By Dan Walsh
There were no crowds to cheer the winners at Cheltenham this year and the record-breaking success enjoyed by the Irish contingent, an amazing 23 victories from 28 races – and numerous placings – tells its own sporting story and a strong Wexford contingent played a major role in ‘the Olympics of Steeplechasing’.
Sean Flanagan, (33), from Robinstown, New Ross, has secured a pilot’s licence recently and not only did he fly over to Cheltenham, but he also flew up the hill to gain his first festival success on Jeff Kidder at the amazing odds of 80/1 by two lengths in the Grade 3 handicap hurdle on Tuesday.
Enniscorthy trainer Paul Nolan saddled his third festival winner with Mrs Milner, (12/1) in Wednesday’s Grade 3 Pertemps Network Final. The Master of Toberona Stables previously enjoyed festival success with Noble Prince (2011) and Tony McCoy up, and earlier with Dabiroun (2005) for the O’Gorman family, Kellystown, Adamstown, and leading jockey Nina Carberry.
Jordan Gainford, (20), from Caim who learned his trade with Colin Bowe at Kiltealy, and only joined the professional ranks a few weeks ago, registered the first Cheltenham festival winner on The Shunter, (9/4 fav.) by three lengths in Thursday’s Grade 3 handicap chase. He also rode two ‘seconds’ at the festival, so what a start to his professional career!
Sean O’Keeffe, (22), from Harveystown, Taghmon, won the last race of the 2021 festival on the Willie Mullins trained Galopin Des Champ (8/1) in the conditional jockey’s handicap hurdle. Both Gainford and O’Keeffe came into racing via the point-to-point route and their racing talent began to emerge from the early stages.
The unluckiest jockey was Jonathan Moore from Adamstown. He had five booked rides at the festival, but had to give them all up when the after effects of a fall at Naas on Sunday proved problematic and he conceded his rides on the grounds that he could not do them justice at championship level. Two of them ended up in the winner’s enclosure.
Waterford trainer Henry de Bromhead won the Cheltenham Gold Cup today (Friday) with Minella Indo, a winner of the MW Hickey Memorial Chase at Bettyville Park last October. Rachael Blackmore, (31), who rode six winners to became top jockey at the festival, was in the saddle for the Wexford win that plotted his path to Gold Cup glory. She changed her mind for today’s Gold Cup and swapped allegiance to A Plus Tard who was runner-up in the big race.
It was a brilliant week for Irish racing and a sledgehammer response to the ‘loose cannons’ who were abusing their privilege of public platform to prematurely predict the demise of horse racing and dance on the stable dunghill for reasons uncalled for! Covid-19 calls on us all to hold off on the celebrations but it allows the positive mental health of satisfaction and pride in our humans and animals in times of achievement against the odds!