Ruby Walsh: Another magical Festival and another Irish celebration

It’s all over. Hard to believe it, really. Such hype, such build-up. Will it be on? Won’t it be on? Well, it was on and it was fantastic, writes Ruby Walsh

IT’S A WRAP: Racegoers sit amongst the litter at the conclusion of the Cheltenham Festival yesterday   Picture: Tim Goode/PA Wire.
IT’S A WRAP: Racegoers sit amongst the litter at the conclusion of the Cheltenham Festival yesterday Picture: Tim Goode/PA Wire.

Over the past week we saw some wonderful racing, some people had some big weeks, some people had disappointing weeks, but ultimately there were 28 winners.

So, who were the biggest winners?

On the training front it was Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott with seven winners apiece, and Nicky Henderson with four. 

Philip Hobbs had a few disappointments, Paul Nicholls wasn’t even here on Tuesday, but turned up on Wednesday and won the Champion Chase and, for good measure, even had the runner-up.

But that was probably the low point of the week: Altior being ruled out at the weekend, Chacun Pour Soi being ruled out on the morning of the race. It took from Wednesday — it almost felt like the balloon had been burst even before it started.

On the riding front, Barry Geraghty, Davy Russell and Paul Townend were the stars. Barry and Davy are my generation, but they were exceptional, and Paul had the most fantastic finish to the week.

He was clinical on Min, cool on Ferny Hollow, fortunate on Burning Victory, exceptionally strong on Monkfish and tactically brilliant on Al Boum Photo.

Nico De Boinville was brilliant on Shiskin, and Rachael Blackmore very good on Honeysuckle. Patrick Mullins kept hitting the crossbar but kept smiling, which was good to see.

Lizzie Kelly got absolutely minced off the ground, and when she was hurled into the floor, I really realised that I didn’t miss riding.

But, always in Cheltenham the heroes in Cheltenham are the equine stars: Shiskin, Envoi Allen, Champ and Put The Kettle On were four brilliant novice winners, while Samcro made me eat humble pie. He did something I didn’t think he could. Faugheen and Melon were carried out on their shields but Samcro was too good for them.

Paisley Park blew out in the Stayers’ Hurdle, but it was a great day for Adam Wedge, a very talented, neat, stylish, aggressive jockey. He was brilliant to watch on Lisnagar Oscar.

Epatante stamped herself in the Champion Hurdle. 

Cool and slick, but Barry was equally cool on her back. We’ve already touched on the Champion Chase, but it was magical for Harry Skelton to win on Poligologue. He jumped super but Defi Du Seuil never turned up.

And, in the nearly-four-miler, well, at least there was no fallout from its running. It saved itself. Cheltenham was four days this year and, as a civilian now at the races and not a jockey any longer, it was bloody long enough. 

As a jockey I used to look forward to going out on a Friday night, this time I looked forward to going home on Friday night. This was a magic place, with the roar before the first, and the cheers and applause the first three horses, home in the Marsh Chase received. And Lisnagar Oscar - a 50-1 winner of the Stayers’ Hurdle - and the reception he got. Very few backed him, but that is the magic of Cheltenham.

But Gold Cup day was the real showpiece. And it didn’t disappoint. It started with what looks to be a brilliant horse in Goshen, in the Triumph Hurdle, but that ended in a very disappointing way for Jamie Moore. I was absolutely gutted for him. He committed and rode Goshen positively to the last hurdle, but the horse changed his mind, tripped himself up, and unseated Jamie. A sickening feeling for a really nice guy.

Burning Victory was a lucky winner, but it was the start of a lucky day for Willie Mullins and Paul Townend. In the second race, Saint Roi, under Barry Geraghty, won the County Hurdle in impressive fashion, with Aramon getting up close home to be second.

The third race was the Albert Bartlett and what a finish we had here with Monkfish, Latest Exhibition, Fury Road and Thyme Hill. It got tight at the final hurdle and Thyme Hill just ran out of room. 

A racegoers in silhouette during day four of the Cheltenham Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse.  Picture: Andrew Matthews PA
A racegoers in silhouette during day four of the Cheltenham Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse. Picture: Andrew Matthews PA

I don’t think the interference cost him the race, but connections are sure to feel a little bit sore about it. However, Monkfish battled really gamely from the back of the last under a terrific ride from Paul.

Next was the Gold Cup. It was a steadily run affair and the manoeuvre Paul made going to the sixth-last fence, when he moved up on Al Boum Photo and, with good jumps six out and five out, got himself into a controlling position at the fourth-last.

Robert Power produced Lostintranslation to have a go at him at the second-last, but Al Boum Photo was just too strong and kept at it best to beat the closing Santini.

It was the climax of a remarkable day for Willie Mullins and for Paul Townend. I suppose Paul went there with a lot of people saying he had to come out of my shadow and fill my boots. Well, he did more than that. He justified his position as number one jockey in the Willie Mullins stable and paid back all the faith Willie has in him.

It was a joy to watch, and I was delighted for two brilliant men. Maxine O’Sullivan won the Foxhunters’ for her dad, Eugene, and Billaway finished second under Patrick, but the winner absolutely sluiced in on what was an amazing day for Maxine

Chosen Mate winning the Grand Annual meant his trainer, Gordon Elliott, and Willie Mullins were tied on seven winners apiece, seven seconds apiece, heading into the final race.

It looked set to go Gordon’s way when Column Of Fire arrived to win, only to crash out at the last under Eoin Walsh. 

What a sickening feeling for Eoin, but Great White Shark was the first Irish horse home, finishing third, thus securing Willie Mullins the leading trainer title.

With Paul the leading jockey, it was the last race on the last day of a magical week.

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