Cork racing fans enjoy Cheltenham action as Paul Townend crowned top jockey

An epic week at Prestbury Park ended with Rachael Blackmore making history in the Gold Cup
Cork racing fans enjoy Cheltenham action as Paul Townend crowned top jockey

Mick O'Donovan, Emma Cullen, Ken Cronin and Barry McCarthy from Ballincollig enjoying the racing. Picture: Howard Crowdy

RACHAEL Blackmore made racing history by becoming the first female jockey to win the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup on 3-1 favourite A Plus Tard while Lisgoold's Paul Townend secured the Jockeys Title by riding a double on the final day of the Festival. 

His boss Willie Mullins claimed the champion trainer award with 10 winners for the week and five on the final day of the meeting.

Beaten in the race 12 months ago by stablemate Minella Indo, this time A Plus Tard and Blackmore made no mistake as he sprinted away from the defending champion to take the prize for trainer Henry de Bromhead in the colours of Cheveley Park Stud.

This victory added to the trailblazing exploits of Blackmore, who was leading rider at last year's Cheltenham Festival, won back-to-back Champion Hurdles on Honeysuckle and steered Minella Times to a ground breaking success in the 2021 Grand National at Aintree.

Blackmore said: "I can't believe it, I'm so lucky to be getting to ride these kind of horses and you can't do this without the horses. Being attached to Henry's yard is incredible. This horse is incredible, I don't know what to say. These are such special days and I wouldn't swap the Grand National for anything, but this is the Gold Cup. You have all these plans for how things are going to work out and racing doesn't let that happen but that's happened for me today."

Lorraine O'Shea, Kevin Sadik and Ger 'Speedie' O'Donovan enjoying the racing. Picture: Howard Crowdy
Lorraine O'Shea, Kevin Sadik and Ger 'Speedie' O'Donovan enjoying the racing. Picture: Howard Crowdy

Willie Mullins enjoyed an extraordinary day with five winners. Paul Townend got the ball rolling in in opener which was a clean sweep for the Irish in the JCB Triumph Hurdle, with Vauban powering to victory at Cheltenham and leading home four of his compatriots in the Grade One that turned into a speed test. 

Townend still had plenty up his sleeve and the 6-4 favourite drew readily clear up the stands rail to score by two and a half lengths from Fil Dor.

Townend said: “We always said he was a work in progress and he’s improved every day and he can improve again. 

We hadn’t planned to be in front at the last, but that is just the way it turned out. He had a look around and I knew there was loads there when I got to the back of it.

“He’s a bit to learn, but he’s improving with every run. He’s got a very big engine. He’ll have to jump a bit slicker for a Champion Hurdle, but that can be worked out at home. He’s definitely going the right way.” 

David Wool, Eoghan O'Keeffe, Ken O'Keeffe and Brian Cotter about to watch the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Picture: Howard Crowdy
David Wool, Eoghan O'Keeffe, Ken O'Keeffe and Brian Cotter about to watch the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Picture: Howard Crowdy

State Man continued the dominance of trainer Willie Mullins and piled on the misery for bookmakers at Cheltenham when powering up the hill to land a competitive renewal of the McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle which completed a double for Townend.

The inexperienced five-year-old, who fell in a maiden hurdle at Christmas and gained his first success in a Limerick maiden last month, was sent off the 11-4 favourite under Paul Townend. His rider was cool under pressure, making stealthy headway down the hill and being produced between the last two flights of hurdles.

State Man grabbed the stands rail, as Townend had done in the opening JCB Triumph Hurdle with Vauban, and jumped the last flight on a good stride. He soon forged a length and a quarter clear and held that advantage to the line, defying the staying-on First Street, and Colonel Mustard who was a length and three-quarters back in third. The first three, all novices, had West Cork, who also stayed on nicely up the hill, a further two and a quarter-lengths behind in fourth.

“He did well to win and I hope he can brush up his jumping,” said Mullins. "He’s a horse for the Flat, and while maybe not this season certainly next. Now I am thinking the Grade One at Punchestown as the next step. He’s a lovely horse with a lot of ability that will do both jobs” 

Waiting for the Cheltenham Gold Cup race in Mary O'Connells Bar in Ballincollig were John Paul O'Leary, Ritchie and Ian Goggin with Aidan MacSweeney. Picture: Howard Crowdy
Waiting for the Cheltenham Gold Cup race in Mary O'Connells Bar in Ballincollig were John Paul O'Leary, Ritchie and Ian Goggin with Aidan MacSweeney. Picture: Howard Crowdy

The Mullins juggernaut continued with Billaway and Patrick Mullins charging up the famous Cheltenham hill for the narrowest of victories in the Hunters Chase. This horse was runner up in the race in the last two running’s but really dug deep in an exhilarating finish. 

Elimay was also second at last year’s festival but she made no mistake this time by taking the Mares Chase for JP McManus and Mark Walsh. It was the fifth winner on the card for Mullins which is some training performance. Joseph O’Brien completed a clean sweep for the Irish on the day with the victory of Banbridge in the Martin Pipe Hurdle.

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