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Monkfish sidelined due to tendon injury

Monkfish has been ruled out for the season after suffering a tendon injury, while stablemate Min has been retired.

Monkfish was a three-times Grade One winner over fences last term, including the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, but was beaten by fellow Willie Mullins inmate Colreevy on his final outing of the year at Punchestown.

The seven-year-old was already among the favourites for next year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup, but he will not be racing this term.

Mullins told www.sportinglife.com: “Unfortunately he has an issue with a tendon and it requires the season off.”

The Closutton handler also reports Min, a seven-times Grade One winner, will bow out after suffering an injury when pulled up in the Ryanair Chase back in March.

Mullins added: “He gave Susannah and Rich (Ricci, owners) and the team here some wonderful days over the years, including the win at Cheltenham, and was a tremendous horse.”

Five-day Cheltenham Festival remains future possibility

Plans to extend the Cheltenham Festival are back under consideration, although the Jockey Club has ruled out any immediate change to the current format.

The fixture currently spans four days in March and is one of the most anticipated features of the National Hunt calendar, culminating with the revered Cheltenham Gold Cup on the final day of racing.

The suggestion that a fifth day of action was due to be scheduled was first raised in January 2020, when racecourse chairman Martin St Quinton said that he “wouldn’t rule anything out” with regards to extending the meeting.

Crowds were absent from Cheltenham this year - but it is usually a very different sight, as shown by this composite image of 2021 vs 2021
Crowds were absent from Cheltenham this year – but it is usually a very different sight, as shown by this composite image of 2021 vs 2021 (PA)

The idea is now being discussed once again after The Daily Telegraph reported the Jockey Club is intending to host a five-day Festival in 2023, with each day trimmed to a six-race card and therefore only two further contests required to fill the extra day.

There have been no developments on the matter and while a five-day meeting has not been expressly rejected, there are no immediate intentions to extend the fixture.

“It is always interesting to listen to the debate around a fifth day and the last time this was discussed in earnest in public some key stakeholders in our sport expressed their desire for a fifth day,” a statement from a Jockey Club spokesperson read.

“We will always explore every option to improve the Festival and support British racing, but we have made no decision to extend the length of the Festival.”

Champion trainer Paul Nicholls, however, would not be in favour of extending the Festival.

He told Sky Sports Racing: “My opinion is four days is enough for anyone, but if it’s going to be five it’s going to be five.

“It used to be three brilliant championship days, four days is good but we might get lucky and they might have two races just for UK-trained runners! Being serious I’m open-minded, but four is enough as it is.

“If Cheltenham are going to make plenty of money out of it and reinvest in the racing and prize-money then fair enough, otherwise there’s no point doing it and you don’t want to dilute what is a special four days.

“It is great racing, but there’s a risk you’ll dilute and then it’s not as special as it probably was.

“To be honest I’d like a mini-Festival at the end of January/middle of February at somewhere like Newbury as that would give us a trial and then go on to Cheltenham, an extra day there instead of Cheltenham, that would work

“I think there’s lots to talk about, but I’m dead happy with four as it is.”

Mitchell sights set on next term with Lieutenant Rocco

Lieutenant Rocco is expected to return to action next season after a tendon injury ruled him out of an intended appearance at the Cheltenham Festival.

Placed on his first three starts over fences for Nick Mitchell, the six-year-old opened his account with an impressive display at Ffos Las in February and was towards the head of the market for the Ultima Handicap Chase at Prestbury Park.

However, Lieutenant Rocco was found to be lame just three days before the showpiece meeting – and while the extent of the problem was not immediately obvious, Mitchell has now been forced to draw stumps for the current campaign.

He said: “He’s got himself a very slight tendon injury, but we got it in time and hopefully he’ll be back next season.

“It was very disappointing, obviously, but these things happen. We’ve got plenty of nice horses to think about and the thing about Lieutenant Rocco is he’s young enough (to come back).

“Most of his contemporaries are a year older than him, so even if he has to have a bit of time off, it won’t hurt him.

“We caught it in time and it’s not severe. It just needs treating and we’ll then resume his career.”

Scottish National remains an option for Festival hero Galvin

Cheltenham Festival winner Galvin will not run in the Irish National, but an outing in the Coral Scottish Grand National is still a possibility.

The seven-year-old quickened up smartly to win the National Hunt Chase last week, proving stamina is no issue in the process.

A second-season novice, he was transferred from Gordon Elliott to Ian Ferguson by owner Ronnie Bartlett before the Festival, but with Galvin having spent his early days with Ferguson, the handler already knew the horse well.

“There’s a possibility he could run in the Scottish National, but definitely not the Irish, – it will come too soon,” said Ferguson.

