Balko Des Flos takes flight as Michael O’Leary finally lands a Ryanair
Owner was completing hat-trick on day three after wins for Delta Work and Shattered Love
Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary kisses Balko Des Flos after the horse won the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham. Photograph: Darren Staples/Reuters
Balko Des Flos gave Michael O’Leary’s a first win the race he sponsors by storming home in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham, with Gigginstown House horses annexing the first three races on day three .
Davy Russell, completing a quick double after winning the Pertemps Final on Delta Work in the Gigginstown colours, was always travelling well on the Henry de Bromhead-trained seven-year-old.
He ranged menacingly alongside last year’s winner Un De Sceaux and cruised into the lead three out.
After that the result was not in doubt, as the 8-1 chance asserted in great style to strike by four and a half lengths from the Willie Mullins-trained 8-11 favourite. Cloudy Dream was third for Ruth Jefferson.
Colin Tizzard’s Festival stalwart Cue Card was pulled up by Paddy Brennan before the 12th obstacle after losing his place.
Russell said: “I thought his chance had lessened with the more rain that fell, but Henry de Bromhead is a master at this.”
De Bromhead said: “Fantastic, delighted – a brilliant ride. You had to give him a chance, obviously, but I got a bit worried when the ground went soft.
“I thought his run at Christmas was very good and the lads [Gigginstown House Stud] said to put him away and go for this.
“Davy gave him a brilliant ride and he was super.”
O’Leary said: “It’s taken me 15 years to win the Ryanair, so I’m going to enjoy it. I’m going to get seriously drunk upstairs in the next couple of hours! On a serious note, it’s great for Henry. Henry has hit the bar a couple of times this week, so it’s great to see him have a winner.
“Today was our day – it’s usually Willie’s and Ruby’s.”
Un De Sceaux’s part-owner Colm O’Connell said: “We’re delighted still, it looks like he’s come back safe and sound, he’s like a family pet so that is the most important thing.
“I see Cue Card pulled up but it looks like he’s safe, too, which is what it’s all about.
“Michael has thrown plenty of darts at this race and he’s finally won it so I’m pleased for him, he’s was always eventually going to win it and it’s happened today.
“Obviously we’d have liked to win, but that’s racing. We’ve been here four times, won twice and been second twice, that’s some record.”
Tizzard stressed he would not be making any quick decision on what the future holds for Cue Card.
He said of his 12-year-old: “He has been a very brave horse for a long time. Paddy Brennan said that he never travelled on the deep, sticky ground and when they went by him he couldn’t handle it.
“You can all see walking round here he is bright as a button. Paddy had to make a split decision. We are not going to make any rash statements on it. We will take him home and see how he is. We won’t mention that word [retirement], but it is getting closer all the time.
“We will get him home before we make any decisions.”
Delta Work just held Glenloe after a nail-biting duel on the climb to the line in the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle.
The 6-1 shot was all out to hold his stablemate, who was sent off the 9-2 favourite.
Russell showed he was none the worse after being stood down for the last two races on the second day, after a fall from Bless The Wings, when just getting the better of Barry Geraghty by a nose.
The always-prominent Connetable was two and three-quarter lengths away in third, with a further two and a half lengths back to Taj Badalandabad in fourth.
Elliott said: “It’s a great day – the horses are flying. To have a first and second in a race like this is unbelievable.”
O’Leary admitted: “I thought we’d lost it on the bob of heads. He’s improved, he had a light weight – he had a chance.
“It was a great finish. Two master jockeys, Barry and Davy, going hammer and tongs.
“Davy is worth a couple of pounds around here, particularly in these handicaps.”
Elliott added: “I didn’t know which one to cheer for if truth be told, I was hoping for a dead-heat.
“This horses are running great, I can’t complain, so long may it last. Both of them will go to Punchestown next.”
Russell, winning the race for the third year in succession after Mall Dini in 2016 and Presenting Percy 12 months ago, said: “I thought at the back of the last I was going to go away and win [well], but Barry’s horse is very tough.
“I had a great spin the whole way round – there wasn’t an inch to be given. It was a very competitive race.”
Geraghty said: “He’s a big baby. He just looked around [at the last flight] and lost a bit of momentum.”
Shattered Love gave O’Leary and Elliott a perfect start in the JLT Novices’ Chase.
The seven-year-old mare was driven to lead between the last two fences by Jack Kennedy, after favourite Terrefort had set sail for home.
