THE Cheltenham Festival once again showcased the exceptional talents of Cork’s racing stars on the biggest stage.
It further enhanced this county’s claims of being the true home of jump racing – if ever there was any doubt!
From the first race on Tuesday, right up until the conclusion of racing on Gold Cup day, local stories blossomed, as thrills and spills unfolded across National Hunt racing’s greatest four days.
Six Cork point-to-point graduates were in the winners’ enclosure at Prestbury Park.
Supreme scorer, Shishkin, sporting the yellow and black colours of Cork’s Joe Donnelly, began his racing career at Inch point-to-point, where he finished third in a four-year-old maiden, in March of 2018.
Ultima victor, The Conditional, started life out at Liscarroll, where he finished third, before being pulled up at Ballindenisk, and then later winning his point at Boulta, in the winter of 2017.
The mighty mare, Honeysuckle, who got the better of Benie Des Dieux in the Mares’ Hurdle, was a winner at Dromahane point-to-point in 2018.
On Wednesday, the 2019 Knockanard point winner, Ferny Hollow, landed the Champion Bumper under Lisgoold’s Paul Townend.
Lisnagar Oscar, meanwhile, sprang a huge surprise when winning the Stayers’ Hurdle at odds of 50/1 on day three. He had won a Liscarroll maiden in 2018 under local rider, Ciaran Fennessy.
The gelding was bred by Cork’s Denis Fitzgerald, who sold him to Rebecca Curtis following his win between the flags.
On Friday, 66/1 chance It Came To Pass recorded a memorable success for Eugene O’Sullivan when he won the Foxhunters’ Chase in emphatic style, under the Lombardstown trainer’s daughter, Maxine.
It evoked memories for many on the day when Lovely Citizen won this race for the Cork yard back in 1991.
It Came To Pass was a winner of a Ballindenisk point in 2015. He has won a brace of hunter chases around Cork and was also a point winner at Dromahane in 2019.
The son of Brian Boru was bred by east Cork’s Edmond Coleman and, being out of the dam, Satellite Dancer, is also a half-brother to the 2014 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, Lord Windermere.
In this year’s Gold Cup, won by Joe Donnelly’s Al Boum Photo, the fourth-placed Monalee ran a stormer in defeat.
Monalee is another graduate of the Cork point-to-point sphere. Bred by Midleton’s Aidan Aherne, he won at Templenacarriga for Tom Fitzgerald and Kevin O’Sullivan, back in January of 2016.
The nine year old, who is out of the dam, Tempest Belle, has now finished in the top four at four consecutive Cheltenham Festivals – and in four different grade one contests.
Winners tend to be remembered more so, but the Milan gelding’s performances at Cheltenham are certainly noteworthy. It’s a record not to be sniffed at.
Of the 28 races contested at the Festival, Cork jockeys plundered no less than 11 of them.
Paul Townend finished the week as leading pilot, after five successes at the Cotswolds, and following a countback on second and thirds.
Wins earlier in the week aboard Ferny Hollow and Min (Ryanair Chase) were followed by a Gold Cup day treble – the highlight of which arrived via a second consecutive victory aboard Al Boum Photo in the blue riband race.
Willie Mullins’ first jockey produced a number of superb displays in the saddle at Cheltenham, and his quintet of wins puts him on 15 career winners at the Festival.
Youghal’s Davy Russell bagged a hat-trick of wins across the week and a helluva lot of seconds and thirds.
The dual Grand National-winning rider won the Ballymore in style on Envoi Allen, the Marsh on a rejuvenated Samcro and he also soared to victory in the Grand Annual aboard Chosen Mate.
Russell was sublime throughout the Festival and he rides the track superbly. How many times did he produce a horse with a strong challenge on the approach to the last obstacle?
It’s a meeting at which he thrives.
Gavin Sheehan arrived at this year’s Festival with a very strong book of rides, to say the least.
There were numerous chances and the west Cork jockey delivered. He produced Simply The Betts to win the Plate, and he nearly stole the Ryanair on Saint Calvados.
He also guided Rouge Vif to third in the Arkle and was fourth on Emitom in the Stayers’ Hurdle. A winner, a second, a third and a fourth – it wasn’t a bad meeting for the Dunmanway rider.
Aidan Coleman rode a great race aboard the mare, Put The Kettle On, to win the Arkle on Tuesday.
The Innishannon native is among the top 10 riders in Britain, much like Sheehan, and although he will have been disappointed to lose his Stayers’ Hurdle crown on Paisley Park, he added another big-race success to his glowing CV.
Local amateur, Maxine O’Sullivan, delivered a peach of a ride to win the Foxhunters’ on It Came To Pass. ‘Off the Scale’ was how she described her crowning moment on Racing TV.
As a final note, local owner, Joe Donnelly, has a serious team of horses, split between both sides of the Irish Sea.
Shiskin won the Supreme, while Al Boum Photo became the first horse since Best Mate to win consecutive Gold Cups.
Melon was beaten a whisker in the Marsh, The Big Getaway ran well to be third in the Ballymore, while Asterion Forlonge was also fourth in the opener.