“He’s been entered at Ayr, so we’ll see how he is between now and then. It looks to be coming up at the right time.

“We know he stays, he’s a good jumper and he acts on decent ground, so he has all the plusses to go there.

“The Irish National was just a bit soon, but he’s come home fine after the race, so we’ll play it by ear and see how we go.

“He’s a quality horse, he’s been a great servant to us all and Cheltenham worked out very well.

“The rating he’s got (154) is understandable, you don’t win five in a row and expect to get off lightly.”

Scudamore on Festival fall-out: We’ve got to go out and get it right

Tom Scudamore believes it is “deeds that matter” as British National Hunt racing continues its analysis of last week’s disappointing Cheltenham Festival.

The home side narrowly avoided a whitewash in the Cotswolds, with Irish runners winning 23 of the 28 races across the four days.

While trainers such as Harry Fry and Dan Skelton have conceded the superiority of the raiding party, plenty of figures in the industry have offered opinions as to how British racing should respond to the Irish domination.

Minella Indo led home an Irish one-two-three in the Gold Cup
Minella Indo led home an Irish one-two-three in the Gold Cup (Michael Steele/PA)

With British and Irish riders in separate changing rooms due to Covid protocols, Scudamore admits the mood was pretty low in the weighing room – with only Nico de Boinville, Ryan Mania, Nick Scholfield and Lorcan Williams striking gold on home-trained runners.

However, Scudamore – who is all set to partner Grand National favourite Cloth Cap at Aintree next month – thinks actions are more important than words moving forward.

He said: “It’s never a barrel of laughs when you’re getting beaten, but we’re all professional enough that from my point of view, I was just concentrating on my own thing.

“When you’re not riding winners, you’re not as much fun to be around. There was one corner of my weighing room that was a bit happier than the rest of us – in Nico’s (de Boinville) corner.

Shishkin was a rare British-trained winner at Cheltenham last week
Shishkin was a rare British-trained winner at Cheltenham last week (David Davies/Jockey Club)

“We felt the same as every other British person involved in racing. We well and truly had our backsides tanked and it’s up to us to go out and change it. There’s no point in complaining or moaning, it’s just a case of going out and getting it right.

“Last week was a lesson to everybody that we’ve got a lot of catching up to do. It’s the way it is, there’s no point in complaining.

“There can be plenty of talking about it, but it’s deeds that matter and we’ve all got to pull our socks up.”

Cheltenham 2021: Profit and Loss

As has become a bit of an annual disclosure, below I share my Cheltenham wagering P&L. Last year was akin to a punting bloodbath, as can be relived here. Not only that but, having just re-watched that video, I recall being in the grip of coronavirus and just noted that both Minella Indo and Colreevy - backed to win decent sums a year ago - prevailed unbacked by yours true last week. Marvellous...

Anyway, that was then, this was a more recent then; happily a slightly better outcome, though still negative equity on the two-year span of things.

 

For those who particularly enjoy rubber-necking, or perhaps just want a spreadsheet in which to record your own bets, here's a link to the docco I use. Hope it's useful.

Matt

p.s. how was your week? Let us know about your betting triumphs and disasters in the comments below.

‘Premier League’ domination of Cheltenham no surprise to Irish handicapper

Irish National Hunt Handicapper Andrew Shaw believes results at Cheltenham last week “prove beyond doubt” the best horses are in Ireland.

Shaw grew up in an era when Ireland left the Cotswolds reeling with a solitary victory, but the wheel has gone full circle now.

So much so that Shaw likened it to the Irish contingent playing in the Premier League while their British counterparts are scrambling for promotion out of the Championship.

“I think it proves beyond doubt we simply have the best horses,” said Shaw.

The Irish staff cheered each others success from the Best Mate enclosure
The Irish staff cheered each others success from the Best Mate enclosure (Tim Goode/PA)

“Back in the 1980s when we were lucky to come away with one winner, it used to be the other way and we didn’t win any handicaps. It’s turned on its head and one of the main reasons is we have the best horses.

“The best horses are bought here and even British owners send their horses here. It’s a bit like the Premier League versus the Championship. We simply have the best horses and it is a tribute to Horse Racing Ireland and the committees that are there.”

Shaw feels the disparity in prize-money is a reason some major owners are now choosing to have their horses trained in Ireland.

“We have the races in place to entice them to come over, the prize-money is in place. I think it was Sporting John who won the Scilly Isles and picked up £20,000 – the equivalent Grade One in Ireland is worth €50-60,000,” said Shaw.

“It’s all about the economics really. The money is here, the best horses are here and that is why we are so successful – that’s my take, we just have the best horses.”

