bred horses got off to a great start on Wednesday when Davy Russell drove home First Lieutenant (IRE) to narrowly beat Rock On Ruby (IRE) in the Neptune Investments Hurdle. Trained by Mouse Morris, the strapping son of Presenting was another expensive purchase, costing Michael O’Leary €255,000 when bought by Margaret O’Toole at Tattersalls Ireland Derby Sale. However even though he has already won two Grade 1 races over hurdles one would imagine his real future lies over fences. Pat Doyle trained him to win a 4yo point to point first time out and he looks a potential steeple-chasing star. First Lieutenant was bred by Mary O’Connor and his dual bumper winning dam Fourstargale is expecting a full sibling to the Gigginstown Stud owned winner.
Bostons Angel (IRE) must be one of the toughest and most dependable horses in training and he landed his third Grade 1 when getting the better of Jessies Dream (IRE) in the RSA Chase. It was compensation for Jessica Harrington and jockey Robert Power after Oscars Well sprawled badly on landing over the last in the previous race when looking a likely winner. Bostons Angel was homebred by the late Philip Scouller and is a first Cheltenham Festival winner for his sire Winged Love who stands at Tullyraine House Stud in County Down. The runner up Jessies Dream went close to providing Gordon Elliott with his second winner of the day following Chicago Grey’s (IRE) win in the NH Chase. Elliott didn’t have to wait too long for that second winner though as Carlito Brigante (IRE) hacked up in the Coral Cup, also making it a double for Gigginstown Stud.
Just before the Coral Cup Sizing Europe (IRE) produced the performance of his life to win the Queen Mother Champion Chase in awesome style quickening away from last years champion Big Zeb (IRE) and Captain Ceebee (IRE) in a clean sweep for Irish bred and trained runners. For good measure the other Irish trained runner Golden Silver finished fourth. Sizing Europe made just about all the running under Andrew Lynch and his display of raw speed and accurate jumping was a sight to behold. It was the second winner for Lynch, trainer Henry De Bromhead and owner Ann & Alan Potts following the victory of Sizing Australia (IRE) in the previous afternoons Cross Country race. Alan Potts and his wife have been major investors in jumps horses in recent seasons and it is good to see them getting rewarded for their enthusiasm. For some reason Sizing Europe has had his detractors over the years but hopefully this dual Festival winner who also won an Irish Champion Hurdle will now get the credit he deserves. He was bred by Angela Bracken and was bought as a foal in Tattersalls Ireland by Hugh Bleahen for €9,000.
Albertas Run (IRE) is another horse that comes alive at Cheltenham and he struck for the third year in a row when landing the Grade 1 Ryanair Chase on Thursday. Successful in the RSA Chase two years ago and the corresponding race last year, Albertas Run has been a horse of a lifetime for Trevor Hemmings and Jonjo O’Neill. His jockey A.P McCoy paid tribute to the son of Accordion saying; “He has everything you want in a racehorse”. Bred by Oliver & Salome Brennan, Albertas Run was bought at Tattersalls Ireland Derby Sale for only €20,000. He has since won 14 races and well over three quarters of a million pounds.
The other two Irish bred Grade 1 winners were on Friday with Zarkandar (IRE) winning the Triumph Hurdle for Paul Nicholls. The winner was bred in Ireland by HH The Aga Khan and is by Azamour out of Zarkasha, making him a half brother to the mighty Zarkava (IRE). It was a first Festival winner for Irish jockey Daryl Jacob. The lightly raced 4yo is very classy and Paul Nicholls hopes to be back next year taking on Hurricane Fly. Barry Geraghty and Nicky Henderson had to wait until the last day to ride a winner but it was worth the wait as Bobs Worth (IRE), a horse Geraghty also raised and sold, bounded up the hill in the Albert Bartlett Hurdle beating his stable-mate Mossley (IRE) with Court In Motion (IRE) running nicely in third. Bobs Worth, by the recently deceased Bob Back was bred by Lois Eadie and was bought by Barry Geraghty as a yearling in Tattersalls Ireland for €16,500.