The Henry De Bromhead-trained Balko Des Flos won the Grade 1 Ryanair Chase, the feature on day three of the Cheltenham Festival 2018, and in the process provided the race sponsor Michael O’Leary with his first victory in the race.
Jockey Davy Russell delivered a confident ride aboard the 8/1 chance, who travelled kindly throughout the two mile and five furlong event. The seven-year-old son of Balko kept on gamely to score by four and a half lengths from Willie Mullins’ Un De Sceaux (8/11f) in second.
Russell, partnering his third winner of the week and his 21st success at The Festival overall, said:
“Henry de Bromhead is a master at this and all credit goes to him and the team. I rode Balko Des Flos twice on heavy winter ground and he was very disappointing, then he came back and ran a real good race under Denis O’Regan at Leopardstown [December 28] and I think that last run was really important for him as he learnt a lot and it just helped him with his confidence running so well on heavy ground. Henry got him here again in this sort of form, which isn’t easy.”
Ryanair has sponsored the race since 2006 and O’Leary has owned the runner-up four times through Gigginstown House Stud – Mossbank (2008), First Lieutenant (2013), Valseur Lido (2016) and Sub Lieutenant (2017). He has also had the third in both 2015 (Don Cossack) and 2016 (Road To Riches).
The delighted winning owner said:
“I think I’ve had a runner every year since we have sponsored and we’ve had so many seconds and thirds so this is very special. It has cost me a fortune trying to win this race! It is great for Henry because he has hit the bar a couple of times with seconds and thirds. It is great to see him have a winner of a Grade One here.”
In the press conference following the Ryanair Chase, Henry de Bromhead elaborated on Balko Des Flos’ victory in the Grade One two-mile, five-furlong championship contest, stating:
“I was hoping we would run very well but I was a little bit disappointed that the ground wasn’t the usual type of Cheltenham ground, which would have been more in our favour than in Un De Sceaux’s. I thought our chances of upsetting it [the form] were slipping. But he got such a cool ride off Davy. He got into such a lovely rhythm; his jumping was brilliant.”
Asked what he thought the future might hold for Balko Des Flos, de Bromhead said:
“We’ll see what happens next. We focused on this race. There are plenty of different options coming up: Aintree, Punchestown. We’ll see. Hopefully next year he might develop into a Gold Cup horse. He ran really well behind Road To Respect over three miles at Leopardstown at Christmas. Or we’ll come back for the Ryanair again.”