Noel Meade, on the scoresheet himself with Jeff Kidder in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, concurs and feels it is currently a perfect storm.

“When I looked beforehand I thought we’d have a lot, but often it doesn’t work out like that. I suppose the difference was all the handicaps as well,” he said.

“It is a surprise for it to be a total wipe-out, especially when Envoi Allen went down, he would probably have been another one and we got beat another two short-heads in other races.

Jeff Kidder (left) was a winner for Noel Meade
Jeff Kidder (left) was a winner for Noel Meade (Michael Steele/PA)

“There’s no great secret, the best horses win the races. The best horses cost the most money, the most money is being spent by owners in Ireland at the moment. Whether that is because of the prize-money or because we are better trainers or because we are lucky they want to have them here, I don’t know.

“The fact Cheveley Park are buying those horses and sending them here was a terrible kick in the pants for the English trainers at the time. Simon Munir is another putting his money in here, it must be because of the prize money.

“We have a great set-up now and if you have a good horse in Ireland, the way the whole system is put together is much better. A horse like Envoi Allen, you can write down all the races he can run in within five minutes before you head to Cheltenham. It’s a great programme.

“When we put together all the mares’ races I was a bit against them because I didn’t think mares were as good, but they’ve worked very well. They are great for breeders and have worked very well.”

Hennessy ‘in the stratosphere’ following Heaven’s Festival strike

Paul Hennessy is still on a high following the exploits of Heaven Help Us in the Coral Cup at the Cheltenham Festival.

Better known as a Derby-winning greyhound trainer, Hennessy struck on the biggest stage of all with one of only a handful of horses in his care.

Ridden confidently by 7lb claimer Richie Condon, the mare never saw another rival having built up an early advantage and was one of the most impressive winners of the week.

“I’m somewhere in the stratosphere, among the stars, that’s how it feels anyway,” said Hennessy.

Richie Condon celebrates with the chasing pack in the distance
Richie Condon celebrates with the chasing pack in the distance (Tim Goode/PA)

“I was sat on the couch with my wife, Susan, on Sunday and turned to her and said ‘I still can’t believe she went over to Cheltenham and won a race’ and she said the very same.

“I almost keep having to watch the race again and keep pressing rewind to make sure it actually happened and that I wasn’t dreaming. From where we are, to send one over and win is hard to believe.”

Having failed to take to fences, the mare has now won two valuable handicaps and a step up in class will be on the cards, possibly over three miles.

“When we exercise her at home, I never see her getting tired – whether it’s five laps or 10 laps, she always walks off the same way. It was just a theory of mind that she’d stay three miles,” said Hennessy.

“Richie was amazing on her and for a young chap who had never ridden the course before, although he walked it twice, he was brilliant. Even though there were false starts, he still managed to get her out.

“Danny Mullins has been our right-hand man since we started with the few horses. She had always been his ride until he wasn’t available. Richie gave her a good ride at Leopardstown and while experience counts for a lot at Cheltenham, once Danny wasn’t available I was happy to leave him on.

“Danny won the Stayers’ Hurdle too, so it was all good and Emmet (Mullins) had a winner – Emmet is my godchild and he is Danny’s cousin.

“We’re small fry and so is Richie, so for us to pull it off is amazing. We didn’t set out with any fancy plan. Taking part in Cheltenham is great, but to win is surreal. She actually ran a decent race in the Supreme last year.

“We can think about the Mares’ Hurdle or the Stayers’ next year. I think the further out in trip she goes will suit her grand.

“What happened to us this year was so wonderful, we wouldn’t be expecting anything like that to happen again, that is the truth.”

Hennessy will let the dust settle before considering Punchestown, but he is looking at two possible options.

“There’s a mares’ race over two and a half miles at Punchestown she could go for, or we could go over three miles if she’s in good form. That’s where we’re at,” he said.

“I would just like to thank the BHA, HRI and Cheltenham for how they ran the meeting. Everyone there was helping you, what they did with the accommodation and the Irish bubble was incredible, so they deserve a lot of credit.”

Skyace handed Grade One mission at Fairyhouse

Trainer Shark Hanlon is eyeing Grade One gold at Fairyhouse on Easter Sunday with bargain-buy Skyace following her fine effort in defeat at the Cheltenham Festival.

Despite placing in three bumpers for Willie Mullins, the six-year-old changed hands for just £600 in November 2019 and has proved an extremely shrewd acquisition.

Hanlon gave his charge a mid-season break after winning Grade Three and Listed prizes in Ireland in October and December, but she was still an outsider for Thursday’s Parnell Properties Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.

However, Skyace outran her starting price of 28-1 to finish fourth, having conceded 5lb to the three mares that finished ahead of her.

