Irish trainers dominated at the Cheltenham Festival and ended the four days with a record 19 winners, comfortably surpassing last year’s previous best figure of 15. The season’s leading trainers were to the fore, with Gordon Elliott taking the opening two days by storm and Willie Mullins dictating matters on Thursday and Friday. Both men ended the meeting on six winners but Elliott was crowned the leading trainer at the Festival for the first time by virtue of the number of placed horses.
It was Jessica Harrington, however, who landed the biggest prize of the Festival when Sizing John, her first runner in the race, won the Timico Gold Cup, her tenth Cheltenham Festival winner. It was also a first success in steeplechasing’s blue riband for Robbie Power. The combination achieved three winners over the four days.
CEO of Horse Racing Ireland, Brian Kavanagh, highlighted the Irish success at Cheltenham : “The Cheltenham Festival has been kind to our owners, trainers and jockeys in recent years and we have certainly had a week to remember. A record 19 Irish-trained winners is a remarkable achievement. I’m sure we can look forward to seeing many of the stars back in action at the Fairyhouse Easter Festival and at Punchestown next month.”
Willie Mullins had drawn a blank on the opening two days as Gordon Elliott made an explosive start to the meeting. He recorded an opening afternoon treble with Labaik landing the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, giving 17-year-old Jack Kennedy his first Cheltenham Festival win. Apple’s Jade and Bryan Cooper, won the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle, and Tiger Roll, previously successful in the Triumph Hurdle at the meeting in 2014, became Elliott’s third winner of the day when taking the JT McNamara National Hunt Chase, giving amateur rider Lisa O’Neill a first Cheltenham Festival success and just her second winner over fences. A fourth Irish winner came in the shape of Tully East who gave Alan Fleming a first Festival winner when taking the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase under Denis O’Regan.
The opening day tally of four winners was matched on Wednesday. Carrying the Sizing John colours of Ann and Alan Potts, Supasundae saw Jessica Harrington become the most successful female trainer in the history of the Festival when taking the Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle in the hands of Timico Gold Cup hero Robbie Power. Special Tiara gave Henry de Bromhead a fourth festival success when landing the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase under Macroom, Co. Cork-born Noel Fehily, and Gordon Elliott enjoyed two late winners, both partnered by Jamie Codd. Cause Of Causes won for the third straight year at the Festival under the Co. Wexford amateur when running away with the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase which saw Irish-trained horses fill the first four places. Cause Of Causes had previously won the National Hunt Chase in 2015 and the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Chase last year. Elliott and Codd followed up in the final race of the afternoon, the Weatherbys Champion Bumper with Fayonagh who came from last to first to record a memorable win.
Thursday proved to be an exceptional day for Irish trainers who won six of the seven races, just as they had done 12 months ago. Willie Mullins was responsible for four winners on the day, repeating his remarkable opening day exploits of the 2015 Festival. He won the JLT Novices’ Chase with Yorkhill, the Ryanair Chase with Un De Sceaux, his 50th Festival winner, the Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle with Nichols Canyon and the Trull House Stud Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle with Let’s Dance. All four winners were ridden by Ruby Walsh who ended the week as the leading rider at the Festival for the 11th time. For the second year running, Co. Galway trainer Pat Kelly and Cork rider Davy Russell landed the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle for owner Philip Reynolds, this time with Presenting Percy. Road To Respect gave Noel Meade his fifth winner at the Cheltenham Festival when taking the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase, a second winner of the week for Bryan Cooper.
Irish Champion Trainer Willie Mullins was the first Irish handler off the mark on Friday when the Paul Townend-ridden Arctic Fire defied top-weight in the Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle. Townend was soon back in the winners’ enclosure when partnering the Mullins-trained Penhill to success in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. From Midleton, Co.Cork, Townend has now six Cheltenham Festival winners to his name. To add to the success of Sizing John in the Timico Gold Cup itself, the meeting finished on a high for Irish trainers as Champagne Classic secured a first leading trainer award for Gordon Elliott with success in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle. Elliott’s sixth winner of the week was ridden by J. J. Slevin from Kiltrea, Caim, Co. Wexford, and was partnering his first winner at Cheltenham. The 28th and final race fittingly went to Ireland with Jessica Harrington’s Rock The World, third in the race last year, coming out on top in the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase giving Robbie Power the fourth Festival success in his career.