Irish Dominate Again At Cheltenham
Another Cheltenham Festival. Another Irish bonanza. Irish horses and professionals again emerged as the dominant forces at Cheltenham 2022. Some figures to illustrate the four days:
Over half of the week’s winners (15) were bred in Ireland.
18 of 28 winners were trained in Ireland.
Irish-breds supplied the most G1 winners with six.
Ten of the 28 winners were Irish point-to-point graduates.
Twelve winners were catalogued in Irish sales with 10 of those changing hands.
Willie Mullins set a new record for training 10 winners at the meeting to equal the total achieved by the British output.
TUESDAY 15 MARCH
The crowds gleefully returned in their tens of thousands to Prestbury Park with the focus of Day One trained on the irresistible partnership of HONEYSUCKLE and Rachael Blackmore in the G1 Champion Hurdle.
In truth, there was never much doubt about her maintaining her unbeaten career record, even in a stronger renewal. Her ability to jump slickly, while burning off the competition between the final two flights of hurdles, proved too potent a weapon once again and she scored by over three lengths to become the first mare to win the title on multiple occasions.
The €9,500 it cost to secure her talent and courage at Part II of the Tattersalls Ireland Derby Sale in 2017 goes down as one of best steals at a sale in modern times. Mark O’Hare, it was, from County Down, who spotted her latent ability as a store and he rode her to victory in her only points start, a romp by 15 lengths at Dromahane in April 2018. Only a few days later she changed hands to owner Kenny Alexander for €110,000 at the Goffs Punchestown HIT Sale and she remains unbeaten in her career, 15-15 under rules - 11 of those at G1 level - and €1.4m in the kitty under the stewardship of County Waterford trainer Henry De Bromhead.
Later that afternoon, BRAZIL (IRE), a first winner at the meeting for Curragh trainer Padraig Roche, foiled a major gamble in the G3 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle when proving a short-head too strong for the Willie Mullins-trained newcomer Gaelic Warrior.
BRAZIL (IRE) is from a fine line, formerly trained by Aidan O’Brien, a son of Galileo and brother to 2017 Irish Derby and St Leger hero Capri. He won once on the Flat and transferred to the ownership of JP McManus when his hurdling career commenced late last year.
Tuesday concluded with STATTLER (IRE) proving too strong in the G2 National Hunt Chase for Amateur Riders in the hands of Patrick Mullins for his father Willie. The son of the late Stowaway was bred by Cyril O’Hara of Ennel Bloodstock and was unsold at €20,000 at the Tattersalls Ireland February NH Sale in 2016. ara
Locally-based horses won the first three races on the opening day to dispel predictions of another drubbing as happened a year earlier when Irish raiders ran off with 23 of the 28 contests.
And what a statement of intent CONSTITUTION HILL made in the opener, the G1 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, careering away to win by a barely credible 22 lengths in a fast time. Timeform subsequently afforded Nicky Henderson’s gelding its highest ever rating to a novice hurdler.
CONSTITUTION HILL, sired by Blue Bresil of Glenview Stud in County Cork, was sourced as a foal at the Tattersalls Ireland November Sale in 2017 for just €16,500 by Warren Ewing and Barry Geraghty. What a snip that looks now. He finished second in his only point-to-point at Tipperary in April of last year for County Antrim handler trainer Ewing.
The Irish points sphere provided another winner when CORACH RAMBLER (IRE) benefitted from a superbly patient Derek Fox ride to snatch the G3 Ultima Chase in its final strides.
A fourth British-trained winner of the day arrived in the G1 Mares’ Hurdle when MARIE’S ROCK (IRE) fended off a very strong Irish challenge. Trained by Nicky Henderson, the seven-year-old mare was bred by Dan Breen in County Tipperary and sold to her owners Middleham Park for €35,000 at the Goffs Land Rover Store Sale. She is by Milan, standing at Coolmore’s Grange Stud.