Hanlon said: “I was absolutely thrilled with her as the trip was too short and we were giving away weight to all those in front of us.

“The boys that own her got a great thrill. They had a few quid each-way on her at 40-1 and partied for two days!

“I couldn’t understand how she went out to 40-1 – if Willie (Mullins) or one of the other lads trained her she would be nowhere near that price, but she didn’t know what price she was and I couldn’t be happier with her.

“We can dream away for another while that she’s one for the Mares’ Hurdle in Cheltenham next year.”

More immediately, Skyace will be targeted at the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Novice Hurdle Championship Final on April 4.

“Her trip really is two and a half miles and I’m looking forward to Fairyhouse with her as we’ll be back over our right trip and back on level weights with the mares that finished in front of us in Cheltenham,” Hanlon added.

“Easter Sunday comes up fairly quick, but she had a nice break before Cheltenham and she’s out in the paddock and loving life.”

Monday Musings: So Many Questions

As one trainer told me on Saturday morning: “It’s just a question of money”, as he explained his view of the Irish domination of the 2021 Cheltenham Festival, writes Tony Stafford. They’ve dominated a few but never like this.

Just a quick look at the last two years reveals that the home team had ten wins and 36 places (up to fourth) last year and a paltry five wins and 41 places last week. So there was a similar number in the principal placings year on year, still making for an inglorious 41% especially as we comprised 60% of the runners, 238 to Ireland’s 163 over the four days.

The win figures are obviously much more worrying with 82% of the first prizes going back across the Irish Sea. Of course the proceeds of a fair number of these, such as the trio of Cheveley Park Stud winners, will be crossing back into their UK coffers.

But my concerned informant on Saturday was not only regarding the money owners are prepared to pay to buy the best stores. As he said, “usually everyone knows well beforehand which the most promising horses are. They are lined up to win a point impressively and then go to the sales immediately afterwards generally going for hundreds of thousands of Euro”.

He was even more irritated that owners who have stayed with their UK trainers get such a poor reward for winning races. He said: “If an owner wins three 0-100 races in a season with a horse, he cannot get back much more than half a year’s training fees. That mustn’t be allowed to continue,” he said.

“A comparable level of race in Ireland is usually worth roughly double and even more so in France. It’s getting to the stage that more and more of what we thought of as good middle-of-the-road and very loyal owners are either packing up altogether or jumping ship and sending their horses to Ireland.”

When Cheveley Park, who for so long have been the biggest domestic owner-breeders in the UK for Flat racing, decided to target jumping, that aspect was stark enough. Their blueprint was to pay to access the most admired stock and send those horses to the best Irish trainers, targeting the lucrative top end of the market where, even in the UK, Grade 1 jump races are worth winning.

Gordon Elliott had been their principal trainer, but Henry De Bromhead and Willie Mullins were also on their team so when that picture was released onto the internet, it was easy to understand Mrs Thompson’s actions. She after all owned a Grand National winner [Party Politics] and is a noted horse-lover.

Whereas Envoi Allen fell last week, thereby losing his career 100% record, Quilixios (De Bromhead) and the bumper horse Sir Gerhard (Mullins) duly won for their new trainers. They each showcased the talents of Rachael Blackmore, no longer merely the best woman rider the sport has seen but champion rider at Cheltenham 2021 with the additional accolade of being the first female jockey to ride a Champion Hurdle winner.

And what a winner! Honeysuckle’s demolition of her field, including the dethroning of Epatante was one of several exceptional performances, usually for Irish horses. Then again if you win 23 of 28 it’s a fair bet that the most impressive winners will have been in your team.

Quilixios, so dominant in the Triumph Hurdle, beat his former stablemate and the race favourite Zanahiyr into a disappointing fourth. Denise Foster did get her name on three Cheltenham winners including the peerless Tiger Roll, who was collecting his fifth Cheltenham Festival race when turning over last year’s winner Easysland in the Cross-Country.

Given the way he won, owner Michael O’Leary would be excused for wishing he hadn’t withdrawn his dual Grand National winner from this year’s race. It seems to me his irrational complaint at the handicapper’s idea of his horse’s ability was shown to be misguided by a superb performance.

Grand National handicapper Martin Greenwood had given Tiger Roll a rating of 170 (including a small premium for his Aintree excellence) in this year’s race.  After his 18-length demolition of the French favourite, who has a UK mark of 167, Greenwood could have argued Tiger Roll to be thrown in on 170.

*

The Sneezy Foster issue is causing the Irish racecourse experts on Racing TV some delicate problems. I’m sure I heard the other day that the “Denise Foster stable has won this race <can’t remember the number> many times.” She amassed 13 winners in a fortnight home and away also including the ridiculously easy handicap scorer Mount Ida who was tailed off to halfway, hardly jumped a fence properly yet won the Kim Muir by six lengths in a canter.

