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.


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