WEDNESDAY 16 MARCH
In the mid-morning the heavens opened above Cleeve Hill and conditions quickly became very testing. The going changed to ‘Heavy’ after a Queen Mother Champion Chase which was won in dominant fashion by ENERGUMENE.
Willie Mullins enjoyed a G1 treble on the day with ENERGUMENE, his first winner in the Champion Chase, playing the starring role. The eight-year-old was sold by Peter Vaughan’s Moanmore Stables in County Kilkenny for €50,000 to British trainer Tom Lacey.
The day began with a comfortable win for SIR GERHARD (IRE) in the G1 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle in the Cheveley Park Stud colours. He was bred by the late Jonathan Fitzpatrick’s Keatingstown Bloodstock in County Kilkenny. He attracted €17,000 at Goffs Foals and €72,000 as a Land Rover Sale store. He won his only points start at Boulta in County Cork for Ellmarie Holden.
Mullins bookended the meeting when FACILE VEGA (IRE) impressed in the G1 Weatherbys Champion Bumper. If ever a horse was bred for Cheltenham, this is it, as a son of six-time Mares’ Hurdle legend Quevega. He is owned by the Hammer & Trowel Syndicate who raced Quevega and sent her to leading Coolmore NH stallion Walk In The Park to produce Facile Vega, now unbeaten in his three starts and whom his trainer subsequently compared to the mighty Florida Pearl. High praise indeed.
In the midst of so many brilliant performances, it says everything about the enduring popularity of Tiger Roll (IRE) that his narrow defeat in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase to stable companion DELTA WORK provided arguably the most memorable moment of the 2022 Festival.
In an inspired move, both Gordon Elliott’s trainees, in their muddied maroon and white silks of Gigginstown House Stud, walked back to the winner’s enclosure upsides, Tiger Roll (IRE) and Davy Russell especially drawing cheers from the crowd for their valiant three-quarters of a length defeat on ground that had gone too soft. Rarely, if ever, has a runner-up received such love. Eight years after he won the Triumph Hurdle, the last line of one of the greatest ever careers has been written and one hopes a long and happy retirement awaits.
COMMANDER OF FLEET (IRE), also representing Elliott and Gigginstown, led home an Irish 1-2-3 in the Coral Cup in a first Festival winner for conditional rider Shane Fitzgerald who drove the 50-1 chance to a narrow verdict over Fastorslow. This former G1 winner over fences was bred by Patricia Coghlan and sold from Egmont Stud in County Cork at Tattersalls Ireland November Foals for €35,000 to Mount Eaton Stud in County Wexford. The latter released the gelding by the late Fame And Glory to agent Mags O’Toole at the Goffs Land Rover Sale for €47,000. He won his only points outing at Moig South in County Limerick.
Another longshot to oblige was GLOBAL CITIZEN (IRE) in the G3 Grand Annual, the two-mile handicap chase, for local trainer Ben Pauling. The win came as a nice boost for 22-year-old sire Alkaadhem who stands at Willie and Jim Murphy’s Ballycurragh Stud in County Carlow. The winner was bred by Martin Byrne and he began his career with a win between the flags at Bellurgan Park in County Louth.
THURSDAY 17 MARCH
The Irish swept all three G1 races on the St Patrick’s Day card with the reprise in the Stayers’ Hurdle by FLOORING PORTER (IRE) memorable for both the verve of Danny Mullins’ frontrunning ride and the celebrations it drew from his syndicate of ecstatic owners from Galway and Roscommon who cobbled together €6,000 following an advert on social media to buy him from the Goffs December NH Sale. Yet another example of the joy that can be found for relatively small outlays at Irish bloodstock sales.
Another Festival winner for trainer Gavin Cromwell, FLOORING PORTER (IRE), by Yeats (IRE) at Coolmore NH Castlehyde Stud, has now netted €545,000 in stakes. He was bred by Sean Murphy at Ryehill Stables in County Galway.