The same was true of The Shunter who never really looked to be galloping or jumping properly yet just as comfortably collected a £100,000 bonus for Emmet Mullins after adding the Paddy Power Plate to his Kelso Graded hurdle win 12 days earlier.

That was a shrewd piece of work by Mullins as had The Shunter won a chase in the lead up to the Festival, of course he would have incurred a penalty [not that that would have necessarily stopped him, Ed.].

Nine of the 28 races at the meeting are handicaps. On the first day only two Irish runners lined up for the Ultima Chase and neither got in the placings in a 16-runner affair left to the home team and won by Sue Smith’s veteran Vintage Clouds at 28-1.

Half the 22-runner Boodles Handicap Hurdle were Irish, including the 80-1 Noel Meade-trained winner Jeff Kidder. Another big-priced success was the all-the-way five-length Coral Cup victory of 33-1 chance Heaven Help Us, the understandable sentiment for trainers of the 19 UK runners in a 26-horse field who toiled in vain from the off.

The Johnny Henderson Chase brought a brief respite from the handicap onslaught when Entoucas, one of seven invaders in a field of 19, could manage only second to Jonjo O’Neill’s Sky Pirate after horlicksing the second last. Maybe Joseph O’Brien should ask for some respite if his horse travels over for Aintree!

There were five Irish among 21 contesting the three-mile Pertemps Handicap Hurdle on Thursday. Three of them made the first four with Mrs Milner another to brush away the opposition ahead of Mrs Foster’s The Bosses Oscar. That was just the aperitif to the dominant displays later that day of Mount Ida and The Shunter, both of whom were backed as if defeat was unimaginable. So it proved each time.

Day four we had two of the most difficult races, the County Hurdle where 16 of the 25 were Irish-trained. The Belfast Bullet (33-1) led home yet another one-two ahead of Petit Mouchoir, Peter Fahy getting the better of the ex-Gordon Elliott runner.

Finally we had the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle. Willie Mullins, second-best to De Bromhead all week when his rival added a Gold Cup 1-2 with Minella Indo and A Plus Tard to his Champion Hurdle success, needed to win to wrest the leading trainer at the meeting title from him.

All week I’d been waiting for Gentleman De Mee for this race.  A French import with scant and questionable form, Mullins had only allowed him one winning run and the guess was there would be plenty more to come. A glance at this horse’s ownership – a certain J P McManus – was the deal clincher and as he set off at the head of his field the 4-1 favourite had to be the one.

But was it? Most of the way round as the leader looked less than comfortable, a certain Galopin Des Champs, trained by, oh dear, Willie Mullins!, was tracking him going so smoothly. That morning I’d had a call from my friend Steve Gilbey saying he met an Irishman the day before. “He gets some good stuff and he says that Mullins will win the last, but not with the favourite”, which I’d already told him I thought would win.

He said: “it ran behind Appreciate It last time and would have been much nearer than he finished but for making a mistake two hurdles out.” Appreciate It, blimey, I wish I had.

As Gentleman De Mee dropped away, there on the inside was Galopin Des Champs, who cantered into the lead up the hill. As well as denying Henry De B, he also foiled the week’s second attempted bonus by Dan Skelton’s Langer Dan, the brave runner-up.

Steve was straight on the phone afterwards: “Hope you backed it!”  In the immortal words of punters who don’t listen to pearls of wisdom from random Irishmen at Cheltenham-time: “Only small”.

Seriously though, seven winners from nine handicaps suggests that something is going wrong somewhere. They don’t just win, they win pulling carts. Great if like Steve you hear about the right one. I’m sure the top trainers over here will be asking some questions about what seems almost like a series of very valuable open goals.

When their horses win ordinary handicaps, say in heavy ground, here they can often be raised by 10lb or even more. It seems the idea of handicapping in the UK is to be punitive in the hope of preventing multiple wins. That reality, coupled with that very obvious lack of prizemoney makes it all so soul-destroying.

Then you get the Irish coming to Cheltenham and many of their handicappers are getting in with what are obviously much more competitive marks.

Something clearly needs to be done.

 

Hollie Doyle salutes ‘awesome’ Blackmore

Hollie Doyle described Rachael Blackmore as “awesome” as she summed up the Irish jump jockey’s remarkable week at the Cheltenham Festival.

Doyle herself has been breaking record after record on the Flat scene in the UK, while Blackmore displayed her unique talents by becoming the first female to be crowned top jockey at the biggest jumps meeting in the calendar.