Shattered Love (4-1) jumped the last well and powered up the hill to give teenager Kennedy his third winner at the meeting, with Benatar third.
Kennedy said: “She’s a super mare and she’s only been improving. She does everything so easily.
“She jumped and travelled great. She’s done it very well in the end.”
Elliott said: “She’s a good, big, tough mare – she looks like she’s a gelding
“It’s brilliant. I can’t believe it. We knew she’d stay. She’s won two Grade Ones now, so it’s brilliant.”
O’Leary said: “She’s a huge, great mare. The mares’ allowance, which I don’t always agree with, was very helpful there.
“She’s always been a very good jumper – she beat Presenting Percy at Punchestown earlier in the season. She’s just a very good mare. She’s built like a gelding, she’s really come into her own over fences.
“It’s another great training performance from Gordon.”
Penhill struck for the second year running at the when springing a 12-1 surprise for Mullins in the Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle.
Successful in the Albert Bartlett in 2017, Penhill had been absent for 323 days but shrugged off his race-rustiness to give Mullins his sixth winner of the week and put him one ahead of Elliott again.
Ridden by Paul Townend, Penhill carried the colours of Brighton chairman Tony Bloom home by two lengths from Supasundae, following a scrap up the hill. Wholestone stayed on strongly for third.
Townend said: “He’s got a massive engine.
“It was some training performance. I got there too soon and luckily he kept going. He jumped rusty enough early on but when I needed him at the last he produced.”
Mullins said: “It’s fantastic for connections. I want to put him away now for Cheltenham next year.
“He’s not suited to training to the Flat and he’s able to do this job so well.”
The Storyteller continued an incredible day for Russell and Elliott when coming with a late run to snatch victory in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase.
It was a third winner of the afternoon for both jockey and trainer – but it was only in the last few strides the well-backed 5-1 favourite broke the heart of the brave Splash Of Ginge.
Nigel Twiston-Davies’s admirable 10-year-old was always to the fore and landed in front over the last, but The Storyteller was relentless and despite taking a wayward course, was straightened up by Russell to score by a length and three-quarters.
Elliott said: “Davy gave the horse a peach. He was my nap of the meeting last year in the Martin Pipe, but he went wrong so it’s brilliant. The horse was great. I’m absolutely thrilled.
“Winning the Gold Cup [with Don Cossack in 2016] was something else, but just to be the position I’m in with the owners I have and the staff I have is unbelievable – this is brilliant.
“We’re lucky to have Davy riding for us – it’s been a brilliant week for the Irish.”
When asked about the secret of his success, the Co Meath handler said: “Good horses, good owners, good staff – keep it simple.”
Laurina looked different class as she toyed with the opposition to run out an impressive winner of the Trull House Stud Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.
Willie Mullins has now won all three runnings of this race and the 4-7 favourite lived up to her reputation as she pulled away from the rest of the field from between the last two flights.
Townend, who like Mullins was completing a double after the victory of Penhill, Laurina crossed the line 18 lengths clear of Cap Soleil.
Champayne Lady was a short head away in third and the pacesetting Maria’s Benefit fourth.
Mullins, becoming the most successful trainer in Festival history with 61 victories, said: “She’s a fine, big mare. If there was ever going to be a mares’ chase in Cheltenham, she’s the type of horse you’d want for it.
“Her two runs at home have been very good, but to do that against the best in the British Isles is unbelievable.
“There’s a Grade One in Fairyhouse at Easter. If she recovers we might go for that.”
1 Shattered Love 4-1
2 Terrefort 3-1 fav
3 Benatar 10-1
4 Kemboy 15-2
1 Delta Work 6/1
2 Glenloe 9/2 f
3 Connetable 33/1
4 Taj Badalandbad 40-1
1 Balko Des Flos 8-1
2 Un De Sceaux 8-11 fav
3 Cloudy Dream 10-1
4 Sub Lieutenant 18-1
1 Penhill 12-1
2 Supasundae 6-1
3 Wholestone 14-1
4 Colin's Sister 33-1
1 The Storyteller 5-1 fav
2 Splash of Ginge 25-1
3 King's Odyssey 14-1
4 Ballyalton 16-1
1 Laurina 4-7 fav
2 Cap Soleil 10-1
3 Champayne Lady 80-1
4 Maria's Benefit 9-2