By the start of the fifth race yesterday, Gordon Elliot must have known how Willie Mullins felt a couple of years ago when he completely blanked the first two days.
Elliot horses couldn’t even grab as much as a place on Tuesday and although Delta Work had run into the money in third in the RSA earlier the theoretical man at the end of the bar and social media key board warriors had made up their minds.
“Always told ye,” they said or typed, “Gordon couldn’t even train pigs to be smelly.” Then came the cross-country chase and suddenly all was forgotten. Some day they will be writing books and forging statues for Tiger Roll, who is fast emerging as one of the most versatile, inspiring, durable and popular horses we’ve seen in decades.
Watching him stroll to victory in a three and a half mile plus cross-country chase to win for the fourth time at the festival it’s hard to believe he won the Triumph Hurdle here at four and the Grand National last year at nine and had warmed up for yesterday with an easy win in a Grade Two hurdle at Navan.
It had only been less than an hour since the imperious Altior had left the parade ring after his 19th win on the bounce but there was little doubt which of these two fabulous horses was more warmly received. To cap off the day the still unbeaten Envoi Allen kept his record intact in the final race, the Bumper, with the amateur jockey, JJ Codd showing the professionals how it’s done. Best of all: The crisis had passed, and Gordon was smiling again.
Sean Mulryan, the founder, chairman and owner of the Ballymore property group, sampled the same satisfaction enjoyed by Michael O’Leary last year when Balko Des Flos won the Ryanair chase. The Roscommon native’s company sponsored the opening race and then watched as his own horse, City Island won his money back.
A London newspaper recently speculated that Mulryan owned more property in London than the Duke of Westminster, so he probably didn’t need the 70 grand, but it was a first festival winner for a family that has a long heritage in ownership. It was also the first festival winner for another man with a long racing heritage, Martin Brassil who trained Numbersixvalverde to win the Aintree National in 2006. Brassil was chuffed to be back in the big time. “It’s great to have a festival winner on the CV,” he said, it’s wonderful.” He added, “I was hoping that he might do something like that, but you never know because a lot of dreams are shattered here and luckily, ours weren’t.”
Speaking of amateur jockeys, there has been a loud blow back from the BHA following the events of the last race on Tuesday, the National Hunt Challenge Cup. Eighteen horses started the marathon but only four completed. Eight fell, five pulled up and one unseated his rider.
The authorities, paranoid over the increasing societal leverage of animal rights groups in Britain, cringed and then did what they always do. First an over apologetic self-flagellation in public and then a scramble to solve the wrong problem by banning jockeys for riding horses into a place and then threatening to do away with the race altogether.
The race would have hit Patrick Mullins hardest as his mount, the favourite, Ballyward, lost his life after a fall. Patrick is an amateur jockey, like the ones the BHA want to limit and has probably already forgotten more about race horses than all of the administrators will ever learn between them. He was hoping for compensation when he took the ride on the top weight, Wicklow Brave, in the Coral Cup yesterday. This is one of the year’s most competitive and compelling handicap hurdles and top weights have no right to win it.
He rode an absolute, died in the wool peach of a race. Dropped his mount way out the back, glided through retreating rivals, delivered to lead at the last, held off all challengers expect one, William Henry, who mugged him by a very short head on the line.
Mullins’ response to the disappointment was with the normal cheer of a man who doesn’t think that he ever has a bad day. “He really enjoyed passing horses, but I was just left in front too early at the last hurdle.” If only the powers that be in British racing had the same commonsense.
By the time racing ended on Tuesday everybody at the course moved immediately to ‘squeaky bottom time’ mode. Word had come through earlier that Wednesday’s card was threatened by gale force winds from the west, but everybody was too preoccupied to pay any attention until after the last. The initial concern was about what to do with an empty day in a wind battered west country, but apparently this had happened before and sing songs and poker had solved the problem.
The bigger worry was that instead of extending the cards on Thursday and Friday to catch up the big races, the management were going to move the day, lock stock and barrel to Saturday. About 10,000 Irish visitors pondered the brain damage that would result from trying to rearrange their low-cost airline tickets while the other ten thousand started to rehearse their Hobson’s choice. Cardiff for rugby or Cheltenham for horses.
Happily, by six the following morning the all-clear was sounded and by the time most people got to the course there was just the kind a breeze that would only have you aiming about five yards right of the flag with a full seven iron.