Blackmore chalked up six winners, including Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle and Allaho in the Ryanair Chase.

“It’s unreal. She’s different class, she’s awesome,” said Doyle.

Rachael Blackmore with her trophy for being leading jockey at the Cheltenham Festival
Rachael Blackmore with her trophy for being leading jockey at the Cheltenham Festival (David Davies/Jockey Club)

“I saw a bit of it. I was riding as well, but I managed to catch up on all that was going on.

“It’s the equivalent of riding six Royal Ascot winners. She works so hard and she’s so talented. Everyone deserves success when it’s like that.”

Blackmore narrowly missed out on the biggest prize of the week, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, when riding A Plus Tard into second place behind the Jack Kennedy-partnered Minella Indo. She had the pick of the Henry de Bromhead-trained pair, but chose the wrong one.

“That’s racing. It would have been the cherry on the top, but I don’t think she’d be walking away complaining too much about that,” said Doyle.

“She’s on a good run of things and she’s getting the right rides. It’s great.”

Blackmore is pushing title-holder Paul Townend hard in the race to be champion jump jockey in Ireland.

“To be champion jockey, let alone in Ireland, where it’s tough for everyone riding as it’s dominated by certain trainers and jockeys, would be amazing,” said Doyle.

“The cream always rises to the top in the end and in this case it has, definitely.”

Paul Townend is being pushed all the way by Rachael Blackmore in the race to be Ireland's champion jump jockey
Paul Townend is being pushed all the way by Rachael Blackmore in the race to be Ireland’s champion jump jockey (David Davies/Jockey Club)

Surprisingly, the two high-flying female jockeys on either side of the Irish Sea have yet to meet – but both are aware of the other’s achievements.

“I’ve never met her, but obviously I’ve said well done to her a few times and I’ve messaged her,” said Doyle, who is making her mark in the title race.

She was fourth in the Flat jockeys’ table last season and is currently in second place in the all-weather championship behind Richard Kingscote.

She is chomping at the bit for the imminent arrival of the turf season, which starts at Doncaster on Saturday.

“I don’t know where I’ll be, but I can’t wait,” said Doyle.

“It’s been a long old winter, but a fruitful one for me. I’m just looking forward to the turf now and getting going again.

“I’m really looking forward to getting those two-year-olds out of Archie’s (Watson) and some nice three-year-olds and just getting on some nice horses.”

Henry de Bromhead planning to keep Gold Cup one-two apart if he can

Minella Indo and A Plus Tard are likely to run at Punchestown and Aintree respectively after providing Henry de Bromhead with a one-two in the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup.

The Knockeen-based handler enjoyed a memorable week in the Cotswolds – becoming the first trainer to saddle the winner of the Champion Hurdle, Queen Mother Champion Chase and Gold Cup in the same week.

Minella Indo completed the feat when denying better-fancied stablemate A Plus Tard in Friday’s feature – and could now bid to crown his season with victory in the Punchestown Gold Cup on April 28.

“I look back at the Gold Cup with disbelief, to be honest. I watched it back this morning and was kind of going ‘this didn’t happen’,” De Bromhead said on Racing TV’s Luck on Sunday programme.

“Minella Indo kept staying and I’m not sure we’ve seen the half of him – he’s so tough.

“I haven’t really spoken to Barry (Maloney, owner) about plans, but Punchestown would be great if he seems good – I think we should strongly consider Punchestown.”

A Plus Tard ran an excellent race to fill the runner-up spot under the all-conquering Rachael Blackmore and could head for the Betway Bowl at Aintree, given his preference for left-handed tracks.

De Bromhead also nominated next season’s Betfair Chase at Haydock as a possible target.

Minella Indo and A Plus Tard after the Gold Cup
Minella Indo and A Plus Tard after the Gold Cup (David Davies/PA)

He added: “The one question about A Plus Tard going into Cheltenham was he’s got so much class, would he get the last two furlongs? But he really did, in fairness to him – and wouldn’t he have been a very impressive winner if ‘Indo’ wasn’t there?

“A Plus Tard’s form is ridiculously better on left-handed tracks, so if he’s well, we’re considering Aintree for him.

“That (going left-handed) limits him, but the race at Haydock could be a lovely race for him in the autumn.

“When you have two horses like that, you’d love to try to keep them apart as best you can.”

The first of six winners on the week for De Bromhead and Blackmore was the brilliant mare Honeysuckle, who stretched her unbeaten record to 11 with a runaway success in the Champion Hurdle on Tuesday.

While future plans are up in the air, connections have mooted the possibility of a career over fences, with a bid to emulate the great Dawn Run – the only horse to win a Champion Hurdle and a Gold Cup – in mind.

