As Cheltenham Returns – Mullins Provides Major Masterclass

Cheltenham Racecourse

The Cheltenham meeting returned this year with all the verve and crowds which usually accompany this racing festival which after the last two years was wonderful to see. Willie Mullins provides a trainers masterclass. As the curtain went up on the meeting with the first race, I would imagine the traditional roar of the crowd, which seemed much louder this year, could be heard several miles away? In France, show jumpers lined up for the Paris Hermes Grand Prix.

This article concentrates on what we believe were the highlights of the meeting and although all the races have their individual highlights, we look at the main races of each day. Day one saw the Unibet Champion Hurdle over 2 ½ miles in which ten ran. Jockey Rachel Blackmore, who had such a tremendous meeting at Cheltenham last year opened her account for this time around by winning this race by 3 ½ lengths from Epatante, who won the race in 2020. She was riding the favourite Honeysuckle, and last year’s winner. Honeysuckle has now won fifteen races – ALL her starts. Many predicted before the race that today would be the day the brave mare would be found out, but not a bit of it, she powered up the hill to take the race in spectacular style, and now must be considered as one of the best jumping horses of all time. Trainer, Henry de Bromhead said afterwards that “Rachael is brilliant. She had so much horse underneath her at the second-last, they are just a dream team. She was sublime and I can’t believe it. She is just amazing and we are so lucky to have them both.” Epatante, second home was ridden by Aiden Coleman and trained by Nicky Henderson.

In day two, the main race of the day was the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase. As the rain teemed down for the whole afternoon, the going changed from good to soft on day one to soft. The ground was not helped by some watering done after racing on day one, but they had no idea just how much rain was going to fall during day two, and the final three races of the day, the going changed from soft to heavy.

Nicky Henderson and Nico de Boinville couldn’t match up with the terrible ground for Shishkin

In terrible ground, seven lined up for the Queen Mother’s Chase with the favourite being Nicky Henderson’s Shishkin. The horse clearly hated every part of the race due to the ground and was eventually pulled up by Nico de Boinville after the eighth jump. This left the field open to the other six, of which Willie Mullins had two. One of those – Chacun Pour Soi unseated his rider but his other runner, Energumene Ridden by Paul Townend took the honours, although he did not jump that fluently either. Townend held his mount in the rear and although jumped rather spasmodically, did keep him out of trouble. Energumene was full of running at the end of the race and took a clear lead at the penultimate fence before jumping the last quite easily and going on up the hill to the finish. He won by a massive 8 ½ lengths from Venitia William’s Funambule Sivola ridden by Charlie Deutch, another kept out of the way in the rear of the field, but in the end, although he did briefly take the lead, was no match for the winner. The third home was Henry de Bromhead’s Envoi Allen ridden by Rachel Blackmore.

Day three saw the sun come out, and after day two’s deluge, the day was really quite spring like. There were several races which could be considered the best race of the day on day three, but we look at the Ryan Chase over 2 ½ miles and the most valuable race of the day. The ground improved considerably overnight and was given as officially soft.

Paul Townened takes the Ryan Chase and four other races

The favourite and winner of this rather pedestrian contest was Allaho, owned by the Cheveley Park Stud, rather more noted for its success on the flat, and is trained by Willie Mullins, who surprisingly had never won this particular race before. Paul Townend, the man on board took the lead from the off and Allaho cruised round the course as if he owned it, jumping all the fences competently and had the finishing power to take the race by 14 lengths – yes 14 lengths. It was a master class performance in anyone’s book. The second home was another Willie Mullins trained horse, Janidil ridden by Mark Walsh. He just beat the third home by ¾ of a length – the Collin Tizzard trained Eldorado Allen.

The fourth and final day of this Cheltenham Festival dawned foggy but dry – and with a warm sunny day forecast for the 70,000 punters attending, which came to pass. So, a fabulous setting in the Cheltenham bowl for the most prestigious race of the week, The Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup. This year there were eleven runners presented before the starter. The ground had further responded and the course going was given as good to soft, soft in places. Always considered as the ‘Blue Ribbon Race’, the Gold Cup runs over 22 fences and over a distance of 3 miles 2 ½ furlongs.

Rachael Blackmore wins two including Gold Cup making history

Rachael Blackmore was aiming to make history once again with the first female jockey to win the race. Last year she was second after choosing to ride the same horse as this, A Plus Tard when she had the opportunity to ride the winner, Minella Indo. However, she again chose A Plus Tard this time around, again rejecting Minella Indo. Would she once again regret her choice? The race started with all the eleven runners closely bunched and so it remained until three fences from home when any one of six could go on and win. Rachael kept her mount mainly out the back and out of trouble until four from the end when she jockeyed for position and came through horses. Two from the finish, she was headed by last year’s winner Minella Indo but over the final fence she rode into the lead and in the run in just kept going and left all the other runners in her dust. She won by a handsome 15 lengths. Second home was last year’s victor, Minella Indo, again like last year ridden by Robbie Power and both horses are trained by Henry de Bromhead. A remarkable achievement to train the first two home in the Gold Cup in any year, but to do it consecutively is even more remarkable. Protektorat, trained by Dan Skelton with Harry Skelton in the saddle came in third. This was Rachael Blackmore’s second win of the festival, and both are owned by The Cheveley Park Stud.

Paul Townend with trainer Willie Mullins – winners of the jockey and trainer trophy again in 2022

The top trainer of the week, with a record breaking number of wins was Willie Mullins with ten winners. He sent out the winners of the first three races of today which already put him out of touch of any of the others possible. He ended up training the same number of winners at the meeting as all the British trainers sending out winners for the whole week – an astonishing record. Paul Townend was the top jockey with five wins for the week, helped as he is a stable jockey to Willie Mullins. For the second year, the Irish trainers have given their British counterparts a good lesson in how to prepare and win races at this unique and special racing festival.

In Paris, the main headline of the weekend was the French Rubgy team taking the six Nations grand slam. However, also in Paris, the showjumpers were also having their own competition in the Hermes Grand Prix, worth over 400,000 euros. Forty eight riders lined up to take on the 1.60m top jump course.

Kevin Staut returns to the winners enclosure once again after some time

The winner was Frenchman Kevin Staut riding Cheppetta in a second round time of 35.50 seconds. This was the first time Kevin has won a major class for some considerable time. The second on the podium was from Sweden in the shape of Henrik Von Echermann riding his brilliant King Edward in 36.05 seconds and third was also from Sweden – Peder Fredricson riding Hansson WL in 36.22 seconds. The Swedes still maintaining their excellent form from last year! All three had double clear rounds along with Argentina’s Jose Marie Larocca who was the only other competitor to get a double clear. In the first round, twelve riders obtained clears to go through to the jump off. The fastest round was posted by Germany’s Christian Ahlmann in the jump off, but with one pole down, he could only manage sixth place riding Dominator 2000.

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