Irish and British share the glory on a day of lookers

Father and son Mullins win lifts Irish tally to seven

Thu, Mar 14, 2013, 08:31

Some people say horse racing is cruelty. You can see what they mean, witnessing a line of best-dressed ladies shivering in wedding frocks or sinking into the mud in four-inch heels. The things women have to do for a beauty treatment voucher.

It was truly a case of the hardship stakes at Cheltenham yesterday as entrants in the annual Ladies’ Day competition tried to grab the judges’ attention in temperatures at near freezing point.

“I’m jealous of the ones with the little hipflasks,” confessed Mary Heron, from Rosscarbery, west Cork, who entered in a lilac coat from Irish designer Fee G. A nurse living and working in Bristol, she won the best accessories category, a victory helped by her own hat design. “I just like dressing up,” she said, admitting sheepishly that the fashion on English racecourses had a slight edge on that at home.

In something of an anomaly, Ladies’ Day at Cheltenham is run on the same day as the Queen Mother Champion Chase, named after a woman who wouldn’t have been seen dead on a racecourse except in a sturdy pair of flats.

The race in question was won by another looker in Sprinter Sacre. The seven-year-old is not just the top-rated horse in National Hunt but he’s an “incredibly good-looking horse”, his misty-eyed trainer Nicky Henderson declared. “He just says ‘look at me’.”

The win was greeted with a partisan roar from the home crowd but it went down as a special win too for Meath man Barry Geraghty. The Irish cheer didn’t end there, with Jim Culloty ’s Lord Windermere and Gordon Elliott ’s Flaxen Flare giving their respective owners their first wins at the festival.

But by evening-fall the day belonged to Willie Mullins again, with a double that included his eighth Cheltenham bumper victory through Briar Hill, lifting the Irish victory tally this year to seven.

It more than made up for the disappointment of the defeat of his festival banker Point Alexandre. Among those cursing that horse’s underperformance was Conor Murphy, the 29-year-old Cork man who made headlines last year for winning £1 million on a £50 accumulator.

He had another accumulator this year involving “obvious” Tuesday winners such as Simonsig and Quevega but “the dream of another million just ended there with Point Alexandre; he has f***ed everything up,” he laughed.

The sweetest story of the day was in the opening, however, when Mullins’s son Patrick steered Back In Focus to victory in the amateur steeplechase.

Willie Mullins won the race twice on horses trained by his father, the late Paddy, and the 23-year-old described the feeling of victory yesterday as “a fairytale”.

“Since I was very young there were two pictures on the wall at home; my dad winning the four mile on Hazy Dawn and Macks Friendly. To be up there beside him means a lot.”

The Mullins dynasty is in safe hands.