Magners Cheltenham Festival Roundup
The Cheltenham Festival never fails to throw up emotion tales but this year set a precedent in the “weep stakes”. The magnificent Al Boum, provided Irish trainer Willie Mullins with a first victory in the G1 Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup. Mullins who is the Festival’s most successful trainer with 65 winners over several decades, has made 26 attempts to win the Gold Cup, finishing second six times.
“I had resigned myself to never winning a Gold Cup,” said Mullins, whose father Paddy Mullins trained Dawn Run to win in 1986. It was also a first Gold Cup win for Irish jockey Paul Townend who has ridden for Mullins since he was 17 years old.
It was a number of formidable efforts by women which really stirred the souls this year. There was the winning owner of Klassical Dream, Joanne Coleman, whose husband had died from bone marrow cancer just nine months earlier. John Coleman who sadly never lived to see his horse race and had never had a Festival winner was there “in spirit” though. Joanne carried his ashes in her handbag. Another widow is the spotlight was trainer Kayleigh Woollacott, who had taken over her husband’s trainers license after he took his own life last year. Despite being one of the favourites, sadly it was not Lalor’s day to shine but we hope to see him back next year.
Bryony Frost was our favourite winner of the week and had the crowds in rapturous applause, after making history as the first female jockey to win a Grade 1 (top-level) race over jumps at The Festival. The 23-year-old claimed one of the hardest fought battles to win by little more than a length over Charlie Deutsch and Aso, trained by Venetia Williams.
Frost’s reaction to her win was one of humility and empathy and made the front pages of several newspapers. Interviewed after the race, she reflected all the glory on her horse Frodon. “I can’t explain how much I love that horse. He is the most incredible battler. When he got overtaken two out, most horses would quit, but he grabbed me by the hands and said don’t you dare give up, don’t you dare not send me into the last, I want this more than you, now come on!”
“He would not lie down. It’s a lesson for us. Sometimes you might go down but you’ve got to get up and get going again, and at the last, he was just magic. Then when he got to the front he did his usual and took it all in. Just like I did.”
An hour later, Paisley Park claimed the G1 Sun Racing Stayer’ Hurdle, for female trainer Emma Lavelle and the horse’s owner Andrew Gemmell, who has been blind since birth. The following race of St Patrick’s Thursday was won by a bold front-running performance from Lizzie Kelly who said “I watched Bryony and thought ‘that was my game plan’. When Irish jockey Rachael Blackmore claimed another Grade 1 race, making that her second win of the week, it reminded us that, in the words of leading trainer, Dan Skelton “I think it is about time we stopped talking about lady jockeys and just call them jockeys”.
Indeed the sight of Blackmore on the winners podium in Ireland is a weekly one. The 29-year-old has claimed an incredible 84 winners in Ireland and currently sits a close second behind Paul Townend in the stake to become Irish Champion Jockey. Speaking after Blackmore’s victory in the G1Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, the winning trainer Henry de Bromhead said of the jockey; “We’ve been so lucky to have her. She’s a brilliant rider. What can you say- she just wins.”
There were record crowds every day for this year’s Festival with 266,779 people attending over four days. Willie Mullins won the Leading Trainers’ title whilst Nico de Boinville finished the week as leading jockey with three wins. Rachael Blackmore finished in an impressive sixth place.