The day opened with perhaps the most dramatic moment of the meeting. Galopin Des Champs appeared to clear the last fence en route to what would have been the biggest winning margin of the week, but his landing gear did not deploy as normal and cruelly he parted with Paul Townend. Jumping is the name of the game, however, and BOB OLINGER (IRE) cleared the final fence under Rachael Blackmore for Henry De Bromhead and owner Brian Acheson. The winner, sired by Sholokhov at Glenview Stud, was bred by Ken Parkhill in County Meath and first caught the eye in a Turtulla, County Tipperary point-to-point.
The Festival’s leading jockey, Townend, dusted himself down and made amends in the next event, the G1 Ryanair Chase, when ALLAHO won as he pleased for Willie Mullins to provide another major crown for Cheveley Park.
Glenview Stud can reflect on a terrific week for their active stallions who supplied a third winner via THIRD WIND, sired by Shirocco, in the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle in a home-trained success for Hughie Morrison.
Veteran course specialist COOLE CODY (IRE) landed his fourth graded victory at the track in the G3 Craft Irish Whiskey Co Plate Handicap Chase. The admirable son of former Glenview stallion Dubai Destination (IRE) was bred by Tim Considine and is another to have graduated from the Irish points domain.
The G2 Ryanair Mares’ Novice Hurdle stayed in local hands, but winner LOVE ENVOI (IRE) had a distinctly Irish feel being bred by Ciaran O’Toole, sired by Westerner at Coolmore NH Castle Hyde Stud and being prepared by County Wexford handler Sean Doyle to win her only points outing before moving across the water.
FRIDAY 18 MARCH
Hitherto resolute domestic resistance finally caved on the final day of the Festival as Irish runners took out the entire programme. The day will be remembered for Willie Mullins preparing a stunning five winners, but mostly for the tearaway victory by A PLUS TARD and Rachael Blackmore in the G1 Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup.
What else can be said about the Tipperary-raised jockey who has rightly been eulogised so much over the past year or so? She deserves every plaudit. The sport owes her a debt of gratitude. It was, in a way, recompense for horse and rider having finished runner-up in the same race a year prior when stable companion Minella Indo proved too strong. This time Blackmore waited before committing her mount in between the final two fences and the pair shot clear to win by 15 lengths from Minella Indo. A repeat one-two for Henry De Bromhead in the most coveted race of all. Remarkable and a fitting climax to a vintage Festival.
The Willie Mullins Show played on a loop for most of the day and began when VAUBAN and STATE MAN both justified their lofty reputations in the G1 JCB Triumph Hurdle and G3 McCoy Contractors County Hurdle respectively with Paul Townend doing the steering.
Next up came THE NICE GUY (IRE) in the G1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, a first at the meeting for young jockey Sean O’Keeffe. This seven-year-old is unbeaten in four starts but only made his racecourse debut in a bumper late last November at Fairyhouse. How quickly he has progressed since then. Breeder Con O’Keeffe from Kilbarry Lodge Stud in County Waterford parted with him for €33,000 as a foal at Tattersalls Ireland November Sale.
Runner-up for the previous two years, it was a case of third time lucky for BILLAWAY (IRE) in the Hunters’ Chase formerly known as the Foxhunters as he ground out a last-gasp victory from the tiring Winged Leader having looked set for another minor prize at best before the turn for home. Patrick Mullins never accepted defeat, however, and his mount has to be commended for his consistency having won six times and placed in ten from 18 career starts. BILLAWAY (IRE) is by Kedrah House Stud stallion Well Chosen and made €9,000 at the Goffs Land Rover in 2015.
The Mullins juggernaut rolled on in the G2 Mares’ Chase as ELIMAY edged a three-way photo under jockey Mark Walsh in the colours of JP McManus.
The Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle wrapped up the meeting with Joseph O’Brien sending out BANBRIDGE (IRE) to prevail with Mark McDonagh in the saddle. The winner is by Doyen who stands at Michael Hickey’s Sunnyhill Stud in County Kildare. He was bred by Danielle McSorley at Bregarry House Stud in County Dublin and sold to Ian Ferguson for €36,000 at Tattersalls Ireland November NH Mixed Sale in 2016 as a yearling and is another points recruit.