Rachael Blackmore’s superb groundbreaking season continued on Tuesday when the pioneering jockey rode her first Cheltenham festival winner on A Plus Tard.
Battling it out at home to become Ireland’s first ever female champion jockey, the 29-year-old brought all that momentum to the most important week of the racing year, scoring in style on the 5-1 favourite for the Close Brothers Novice Chase.
A Plus Tard ultimately won by 16 lengths from Tower Bridge and Blackmore’s status meant the stat about her mount being the 24th festival winner to be ridden by a woman felt more than a little superfluous.
“Getting a winner here is what every jockey dreams about,” she said. “But I never thought I would be coming up the hill like that. It is a phenomenal place and it’s great to get a bit of what it feels like - I’ve got the taste for it now!”
A Plus Tard was a fourth Irish trained winner on Day One after Espoir D'Allen's dramatic Champion Hurdle success and a Willie Mullins Grade One double with Klassical Dream and Duc Des Genievres.
It's 21 years since a then Mr Ruby Walsh had his own festival first on Alexander Banquet and the man who has won more races here than anyone else reached number 59 on Klassical Dream in the Sky Bet Supreme Novice Hurdle.
But if Walsh can tell Blackmore about never forgetting your first taste of success here, the legendary rider can also remind her about Cheltenham’s capacity to inflict devastating blows.
Laurina’s fourth in the Champion Hurdle may have been disappointing. But it was nothing compared to Benie Des Dieux’s subsequent final flight fall in the OLBG Mares Hurdle with the race apparently at the mercy of the odds-on defending champion.
It was a stark echo of Annie Power’s exit in the same race four years ago and the latest high-profile final obstacle tumble for Walsh.
If their rate is statistically unremarkable in the overall then a cost of riding high-profile favourites has always been the risk of flak from those with lighter pockets than they’d been presuming on when things go wrong.
“She just slipped after the last. She got out her landing gear but wasn’t able to organise herself quickly after the last,” explained Willie Mullins afterwards.
“We get lots of faller during the year all the time. It’s part of jump racing unfortunately. It’s disappointing (after being) that far in front. But we’ve had great luck already so we’ll take what comes,” he added.
Unlike Annie Power’s year there was no Glens Melody to pick up the pieces for the Mullins team and it was Dan Skelton’s Roksana who won out at 10-1.
Mullins had earlier enjoyed the perfect festival start with Klassical Dream landing the Supreme at 6-1 while Duc Des Genievres ultimately turned the Racing Post Arkle into a 13 length rout under Paul Townend.
“Three weeks ago I’d just hoped we’d get a winner here and survive!” Mullins said afterwards. “But I think the ground has made all the difference.”
Morning rain turned the going soft and Duc Des Genievres notably thrived on it, giving Townend a ninth festival success.
“His jumping was electric. There was a lot of pace on paper and I was undoubtedly planning on leaving them to it. But this horse travelled so well and jumped his way there. I was able to take him back coming down the hill which you can’t do very often around here,” Townend said.
Since A Plus Tard beat Duc Des Genievres earlier in the season, such a Grade One form boost undoubtedly helped Henry De Bromhead’s runner start favourite for his handicap.
Blackmore’s landmark feat inevitably grabbed attention but it was a sixth festival victory for De Bromhead.
“We hoped he was better than his mark suggested. He looked tapped for toe at Punchestown the last day over two and a half. He seemed to get a fair mark so we gave it a go,” the Waterford trainer said.
“I’m delighted for Rachael and I’m lucky to be associated with her. She’s just a brilliant rider,” he added.
An incident packed four-mile National Hunt Chase ended in a prolonged duel up the hill that saw the Jamie Codd ridden Le Breuil edge out Paul Nolan’s Discorama by half a length.
Codd had been committed to riding in the race for Gordon Elliott. But when that plan was shelved a speculative phone call to Le Breuil’s trainer Ben Pauling yielded an eighth festival winner for the former champion amateur.
“I was fortunate Ben had no one to ride the horse. Two days later he might have found someone else and I’d be sitting in the weighroom,” Codd conceded.