Sport Horse Racing

Friday 17 November 2017

Another masterful showing by relentless Irish raiders

A day that threw up an absorbing Gold Cup and the last quartet of a record 14-strong haul of Irish winners couldn't disguise the searing injustice of what happened to JT McNamara when Galaxy Rock fell on Thursday.

The good was gone out of the week once the nature of McNamara's injuries emerged. Short of him getting the all clear, yesterday was always going to be inadequate. McNamara is one of the most-decorated amateur riders ever to throw a leg over a horse.

In 1999, we competed against each other at Cheltenham. It was the first time that I had met him, and the first thing that struck you was his genuinely humble demeanour. He was already something of a hero then, but there were no airs or graces.

Maybe it's the wrong thing to say, but his glorious riding career seems a shade insignificant in the context of what might now lie ahead for him, his wife Caroline and their three young children. A profound collective fear hung over the course yesterday, one that had nothing to do with the outcome of any race.

For Irish trainers, to finish the week with a second record-haul in three years was remarkable, for the worry coming here was that, if Willie Mullins didn't have three or four winners, last year's modest tally of five might be something of a pipedream.

By the end of the first day, Mullins had matched his own 2012 haul of three to replace Tom Dreaper as the most successful Irish trainer in the history of the Festival. In the end, nine individual stables brought the final tally to 14, one more that that of 2011.

Hurricane Fly and Quevega brought the house down with a pair of historic and courageous victories. Solwhit's World Hurdle was another highlight, albeit that came at a time when there was considerable concern abut Davy Russell's well-being.

Highlight of the week

Hurricane Fly's Champion Hurdle triumph. He needed to do it again to be remembered as a true hurdling great. He had to be brave and he was.

Race of the week

See above. Not only was Hurricane Fly brilliant, but so was the runner-up Rock On Ruby, which ran the rest of them ragged in second. Kudos.

Unlikely hero

The frost covers. If it wasn't for them, we might still be there.

Convenience of the week

Sunnyhillboy's unsatisfactory scope. The rumour mill told us AP McCoy would ride Sir Des Champs, and it proved unerringly accurate. Fancy that.

Rogue obstacle of the week

The path crossing that nearly tripped Lord Windermere and Sizing Europe on Wednesday. Jim Culloty said he had raised concerns about the surface before racing, so it's a good job it didn't deny him a first Festival winner. It was finally fixed after the Champion Chase.

Ride of the week

Ruby Walsh on Hurricane Fly. The horse never travelled a yard, yet the only man apparently unconcerned by that was the one on his back.

Training performance of the week

Mouse Morris producing 33/1 Baily Green to chase home Simonsig.

Theme of the week

The jockeys that lost out. Robert 'Choc' Thornton, Davy Russell and Tom Doyle.

Performance of the week

Sprinter Sacre. He made Sizing Europe look ordinary.

Good week for...

Irish point-to-pointers. Champagne Fever, Simonsig, Benefficient, Holywell, Same Difference, Big Shu, Back In Focus, Briar Hill, Ted Veale and Salsify: all products of the point-to-point scene.

Bad week for...

Jane Mangan. She is a rising star, but Oscar Delta's Devon Loch moment was an awful way to end her first Festival.

Lucky escape of the week

Davy Russell's lot might have been far worse if either of his two rides on Thursday had taken a fall. He collapsed having fallen on Wednesday, but was stood down before the Ryanair Chase. He had a punctured lung.

Realisation of the week

That things are never so bad they can't get worse. Davy Russell's lot looked pretty desperate on Wednesday, but you can be sure he won't have been thinking about his losses after what happened to JT McNamara.

Gold Cup verdict

A great spectacle. Bobs Worth and Sir Des Champs stepped up.


sterling figure that the owners of Mail De Bievre paid to supplement for a race against Sprinter Scare.

Willie Mullins' tally, earning him a second Irish Independent leading trainers' award.

Irish Independent

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