“It’s something we’ll have to give a lot of thought to and ultimately it comes down to Kenny (Alexander, owner),” said De Bromhead.

“She’s an extremely valuable mare. There’s probably a little bit more risk over fences, but without wanting to tempt fate, she goes off loose every Sunday morning in our indoor school and she takes off and goes off jumping for sport.

“Every Sunday morning she jumps a chase fence about four times and she loves it.

“I haven’t actually schooled over fences outside, but she’s a point-to-point winner and makes that shape over hurdles, so if Kenny said he’d like to go chasing – I think it’s something we all need to discuss, the pros and cons, and then ultimately it’s down to Kenny to decide what he wants to do.”

Bob Olinger was awesome in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle
Bob Olinger was awesome in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (Michael Steele/PA)

De Bromhead, who also struck Festival gold with Put The Kettle On in the Champion Chase, Bob Olinger in the Ballymore, Telmesomethinggirl in the Mares Novices’ Hurdle, Quilixios in the Triumph Hurdle, faces a period of isolation after returning to County Waterford.

He added: “It’s been a bit quiet for me, as I have to quarantine for five days, but it’s buzzing around the place.

“Last year we went with similar horses and a similar team. We had two winners and we were happy, (but) people were saying we’d be top trainer and things like that, but we possibly didn’t quite fulfil what we had hoped we could do.

“Coming into this year, you know it could just be the same as the year before, but we ended getting what we got and it’s just incredible.

“It’s so tough to win there (Cheltenham). Everybody has the ups and downs of the place – that’s racing to be honest, but at Cheltenham even more so as it’s so competitive.

Rachael Blackmore enjoyed a memorable week
Rachael Blackmore enjoyed a memorable week (David Davies/Jockey Club)

“There’s plenty of ups and downs and you really appreciate the ups when you get them.”

De Bromhead was also keen to praise the achievements of Blackmore, who became the first female jockey to win the Champion Hurdle and the first to be crowned leading jockey at the Festival.

He said: “She works hard and has had to work hard. She’s a 10-year overnight success.

“She’s had all the knocks. I know the feeling and you just have to work your way through it and try to step forward and not back.

“Rachael appreciates what it takes to be at the top of this game. She’s brilliant to work with and has every race planned out.

“I thought some of her rides this week were brilliant. She’s just a great rider and a great person.”

‘We’ve got to raise our game – big time’

Harry Fry warns British National Hunt racing needs to substantially “raise our game” if it is to compete with its Irish counterparts.

British-trained runners won just five of the 28 races across the four-day Cheltenham Festival, with Nicky Henderson’s Grade One-winning duo Shishkin and Chantry House providing the highlights for the home team.

Fry fielded four runners at the Festival – including the well-fancied Metier, who beat just one home in the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, which was won in spectacular fashion by Willie Mullins’ Appreciate It.

While full of respect for the achievements of the Irish runners, Fry thinks there are plenty of areas requiring swift attention if British trainers are to mount more of a challenge next year.

He said: “They’re doing everything better than we are, quite simply. We have to congratulate them on a fantastic week, and aspire to the heights they’ve hit.

“We’ve got to raise our game – big time.

“There’s going to be lots of thought and conversations going on. We’ve already started that, from recruiting the right horses to getting the right owners involved. It’s everything – it’s the race planning, the team at home, the staff that work with the horses.

“There’ll be a lot of British-based trainers taking a hard look at themselves and working out where we can raise our game – because we need to, or we’ve going to get left behind quickly.

“We’ve got big owners investing in Irish racing, because there is some sort of return, and there isn’t here. It’s hard to justify to owners when you’re running around for £3,000 in a race.

“I won the Grade One Tolworth, and I didn’t even win £20,000 for winning a Grade One.”

Charlie Longsdon, who had five Festival runners, believes better prize money in Ireland is key to the strong performance of the raiding party.

He said: “They’ve got better horses than we have. Prize money is the thing.

“We didn’t quite get it right in the handicaps – but their prize money is the main reason their horses are going so well, I think.”

Dan Skelton concedes the Irish horses are superior, but also feels it is time to review the National Hunt system in Britain.

The handler saddled 13 runners at the meeting, hitting the bar on multiple occasions, most notably with Nube Negra – who just failed to catch Put The Kettle On in the Champion Chase – and Langer Dan in the closing Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle.

He told ITV Racing: “They’re just better at the moment – it’s as simple as that.

“There is time now for a good look at everything. The whole British system needs a good look, and we need to come out with a plan to make sure we can compete going forward.

“We have to become better competitors – especially at that meeting – and this was the catalyst for it.

“I think you’ll see big changes because of it.”

