Ireland ended the Cheltenham Festival with a record-breaking 14 winners and 20 Irish-bred triumphs which included every winner on the final day.
The afternoon started in the most spectacular of fashion with the Dessie Hughes-trained Our Conor storming to an unbelievably impressive success in the JCB Triumph Hurdle under Bryan Cooper, who has announced his presence on the big stage in no uncertain terms this week.
Cooper, 20, had claimed his first Festival winner on Thursday with Benefficient and he again teamed up with Tony Martin to land the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle on Irish-bred Ted Veale. Third home Manyriverstocross was also Irish-bred.
Albert Bartlett winner At Fishers Cross may be trained in Wales by Rebecca Curtis, but the Tony McCoy-ridden, JP McManus-owned gelding is Irish-bred. African Gold (second), Inish Island (third) and O’faolains Boy (fourth) were all Irish-bred.
The week’s biggest prize, the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup, was another to go to an Irish-bred as Barry Geraghty came up the hill for victory on Nicky Henderson’s Bobs Worth ahead of Willie Mullins’ Sir Des Champs. All the sweeter for Geraghty was that he bought the horse as a yearling.
It was Ireland again as Salsify made the most of real misfortune for Jane Mangan on the run-in to claim back-to-back wins in the Foxhunter for trainer Rodger Sweeney and his rider son Colman. The next two home Divine Intavention and Cottage Oak were both Irish-bred.
Success for Irish-breds continued with the Paul Nicholls-trained Salubrious in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Race.
In a fitting end, it was the McManus colours so well associated with the injured JT McNamara that were carried to victory in the final race of the entire meeting by Alderwood and Tony McCoy. Winner at the Festival last year, Alderwood just proved too strong for Kid Cassidy, another Irish-bred in the McManus colours.
Despite all the success, Horse Racing Ireland chief executive Brian Kavanagh stressed all thoughts were for McNamara.
He said: “Our main concern at present is for the welfare of John Thomas McNamara. The thoughts and prayers of everyone in racing are with him and his family.”
Bobs Worth justified 11/4 favouritism in Gold Cup
Not sighted since landing the Hennessy on his only start of the season, the eight-year-old was defending an unbeaten record of four previous wins at Cheltenham but looked in trouble when Long Run and Sir Des Champs kicked rounding the home turn.
But Barry Geraghy didn’t panic on Bobs Worth and his stamina kicked approaching two out, before taking the lead at the last, and he stuck to his guns to pass the post seven lengths clear of Sir Des Champs.
Ted the king of the County
Tony Martin and Bryan Cooper teamed up for their second Cheltenham winner in two days when Ted Veale reeled in long-time leader Tennis Cap in the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle.
After the victory of Benefficient in the Jewson on Thursday, Cooper followed up his first win at the Festival in the opening Triumph Hurdle on Our Conor to make it a dream week for the young jockey.
Cooper said: “I have to pinch myself. I can’t believe this is happening. You dream of this when you’re small. I led up my dad’s winner Total Enjoyment when I was 10.
“He travelled everywhere and I never missed a beat. I got lovely splits and Tony told me no matter how well you are going hold on as long as you can. With the ground he was worried he might not get home. I just kept sitting and sitting and it paid off.”
Martin said: “There’s only one winning post and I hoped he would get there and not come down at the last. Last year he had a couple of disappointing runs so we put him by for Leopardstown but that did not work out because of the ground. It was all against us. He travelled well and fortunately today it all worked out.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have (Ruby) Walsh and (Paul) Carberry working for me for a long time. I was disappointed when they weren’t around (to ride Ted Veale), but this man is definitely a good deputy.”
Solwhit crowned World champion
Paul Carberry is regarded as one of jumping’s finest talents, but it was only at the advanced age of 39 that he was finally able to claim success in a Cheltenham Festival championship event by guiding Solwhit clear in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle.
The jockey required an injection after agitating an old problem in a fall on Tuesday and he hardly had a mount with a pristine medical record either, as trainer Charles Byrnes had only managed to fit a couple of runs into the gelding during two years.
