DAY 4: CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL 2018
16 March 2018
Gordon Elliott and Gigginstown House Stud continued the
Irish domination of the Cheltenham Festival so far when FARCLAS won Friday’s
opener, the Grade 1 JCB Triumph Hurdle, under Jack Kennedy. Stormy Ireland led
for much of the way, racing keenly like some others, while hot favourite Apple’s
Shakira did her best to chase her down, as FARCLAS quietly crept up behind
them. Taking over from the final obstacle, he ran home strongly to win by a length
and three quarters, in an Irish-trained 1-2-3.
It was a fantastic result for Victor Connolly’s Burgage Stud
in County Carlow, the shrewd stallion master having acquired the sire of
FARCLAS, Jukebox Jury, in early January. Grey like his best advertisement, the
multiple Group 1 winner is by sire of sires, Montjeu (IRE).
Irish trainers were out of luck in the following Grade 3
County Hurdle, though on of their graduates, MOHAAYED struck for the Dan
Skelton stable. Third in the Irish 2,000 Guineas Trial and less than five
lengths behind Gleneagles (IRE) in the Curragh Classic for Kevin Prendergast,
the son of Intikhab was perhaps not the most obvious Festival contender back
then, but has been Graded-placed three times in his new career.
Colin Tizzard gained an overdue first winner of the Festival
in the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, courtesy of course and distance
winner KILBRICKEN STORM (IRE), under a well-judged ride by Harry Cobden.
Purchased after winning his point-to-point for Richard O’Keeffe, the son of
Oscar (IRE) won his novice hurdle at Wincanton and followed up in a Grade 2 trial,
before disappointing last time out.
KILBRICKEN STORM (IRE) was bred by Mrs Muriel O’Keeffe from
a family that the O’Keeffe family know well, having also bred relative St
Mellion Fairway (IRE), a Grade 2 winner over hurdles. By Oscar (IRE) and out of
a Supreme Leader mare, he was bred on the same cross as Festival regulars
Splash Of Ginge and At Fishers Cross (IRE).
Tizzard doubled up in
the race that mattered most, lifting the Cheltenham Gold Cup with his honest
chestnut, NATIVE RIVER (IRE). Under an excellent front-running ride by champion
jockey Richard Johnson, last year’s third jumped big and beautifully
throughout, never rattled by the presence of Might Bite (IRE) behind him. The
imposing favourite loomed, but could not pass, NATIVE RIVER (IRE) and his pilot
not relinquishing their lead for any amount of time. The winning margin was
four and a half lengths.
Last year, we interviewed breeder Fred Mackey ahead of Native
River (IRE)’s Gold Cup tilt (read in full here) and he told us, “I remember the day he was born-
the first thing I saw was a pair of white feet and I said to my wife, Maureen, “Well,
what in the name of God have we here? I pray it’s the first thing I see coming
up the Cheltenham hill next week.” Mackey sold his star as a foal for €6,000 at
the Tattersalls Ireland November NH Sale. He made just one start in a point-to-point
for Denis Ahern, when he was hampered at unseated at the final fence.
The Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Hurdle saw Gordon
Elliott match the eight Festival winners record that Willie Mullins set two
years previous, as Donagh Meyler rode BLOW BY BLOW (IRE) to victory in the
familiar maroon silks of Gigginstown. The Punchestown Champion Bumper winner
was an impressive Grade 3 winner over hurdles last time out and carried top
weight for his achievements. Bred by Eleanor Hadden out of a half-sister to the
great Cooldine (IRE), BLOW BY BLOW (IRE) was bought for €130,000 at the Goffs
Land Rover Sale. The son of Robin Des Champs was also a successful pinhook,
purchased for €11,500 as a foal by Kevin Ross at the Tattersalls Ireland
November NH Sale.
The Festival ended with an incredible 17 Irish-trained
winners, with Gordon Elliott crowned leading trainer for the second consecutive year,
while Willie Mullins became the most successful Irish trainer of all time at
the Festival when breaking the 60 winners mark. Irish breeders were also
outstanding in their field, leading by 14 winners, while Irish stallions sired
16 winners during the week. 13 winners also gave Irish sales companies, Goffs
and Tattersalls Ireland, much reason to celebrate.