Irish horses swept the board on the second day of the Cheltenham Festival, winning six out of seven races.
The tone was set when Chicago Grey gave trainer Gordon Elliott and jockey Derek O’Connor a first Festival success in the National Hunt Chase, and only the aptly-named Cheltenian winning the last race, the Weatherbys Champion Bumper, denied Irish trainers, jockeys and breeders the full set.
The Sportingbet.com Queen Mother Champion Chase, the day’s feature race, went to Sizing Europe, who led home an Irish 1-2-3-4. Trained in Co Waterford by Henry de Bromhead and ridden by Andrew Lynch – who also won yesterday’s Glenfarclas Cross-Country Chase with Sizing Australia – the nine-year-old hadn’t won since taking the Arkle here last year. A brilliant novice, he had seemed to struggle in open company this winter, but swept past last year’s winner Big Zeb before the final fence and was five lengths ahead of him at the line.
Master Minded was sent off favourite, but looked beaten when a bad blunder at the last lost him any chance of a place.
“It’s unbelievable,” said de Bromhead. “After he crossed the line I turned to some poor man and said, ‘did Sizing Europe just win the Queen Mother?’ and he said ‘Yeah’. God, the horse was good and Andrew was phenomenal.”
Sizing Europe spent some time being schooled on the flat by Rosemary Connors after disappointing as favourite in Katchit’s Champion Hurdle in 2008, and de Bromhead gave Connors, one of Ireland’s best-known horsewomen, credit after the race.
Two for Russell and O’Leary
The day’s most successful jockey was Davy Russell. He took the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle on the Mouse Morris-trained First Lieutenant, a six-year-old son of Presenting, by a short-head from Paul Nicholls’ Rock On Ruby. Russell then rode Carlito Brigante to an easy victory in the Coral Cup, giving Gordon Elliott a second training success of the afternoon.
Both of Russell’s winners were owned by Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary, who said: “I think that’s our fifth win at the Festival but it feels just as good as the first one. The Irish are doing well but I’m pretty sure that by the end of the week the English will have beaten us.”
Harrington knows how to win at Cheltenham
Best remembered for handling the great Moscow Flyer, Jessica Harrington has long been one of Ireland’s most successful trainers, and she produced another Cheltenham winner today in Bostons Angel, a surprise winner of the RSA Chase at 16-1. Bostons Angel is owned by Elder Scouller, better known to most H&H readers for his eventing partnership with the advanced horse Pebbly White Stuff, and was bred by his late father Philip.
The sixth Irish winner of the day was What A Charm, whose light weight of 10st 6lb just allowed him to edge past top weight Kumbeshwar in the last stride of the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle for Arthur Moore and Paul Townend.
But then Richard Johnson came to spoil the party and claim one back for Britain in the last. Cheltenian, trained in Somerset by Philip Hobbs and bred in France, powered clear in the bumper ahead of Aupcharlie. Tomorrow is St Patrick’s Day, and the Irish will be back with a vengeance.