For quite a low-key performer, Solwhit has now won seven Grade Ones including an Irish Champion and an Aintree Hurdle
Sacre lights up Cheltenham
Sprinter Sacre set alight the Cheltenham Festival with a spine-tingling victory in the Sportingbet Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Nicky Henderson’s seven-year-old (1-4 favourite) stretched his unbeaten record over fences to eight with a visually astounding display in the feature race of the day, dismissing the best of the opposition, former race winner Sizing Europe, by 19 lengths in the hands of Barry Geraghty.
The British Horseracing Authority’s handicapper John de Moraville rated the performance at 188, 2lb higher than Master Minded five years earlier and just 2lb short of Kauto Star, the highest-rated horse in the history of the jump classifications.
Henderson, who won the race with Finian’s Rainbow last year and was greeting his 49th Festival winner, said: “That was probably the worst five minutes of my life. Hopefully Barry had fun, but I’m glad it’s over.
“It does leave you speechless. What he looks like, and what he does at home, is one thing, but what he does out there is something totally unique. He just has that way of doing it. He finds it ridiculously easy - he just loves doing it.
“We’ve talked about Punchestown, and I’m sure Richie Galway (Punchestown manager) would like us to talk about it a bit more. He is a two-miler and I don’t think Aintree really will be him. There’s a Grade One in Ireland (Boylesports Champion Chase) and maybe we go for that and then wrap him up.”
Elliott in Winter wonderland
Flaxen Flare gave Ireland another winner at the Cheltenham Festival with a convincing 25-1 success in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
The four-year-old looked full of running when he travelled into fourth place two out, at which stage Davy Condon went for broke and the complexion of the race changed dramatically. Flaxen Flare swept clear and extended away to score with complete authority.
Trained in County Meath by Gordon Elliott, the gelding skipped four and a half lengths ahead of Caid Du Berlais at the line, with Ptit Zig third and Milord fourth.
Hurricane storms to victory
Hurricane Fly regained his Stan James Champion Hurdle crown with what was in the end a commanding victory at the Cheltenham Festival.
There was a stage in the race when the Willie Mullins-trained 13-8 favourite did not seem to be going well at all under Ruby Walsh as Rock On Ruby bowled along in front, but he was travelling strongly again when they reached the business end of the contest.
He led on the turn for home and jumped the last in front, and though Rock On Ruby kept on in determined fashion, Hurricane Fly had enough in the locker to dig deep and score by two and a half lengths. Countrywide Flame ran a great race to finish third, another length and three-quarters away.
Walsh said: “I can’t say I was overly confident - from the word go he didn’t travel as well as he can. He has an unbelievably big heart for a small horse. He made a mistake or two, but he’s as tough as nails.
Red-hot Fever lands Supreme
Champagne Fever put up a superb front-running performance to get Ireland off to a great start at the Cheltenham Festival in the opening William Hill Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
Ruby Walsh set out to make all on the Willie Mullins-trained six-year-old (5-1), who had stablemate Un Atout for company for most of the way, with hot favourite My Tent Or Yours always close behind and looking a major threat as they turned into the straight.
There was nothing in it between Champagne Fever and the sweetly travelling My Tent Or Yours as they jumped the final flight, but the front-runner responded to every call and forged ahead up the hill to win by half a length. Jezki finished third, a further two and a quarter lengths away.
Mullins said: “He’ll go to Punchestown next and next season will all be about chasing. We’ve schooled him and he already jumps fences better than hurdles - he is electric over a fence.”
Simonsig scraps to Arkle glory
Red-hot favourite Simonsig was made to pull out all the stops to claim the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy at the Cheltenham Festival.
Unbeaten in two previous starts over fences, Nicky Henderson’s dashing grey was an 8-15 market leader and travelled powerfully throughout in the hands of Barry Geraghty. He was left in front after Overturn blundered his way over the third-last.
There was still time for a scare for odds-on backers, though, as Mouse Morris’s 33-1 outsider Baily Green tracked him into the straight, but Simonsig found enough after the final fence to seal a two-and-a-quarter-length triumph.