Kennedy pinching himself after Gold Cup success

Jack Kennedy is still “on cloud nine” following his WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup victory aboard Minella Indo.

The 21-year-old steered Henry de Bromhead’s charge to a length-and-a-quarter verdict over stablemate A Plus Tard in the Festival showpiece on Friday.

He was back in action at Thurles on Saturday, winning on Commander Of Fleet, after which he reflected on his Cheltenham achievement.

Rachael Blackmore congratulates Jack Kennedy after the Gold Cup
Rachael Blackmore congratulates Jack Kennedy after the Gold Cup (Tim Goode/PA)

He said: “Yesterday was unbelievable, and I’m still on cloud nine. The phone nearly blew up – I had close to 300 messages.

“I never really had a moment’s worry throughout the race – and while he was pulling up on the run-in, it was idleness, and he had his ears pricked. When he heard A Plus Tard coming to him, he pulled out again.

“Everyone at home was thrilled, and it was great.”

Kennedy and Blackmore enjoyed a guard of honour at Thurles
Kennedy and Blackmore enjoyed a guard of honour at Thurles (PA)

Rachael Blackmore partnered Minella Indo’s stablemate A Plus Tard to second spot in the Gold Cup, narrowly failing to cap a spectacular week which saw her claim the leading rider title at the Festival with six winners – including the Champion Hurdle aboard Honeysuckle.

Blackmore was also in action at Thurles, with the limited personnel at the track forming a guard of honour before the third race to hail the riding stars.

She said: “It was a fantastic week and it hasn’t sunk in yet. It is hard to comprehend it all, to be honest.

“Honeysuckle was unbelievable, and I think her performance in Leopardstown (last month) fairly rubber-stamped what race to run in at Cheltenham – so it was fantastic.

“It was an unbelievable week for Henry (de Bromhead), and it was an incredible achievement.

“When you are going over with the book of rides I had, you are just hoping you can get one of them to do it – and that was a big relief when that (first win) happened.

“It is all about Cheltenham, and being able to get on the calibre of horse I was on over there – I’m still trying to draw breath after the last four days!”

Cheltenham Festival day four – Minella magic in Gold Cup

Minella Indo capped a memorable week for Henry de Bromhead with victory in the pinnacle of the jump racing season, the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Finishing a length and a quarter ahead of stablemate A Plus Tard, Minella Indo was De Bromhead’s sixth winner of the meeting and also the final leg of a historic treble as the Waterford trainer became the first to saddle the winners of the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and Gold Cup in the same year.

Rachael Blackmore made history too when she was crowned the first ever female leading jockey at the Cheltenham Festival, her Triumph Hurdle win aboard Quilixios being her sixth of the week.

The County Hurdle returned a big-priced winner as Belfast Banter prevailed at 33-1 for Kevin Sexton and Peter Fahey, with Vanillier another for Ireland when taking the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle for Mark Walsh and Gavin Cromwell.

The British did get a rare success when Will Biddick and Lorcan Williams teamed up to take the hunter chase with Porlock Bay, but the Irish dominance was further in evidence as they claimed the closing two contests of the meeting. It meant the score finished 23-5 to the visiting side.

Picture of the day

Gold Cup-winning jockey Jack Kennedy is congratulated by runner-up Rachael Blackmore (David Davies/PA)
Gold Cup-winning jockey Jack Kennedy is congratulated by runner-up Rachael Blackmore (David Davies/PA)

Quote of the day

“I think I’m still in my hotel, it’s Monday evening and I’m about wake up and nothing’s even started yet” – Trainer Henry de Bromhead in disbelief after a remarkable Cheltenham Festival.

Performance of the day

Quilixios strikes under Rachael Blackmore
Quilixios strikes under Rachael Blackmore (David Davies/PA)

Quilixios was a convincing winner of the JCB Triumph Hurdle, travelling with complete conviction throughout and jumping himself into the lead with two hurdles remaining. When asked to quicken by Rachael Blackmore, the four-year-old was deftly able to accelerate up the hill and was not stretched when crossing the line three and a quarter lengths ahead of his nearest rival.

Ride of the day

Porlock Bay (left) ridden by Lorcan Williams on the way to winning the St. James’s Place Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase
Porlock Bay (left) ridden by Lorcan Williams on the way to winning the St. James’s Place Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase (Tim Goode/PA)

When amateur riders were precluded from taking part at the Festival, Will Biddick recruited professional jockey Lorcan Williams to do the steering aboard Porlock Bay in the St. James’s Place Hunters’ Chase. Kept handy in the midfield for much of the race, Williams made his move with four fences remaining and took up the lead two from home, doing just enough to see off a challenge from Willie Mullins’ Billaway and prevail by a short head.