Aptly on St Patrick’s Day, the Irish stole the show on day three of the Cheltenham Festival (15 March), with six of the seven races on the card dominated by some of Ireland’s best.
British hopes were pinned on Cue Card in the Grade One Ryanair Chase, who was running his final race at the home of National Hunt racing.
Colin Tizzard’s stable star, who is owned by Jean Bishop, led the field until the fifth fence under Paddy Brennan. However, having lost his place after the 10th, Paddy pulled up the 12-year-old gelding and the crowd clapped as the 2015 King George victor cantered back home with his ears pricked.
The day’s feature race went the way of Balko Des Flos under Davy Russell, who enjoyed an impressive treble this afternoon. The pair fended off the 8/11 favourite Un De Sceaux.
The Gigginstown House Stud-owned seven-year-old, who is trained by Henry de Bromhead, travelled well for most of the way under Davy, drawing clear between the last two fences.
“For a normal Cheltenham Festival, I would have fancied Balko Des Flos. We thought, on nice ground, there would be some improvement in him. I thought his chance had lessened given the more rain that fell,” said Davy.
“Henry de Bromhead is a master at this and all credit goes to him and the team. The horse jumped really well, which was good as his jumping has been really in and out this season.
“We were worried about the rain that fell but he handled it well and, as the race progressed, he stuck his chest out the further he went in the race — that was pleasing too as he was gaining confidence throughout.”
Ryanair owner and Gigginstown boss Michael O’Leary was winning the race that he sponsors for the first time. The famous maroon Gigginstown colours registered a 314/1 treble in the first three races of the day courtesy of Shattered Love, Balko Des Flos and Delta Work (pictured, below).
No fairytale for Sam Spinner
The Grade One Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle kicked off a double for jockey Paul Townend, who’s been deputising for the injured Ruby Walsh.
The Irishman partnered 12/1 shot Penhill to victory (pictured, below), beating the Jessica Harrington-trained Supasundae by two lengths.
“Penhill must have some engine,” said trainer Willie Mullins. “I could not believe it watching Paul come down the outside and I thought ‘wow, if he fluffs the last then he could blow up and fall in a hole’. However, he met the last perfectly and then I thought Supasundae would out gallop him, but he kept on powerfully. It is fantastic for his owner Tony Bloom.
“A lot of credit has to go to Holly Conte, who leads him up, rides him and does everything with him. She has virtually trained this horse herself I think — she minds him because he is fairly fragile.”
Leading up to the race, Sam Spinner had been the most hyped horse and many racing fans had hoped for a fairytale Festival win for the Jedd O’Keeffe team.
Under Joe Colliver, the six-year-old favourite set a steady pace in front. However, he remained one paced when challenged up the Cheltenham hill and finished eventual fifth by a neck.
An impressive 18-length win
The Willie Mullins-trained Laurina justified her favouritism in the Grade Two Trull House Stud Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, cruising to a highly impressive 18-length victory under Paul Townend — confirming herself as a future star of the National Hunt game.
“She’s special — you can ride Laurina as you want and she’s just a lovely mare,” said Paul. “She has improved with every run, she has a beautiful attitude and is a really fine mare — she hacked up. They went quick but I was always in my comfort zone, I was there an hour too soon. She took me there with so much ease.”
Don’t miss Horse & Hound’s Cheltenham Festival report in the 22 March issue, plus read daily round-ups online (13-16 March 2018).