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Arguably the biggest racing-based meeting in the National Hunt schedule, Cheltenham Festival has been and gone in what turned out to be yet another memorable occasion in the horse racing calendar, especially given the fact that fans were able to return following 2021’s races being held behind closed doors.
Throughout Cheltenham’s rich history, Ireland has had several success stories at the festival. Ireland’s very best jockeys and trainers have ventured over to England to catapult themselves to further glory on one of the most famous stages of them all. This year was no different, as instantly recognisable names from Irish horse racing aimed to race their way to success and continue Ireland’s hugely successful time of it at the four-day festival.
Usually coinciding with Saint Patrick’s Day and proving to be extremely popular with Irish race goers, Cheltenham Festival is always an unforgettable occasion. This year’s event was no different either, especially for Ireland’s talented contingent. But overall, how did Irish jockeys and trainers fare at Cheltenham and what were the Irish highlights from an occasion which first took place in 1860? Let’s look at some of them below.
Rachael Blackmore made even more history
On the whole, Ireland dominated at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, with Rachael Blackmore stealing the show in particular. The female jockey produced an emphatic performance to reign supreme in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and further cement herself as one of the greatest female jockeys ever. Her win, which came aboard A Plus Tard, was a sweet moment considering Blackmore finished second in last year’s race.
On winning the Gold Cup, Blackmore said: “When I took out my license, I didn’t think I would be riding at Cheltenham, let alone a favourite in the Gold Cup. I never even dreamt I could be doing this and I am. What I’m doing now is a dream I could never allow myself to have because it was not even in my reality. You can never dream too big because this is something I never thought would be possible.”
As a result of Blackmore’s victory, six of the last seven winners in the festival showpiece, including each of the last four, have been trained across the Irish Sea and further highlight the evident gulf between British and Irish horse racing at the moment.
The Irish secured the Prestbury Cup
Another notable success story from this year’s festival is undoubtedly when Sean O’Keeffe, Patrick Mullins, Mark Walsh and Mark McDonagh produced a number of emphatic displays to bring home the Prestbury Cup, a competition that essentially puts the winners from the four days of the Festival up against each other, with each victor being tallied up depending on the country in which they are trained. Thankfully, for Irish horse racing fans, the nation’s strong crop of talent managed to see off their rivals to bring home the iconic trophy and highlight once again just how strong Irish horses and trainers are right now.
Paul Townend capped off a brilliant week
On the final day of Cheltenham, Paul Townend managed to cap off a fruitful week by securing the Jockeys Title for most race wins. The leading jockey for the 2022 Cheltenham Festival rode his way to numerous successes on Wille Mullins-trained horses, with Mullins also having a successful time and being named the leading trainer for the ninth time in Cheltenham Festival’s rich history.
On being crowned the leading trainer at Cheltenham Festival, Mullins, who has become a dominant force in horse racing, said: “I’m delighted with the whole team and I’m going to accept the award with all my team because they are the ones who do it in the background leaving me free.”