Cheltenham: Porter floored on the double as Flooring Porter wins again

Horse bought for €6,000 romps home to the St Patrick’s Day delight of his supporters

Cheltenham does not do fairytales, Michael O'Leary declared after Tiger Roll, in his last race, was pipped at the post by stablemate Delta Work in the rain and mud on Wednesday.

Tell that to the supporters and owners of Flooring Porter after the seven-year-old won the Grade One Paddy Power Stayers' Hurdle on Thursday for the second year in succession.

On St Patrick’s Day, when so many of the crowd were wearing green, the 30 supporters of the Flooring Porter syndicate from Roscommon and Galway were conspicuous in their black and white scarves, the colours in which their horse had been ridden to victory.

By the end of the race, they could be heard across Cheltenham as they deliriously shouted the horse home in front of 73,754 fans, another daily record attendance.

Last year, Flooring Porter’s first victory was played out against an empty grandstand because of the Covid-19 pandemic. This time, the horse was cheered back into the winners enclosure to the sounds of Walking in a Flooring Porter Wonderland.

The horse was bought for €6,000 on social media by a syndicate of four men from Galway and Roscommon in 2018. Ned Hogarty does flooring for a living in Galway city; Kerril Creaven and Alan Sweeney ran The Countryman pub in Ballinasloe, Co Galway. Hence the name. Alan's father Tommy also joined the syndicate.

One wouldn't buy a fetlock of some of the horses competing at Cheltenham for that type of money. They hoped he might win the odd handicap race at Roscommon or at Kilbeggan. Cheltenham was a fantasy.

"There will be porter drank tonight alright. We are nearly floored as it is," declared Tommy Sweeney. "We used to be thinking that if he ever ran in Galway (Races), that would be our ambition."

Flooring Porter breeder Sean Murphy was hoarse with excitement. "I thought last year sitting at home with my mum and dad it was magic, but I said, 'I'm going this time regardless'," he said.

“To come here and have your horse win and the atmosphere and the craic, this is magic. This in unbelievable. This is Cheltenham.”

Wednesday was one of the worst days anyone can remember at Cheltenham with almost an inch of rain falling. St Patrick’s Day, by contrast, was dry and spring-like.

Leprechaun suit

Everybody seemed to be wearing a touch of green from a sprig of shamrock to, in the case of Denis Courtney from Cork, a leprechaun suit. He claimed to have bought his with winnings from previous Cheltenham festivals down the years.

Some of the most conspicuous wearers of the green were not the Irish visitors but their English hosts. Queen Elizabeth's granddaughter Zara Tindall wore a long green woollen coat. "I'm wearing green, I don't wear it that much so I'm excited," she said. Her mother Princess Anne, who was there, did not similarly enter into the spirit of the day.

Raymond Gilbourne from Millstreet, Co Cork trumped them all by dressing as a walking, talking Irish tricolour.

He teamed a green velvet jacket and waistcoat with a green bowtie, white shirt and orange trousers with a pair of green shoes and dyed orange shoelaces. “I bought my orange trousers in the orange trousers shop. It should be a franchise I guess,” he said. “I’m here pretty much every year. Our hosts make more of St Patrick’s Day than we do. They make us feel very welcome.”

He and his wife Gillian are regular contenders for the best dressed man and lady at various race meetings. She wore a green hat with peacock feathers and a green coat from Monsoon with a sprig of shamrock.

Former champion jockey AP (Tony) McCoy was the star attraction as he posed beside the bronze statue of himself erected in 2017. It's the only statue of a human being other than the Queen Mother at the course.

“Most people are dead before they get a statue,” he said. “The fact that I have a statue at Cheltenham and I’m still alive, what is there not to be happy about?”

Luke Gibbons from Claremorris, Co Mayo has been coming every year for 35 years with the exception of the foot and mouth crisis of 2001 and Covid-19 last year.

What is it about Cheltenham that keeps bringing him back? “It is about the Irish beating the English at the best sport in the world - horse racing. It is just the smell of the place, you get in here and it’s just crazy. When you see what happened to Rachael (Blackmore) last year and there was no crowds. This year there’s crowds. That’s what it’s all about.”