The Cheltenham Festival is almost upon us, as horse racing fears gear up for one of the most important weeks on the calendar.
Four days of action at the famous Prestbury Park in which the best in the business attempt to write their name in the history books. With a full-capacity crowd back again last year for the first time since 2020, the Cheltenham roar was on hand to spur the winners on, and if just a fraction of that atmosphere is recreated this year then we’re all in for a treat.
Of course, the Festival is known for its unpredictability, and at any given moment an outsider can swoop in and snatch glory. Indeed, those checking the Gold Cup betting, odds for the Ryanair Chase and the favourites for the Stayers Hurdle will know not to look past an outsider, but in the case of Rachel Blackmore, she’ll be hoping to add more glory to the big winners she picked up this time last year.
Queen of the Cotswolds
Dubbed the Queen of the Cotswolds by the punters at Prestbury Park, Blackmore made history 12 months ago when she became the first female jockey to win the Gold Cup at Cheltenham. Aboard A Plus Tard, who narrowly pipped stablemate and 2021 champion Minella Indo to first place, Blackmore secured an impressive win for Henry de Bromhead. Travelling strongly, the former Grand National winner avoided getting caught behind horses and powered clear to win by 15 lengths. It was an impressive run that reaffirmed Blackmore as one of the best jockeys in the business, and the 33-year-old was full of praise for her horse and trainer at the end of the race.
“I just can’t believe it,” she said. “I’m so lucky to be getting to ride all these kind of horses. You can’t do this without the horses and being attached to Henry’s yard is just absolutely phenomenal. To give me this horse is unbelievable I don’tknow what to say. I’ve had so many special days. I wouldn’tswap the Grand National for anything but this is the Gold Cup. I wish I had something better to say right now. I just can’t.
“You have all these plans about how things are going to work out. Racing doesn’t let that happen all the time and for some reason it’s happened to me today. I just can’t explain how lucky I feel.”
A Plus Tard
A Plus Tard comes in as one of the favourites for this year’s race, understandably at odds of 8/1, but having not raced since November’s poor showing to Protektorat at Haydock in the Lancashire Chase, you wonder if the nine-year-old is saving the best performances for the biggest occasions. Indeed, De Bromhead will be hoping for successive victories to make it a Gold Cup hat-trick, but with there is plenty of competition this year looking at the antepost standings.
Plenty of experienced horses are in contention for this year’s Gold Cup, with Willie Mullins-trained Galopin Des Champsand recent King George VI Chase winner Bravemansgamecapable of getting the job done. It will come down to the skill of Blackmore to decide if she can retain the Gold Cup or not, and it will be interesting to see the outcome of the race as perhaps the most prestigious event at the entire Festival.