Cheltenham: Irish fail to strike gold as fairytale dream fades

There was, unfortunately, no fairytale ending for the soon-to-retire AP McCoy in the last race of this year’s Cheltenham Festival — one renamed in his honour for the occasion.

Cheltenham: Irish fail to strike gold as fairytale dream fades

And no Gold Cup success for Ireland, either.

Drat and double drat!

Not just that, but victory for Next Sensation in that closing AP McCoy Grand Annual Handicap Steeple Chase deprived the Irish ‘raiders’ of overall boasting rights given it delivered a 14th win this week for the home ‘team’ against the visitors’ 13.

Still, the great man got the send-off he deserved.

“The crowd cheered me all the way to the start and all the way back in,” said the 19-times champion jockey.

“The people are amazing but I feel quite guilty, because Next Sensation won the race.

“All congrats to him but it was very emotional coming back in,” McCoy added.

“I feel I’m a very lucky person to have done what I’ve done and to have the life I’ve had.

“It’s a privilege to live my life through my hobby,” he said.

“I’ll never forget the reception I’ve been given today.

“It is people like this I am going to miss.”

Like most Cheltenhams then, this one will forever be tinged with green memories.

That’s not just because of McCoy’s farewell, but for the festival record eight winners across the four days, that were trained by the Carlow-based Willie Mullins.

A racegoer sports a Comic Relief red nose on Gold Cup Day at

Cheltenham yesterday. Picture: Joe Giddens/PA Wire

Among those winners was Faugheen, a horse dubbed ‘The Machine’ and it is a moniker that could just as easily be applied to the Mullins operation in Closutton, which somehow manages to scale ever greater heights, year after year.

Mullins sealed the historic number eight here with Killultagh Vic’s success in the second-last race of the meet, his astonishing week only emphasised by the fact that four more of his horses claimed second-place finishes and five more third.

The only blot on a copybook that still received an A+ was a length-and-half failure by his fancy Djakadam and Ruby Walsh to the eventual Gold Cup winner Coneygree — but it was at least a loss that came unattached to what-ifs.

“We ran well,” Mullins said after watching another of his horses fall one place short in the blue riband race for the fifth time in his long and illustrious career.

“We have absolutely no excuses. He jumped great, got good position, so I was happy enough.”

It was, at least, a race that did justice to a week that depended so much on Mullins’ mounts for its standout performances.

They started with the very first of the 27 runs on Tuesday, when Douvan blew everyone away.

That was merely the beginning of a two-day assault by the punters on the bookies.

However, the balance was redressed as the week went on, thus ensuring that most people will have likely woken up this morning with empty wallets to go alongside their sore heads and bloated stomachs.

Such is the norm at Cheltenham, where the calibre of fare on the track is in marked contrast to some of the behaviour that goes on away from it, particularly when the sun goes down and the normally sleepy Cotswolds spa town can start to resemble the last days of Rome.

Yet again, however, it was all worth it in the end.

In total, 248,521 people took in the events this year first-hand, a figure accommodated by a recovering economy in the UK and Ireland and the efforts of the Jockey Club to take a bellows to the blaze that is the ever burgeoning interest in this festival.

Only 360 days until we get to do it all over again. I’m looking forward to it already.

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