Cheltenham: Joe Seward marks your card for the Festival

No shortage of Cork connections competing over the coming days
Cheltenham: Joe Seward marks your card for the Festival

El Fabiolo and Daryl Jacob win the Goffs Irish Arkle Novice Steeplechase recently. Picture: Healy Racing.

CORK, often dubbed the spiritual home of point-to-point racing, is equally strong on the racecourse proper and that Cork-Cheltenham connection is both infectious and powerful.

Here are some reasons Cork jockeys, trainers and owners might be on the Cheltenham podium this week.

Lisgoold's Paul Townend will have the strongest book of rides headed to Prestbury Park and he is a short price to be Top Jockey yet again. Townend's biggest dilemma headed to Cheltenham will be deciding which of Mullins to ride in certain races where the Closutton maestro holds really strong hands with multi-entries.

Figaroc and Paul Townend canter to post before winning the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Maiden Hurdle. Picture: Healy Racing.
Figaroc and Paul Townend canter to post before winning the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Maiden Hurdle. Picture: Healy Racing.

Cork owners Joe and Marie Donnelly have enjoyed unprecedented Festival success in recent years and they have a strong team spearheaded by a rejuvenated Shiskin in the Ryanair Chase and backed up by State Man, Galliard Du Mesnil and Ramilles.

Joe Donnelly owned dual Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo and stayed loyal to Townend after the same horse ran out at Punchestown when sure to win. 

Drimoleague native Sean O'Driscoll has Home By The Lee as a strong candidate in the Stayers Hurdle on the back of wins at Navan and Leopardstown.  Sean had a near miss at Cheltenham with Black Harry many years ago. 

He fell when challenging Wichita Lineman in the race now known as The Albert Bartlett. 

Home By The Lee burst on the scene winning on debut in a Killarney Bumper, representing the all-conquering Joseph O'Brien yard, who still keeps a small but select team of hunt horses in a predominantly flat-orientated yard.


Michael O'Sullivan from Lombardstown has enjoyed a remarkable season with two Grade One victories at Fairyhouse on Marine Nationale and Good Land at the recent DRF at Leopardstown.

Both head to Cheltenham prominent in the markets for the Supreme Novices Hurdle and the Ballymore. 

Michael and trainer Barry Connell have enjoyed a really successful campaign since teaming up with Barry enjoying a real renaissance in the training ranks. 

Cheltenham success is embedded in the family DNA with Lovely Citizen famously thwarting the great Scottish Mare Dun Gay Lass in the 1991 Foxhunters Chase trained by his Uncle Eugene and ridden by his father William. 

Eugene replicated that feat recently in 2020 with It Came To Pass partnered by Maxine O'Sullivan who is a first cousin of Michael. Uncle Eugene recently sold Corbetts Cross to Paul Byrne and that exciting prospect has since been purchased by JP McManus after his Naas victory.

Youghal native Johnny Dineen has swapped his bookmakers pitch at Cheltenham for a successful stint in punditry having stood as a bookmaker at the festival from 2006 to 2020 Johnny has been the hottest property at preview nights from Dubai to Dungannon in the build-up to the festival.  The well-known professional punter has been a huge success on the Racing Post podcast Upping The Ante in the lead-up to Cheltenham.

Johnny is very bullish about both El Fabiolo in the Arkle Chase and Home By The Lee in the Stayers Hurdle. Conversely, the strongly opinionated pundit can't see Honeysuckle winning the Mares Hurdle and he put that up as his lay of the meeting. 

Johnny hopes to see his good friend Joe Donnelly on the Thursday and he's been invited to his box on the day Shiskin runs in the Ryanair Chase. He took lots of good-natured slagging after Shiskin won the Betfair Chase recently when Dineen put it up as a strong lay in his Racing Post column.

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