Irish in a class of their own at Cheltenham

Irish class Cheltenham Festival
16 March 2018; Leading trainer Gordon Elliott holds up eight fingers to signify his eight winners during the Cheltenham Racing Festival on Day Four of the Cheltenham Racing Festival at Prestbury Park in Cheltenham, England. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

John Doyle reflects on the 2018 Cheltenham Festival and a week to remember for Irish racing

Another Cheltenham Festival has come to an end with the Irish in the ascendancy again, winning 17 of the 28 races.

Even more significantly, Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins contributed 15 of those Irish winners to emphasise how dominant these stables have become over the last few seasons.

Despite this dominance, however, only Penhill in the Stayers Hurdle came from these stables in the big championship races.

The first day of the Festival produced a couple of stars in Footpad and Buveur D’air. Ruby Walsh gave a masterclass ride to Footpad, sitting off the strong pace and then powering through to pull right away.

This horse is a star and will be a big challenger next season for championship honours. In the Champion Hurdle, Buveur D’air had to battle hard to win his second crown.

This horse does not win by far and will no doubt have challengers to his crown next season, especially Melon who will surely improve again next season.

Irish class Cheltenham Festival
15 March 2018; Jockey Jack Kennedy celebrates winning the JLT Novices’ Chase on Shattered Love on Day Three of the Cheltenham Racing Festival at Prestbury Park in Cheltenham, England. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

The second day was huge with the big Bankers for Great Britain and Ireland running, and both Altior and Samcro delivered in style.

Altior had to overcome an injury scare early in the week and was not suited by the softer ground. He finished off his race very strongly to turn away Min in a similar manner to the Supreme two seasons ago.

Altior is a truly super horse and is probably the best currently in training, and will be back to defend his crown next season.

For the Irish, Samcro was the big banker and he was cheered to the rafters as he delivered in style. With young rider, Jack Kennedy, facing the biggest pressure ride of his young career, he kept Samcro to the outside of the field.

He travelled well and despite a slight stumble at half way, he powered into the lead round the home turn and never looked in danger after that. This is a very good horse and will go on to be a very good horse for his connections

On day three, Laurina was the star of the show on the Equine front, closely followed by Balko des Flos.

 

Laurina was ultra-dominant in the Mares Novice hurdle where she cruised round and took it up with ease to run out a very easy 18 length winner. This Mare would have won the Supreme and can be seen as the best Novice Hurdler around.

It will be interesting to see how she is campaigned next season, but if past endeavours of the Mullins Stable are a guide, she will go the Mares Hurdle route. She will be hard to beat if she does.

In the Ryanair, Balko des Flos was a really impressive winner for the Henry de Bromhead team. Davy Russell got him into a good rhythm chasing the leader before cruising straight past Un de Sceaux after the third last. He was super impressive and could improve again from here.

The final day centre piece, the Gold Cup, was the undoubted star turn of the day which ultimately turned into a two-horse race from early on.

Irish class Cheltenham Festival
16 March 2018; Jockey Richard Johnson celebrates with the Gold Cup after winning the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup Steeple Chase on Native River on Day Four of the Cheltenham Racing Festival at Prestbury Park in Cheltenham, England. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Native River assumed front running role and Might Bite tracked him closely throughout. They both jumped cleanly and accurately, putting real pressure on all the others jumping.

As the race came to its conclusion, it looked like Might Bite was going best, but when push came to shove Native River had the superior stamina and he pulled away for a decisive win.

The ride from Richard Johnson was superb and it is amazing to think it’s 18 years since he had last won the Gold Cup.

The 2018 Cheltenham Festival once again demonstrated the drama and excitement of top class National Hunt racing, but the Irish are very dominant. Currently the best horses are being purchased and kept in Ireland by the big operations.

This will turnaround again in the future, but we can enjoy the competition no matter what.


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