Sizing Europe leads historic Irish rout on the Cotswolds
A day that had promised much delivered all that and more for Irish connections at Cheltenham yesterday, as the raiding party landed an incredible six of the seven races.
The highlight was a memorable Queen Mother Champion Chase whitewash that saw Sizing Europe lead home a 1-2-3-4 of Irish-trained horses.
Having won three of the last four races on the opening day, the amazing run of form only came to an end in the bumper -- ironically a race that Irish horses traditionally excel in.
Indeed, in different circumstances, Cheltenian, which won for Philip Hobbs and Richard Johnson, might have been completing a magnificent seven, as he was sold out of Liz Doyle's Wexford stable only last November.
As it was, punters were left celebrating six of the best on what will go down in history as one of Irish racing's greatest days in the Cotswolds.
Gordon Elliott, who shared a debut Festival success with the record-holding seven-time champion point-to-point rider Derek O'Connor when Chicago Grey justified 5/1 favouritism in the opening National Hunt Chase, ended the day with two winners, as did jockey Davy Russell.
However, Co Waterford trainer Henry de Bromhead received the lion's share of the plaudits, as he added to Sizing Australia's triumph the day before by producing a rejuvenated Sizing Europe to record a lung-bursting victory under Andrew Lynch in the day's feature.
Lynch had also done the steering the day before, and the Ashbourne native excelled from the front in the two-mile championship event, keeping enough in reserve to repel the challenge of reigning champion Big Zeb.
Sizing Europe gave De Bromhead and Lynch a debut Festival win in the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy in 2010, but this was his first since then, as experiments over longer trips earlier in the season proved fruitless.
A flop when favourite for the Champion Hurdle in 2008, the nine-year-old, owned by the Yorkshire mining magnate Alan Potts, returned to his best to record a famous five-length conquest of Big Zeb, with Captain Cee Bee third and Golden Silver fourth.
"It's unbelievable," said a beaming 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."
Of the decision to abort the trials over further, he added: "We always said the King George would be our decision-maker on whether to stay at three miles, and when it was postponed (due to frost) we started thinking that he always performs so well at Cheltenham over two miles, lets go for the Queen Mum."
Following Chicago Grey's win, expectations were high that hotpot So Young would secure a quick double in the Neptune Novices' Hurdle, but it was First Lieutenant that prevailed in a thrilling finish for Davy Russell and Mouse Morris.
That Grade One was a fourth Festival win for Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary, and he and Russell joined Elliott in completing a brace on the day when Carlito Brigante routed the field in the Coral Cup.
Jessica Harrington's Bostons Angel and Robbie Power denied Elliott another winner when taking the RSA Chase by a neck from Jessie's Dream.
One of the warmest receptions of the afternoon was reserved for the final Irish hero, What A Charm, a maiden over hurdles and trained by one of Irish racing's stalwarts, Arthur Moore.
He was ridden to a gutsy victory in the Fred Winter Hurdle by Paul Townend, who had lost the Champion Hurdle-winning ride on Hurricane Fly to Ruby Walsh the day before.
The young Corkman, who leads the Irish jockeys' championship, had also taken a crashing fall from Quel Esprit earlier, and was clearly still sore when he spoke afterwards of what it meant to get off the mark at the meeting.
"It is special to ride a winner here," he said. "I am grateful to Arthur Moore and the owners for giving me the opportunity. I have been very lucky to ride Hurricane Fly this season, and that will do me -- it tops a great year for me."