Michael O’Leary and Gordon Elliott combine for final day Cheltenham double
Ryanair boss says seven winners during festival week has been ‘surreal’
Farclas (left) ridden by Jack Kennedy clears the last hurdle before going on to win The JCB Triumph Hurdle Race on the final day of the Cheltenham Festival. Photograph: Getty Images
The green flag will be wrapped around Cheltenham 2018 after 17 Irish-trained winners although including a little maroon trim from Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud colours might be appropriate too.
O’Leary’s status as National Hunt racing’s most successful owner was cemented with a final day double through Farclas in the Triumph Hurdle and Blow By Blow’s victory in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Hurdle.
It brought the Ryanair chief executive’s haul for the week to seven winners, a remarkable total considering he endured a Day One blank, and confirmed Gigginstown as the mainstay of the Irish raiding party.
It made a formality of the retention of Cheltenham’s Leading Owner Award and O’Leary was also the driving force behind Gordon Elliott retaining the festival’s Leading Trainer Title.
Elliott trained both Irish winners on Friday and the double made it the second most successful week ever at Cheltenham for horses trained in Ireland, two shy of last year’s record haul of 19.
“It’s been an absolutely surreal, unbelievable week. When I die, this will be the week I remember!” O’Leary joked.
“Two or three winners this week would have been fantastic. I thought we’d get nothing today. I can see some terrible luck coming. We’ll probably have blanks for the next two or three years so we’ll enjoy this,” he added.
Given the continuing investment O’Leary is putting into his great sporting passion that seems unlikely, especially considering the dividends his alliance with Elliot continues to provide.
Farclas was a maiden having just his third start over flights in the Triumph Hurdle and had ground to make up on his Willie Mullins trained rival Mr Adjudicator from Leopardstown last month.
But the task didn’t prove beyond him. Jack Kennedy powered the French recruit to a resounding defeat of his old rival and emulated Tiger Roll who won the Triumph for Elliott and O’Leary in 2014.
“I knew there was just a jump between him and Mr Adjudicator and it shows that was the best form,” said Elliott who was praised by his jockey protégé. “Gordon had him spot on. He leaves no stone unturned. His attention to detail is second to none,” Kennedy said.
O’Leary was surprised to beat the 6-5 favourite Apple’s Shakira who finished only fourth and appeared almost stunned by Blow By Blow’s victory in the Martin Pipe under jockey Donagh Meyler.
“This horse was injured all last year and it’s a phenomenal training performance by Gordon,” he said of the 11-1 winner who was five lengths too good for Discorama.
“He got a soft lead and fair play to the horse. He looked well handicapped but I thought the ground was too soft for him,” Elliott said.
After making do on a single winner on both Wednesday and Thursday, the home team rallied on Gold Cup day. Colin Tizzard warmed up for his ‘Blue Riband’ success with Native River by landing the Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle with Kilbricken Storm. The double paid 203-1.
Former champion trainer Paul Nicholls also saddled a double. Pacha Du Polder successfully defended his Foxhunters title at 25-1 while Le Prezien rounded off the festival with a comprehensive Grand Annual victory under Barry Geraghty.
Pacha Du Polder won the Foxhunters in 2017 under Bryony Frost and proved the perfect partner for 22-year-old Harriet Tucker who won on just her second ever ride under rules.
Tucker’s performance was even more noteworthy since she overcame a shoulder problem to win.
“My shoulder half dislocates when I lift it too high and coming to the second last it did that. I had to push it back in. After that I couldn’t slap him down the shoulder and had to keep pushing,” she explained. “I have wanted an operation – now they might give me one!”
Tucker is an amateur rider but Bridget Andrews became just the second female professional jockey to win at the Cheltenham festival with her 33-1 County Hurdle victory on Mohaayed.
Andrews’ sister Gina won the Kim Muir in 2017 and this latest family victory at Cheltenham confounded even the winner’s trainer, Dan Skelton, who also landed the County in 2016 with Superb Story.
“The more it rained I kept thinking he can’t do it. It was a million to one for me on this ground. Hands up I wouldn’t have run him. But the horse is in great form and I’m so pleased for Bridget. I think it’s about time we stop talking about lady jockeys and just call them jockeys. They’re totally capable,” Skelton said.