Monday 20 November 2017

And they're off – perfect start for Irish as dream team pulls off treble

Valerie Forde from Galway at Cheltenham
Valerie Forde from Galway at Cheltenham

YOU can only long for more days like these. Those fulfilling hours when a massive hedonistic gamble, with just a smidgen of luck thrown in, and a whole lot of horse power all pay off.

Any shades of economic blues were cast aside as it proved hard to find a rueful face within a furlong of the winners' enclosure on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival.

As things oh so rarely do, it was all going to plan as the heavily-backed punters' saviour Ruby Walsh sent the favourite, Hurricane Fly, romping up the famous hill in a heart-stopping late push to land the Champion Hurdle Challenge trophy.

"My heart was in my mouth. I wasn't sure if he was travelling that well early on," said Ruby's wife Gillian.

"But it was fantastic for him to come back and regain the Champion Hurdle. It is just amazing."

His delighted wife dubbed it the perfect start to the festival, as punters roared in agreement when he punched the air with delight in the winners' enclosure.


With a twinkle in his eye, Belfast- born co-owner George Creighton, who turns 78 shortly, revealed their celebrations would no doubt continue into the wee hours.

It had proved one of those rare dream starts to the festival for the Irish as Ruby had already delivered with the popular 5-1 shot Champagne Fever for trainer Willie Mullins in the first race.

Spotted beaming in the parade ring was Chanelle McCoy, the glamorous wife of jockey AP McCoy, as she sported a 'local' creation from Galway milliner Mark T Burke.

"I have a Diane von Furstenburg stretchy dress on as I'm four-and-a half months pregnant. So I'm trying to be warm and comfortable for the next few days while looking half-glam," the businesswoman, who is already mother to Eve, laughed.

"Hopefully if he even has one winner AP will be thrilled for the week," she said, after he was pipped to the post aboard the favourite by half a length in the first race of the day.

The jump jockey, often dubbed the 'Ironman' due to his pure resilience, previously revealed in his autobiography that they underwent IVF treatment after his strict dieting and regime of early morning, steaming hot baths took their toll on his fertility but they "hit the bullseye" when Eve arrived in 2007.

There were plenty of familiar faces spotted in the winners' enclosure including former minister Joe Walsh and Independent TD Michael Lowry, who appeared to be in the money as his bets came romping home.

"We're off to a great start," uttered the politician, as he divulged he'd backed a treble with Hurricane Fly, Champagne Fever and Quevega.

"We've to get Quevega over the line," said Lowry.

His luck held firm on this occasion – Quevega claimed the Mares' Hurdle for the fifth year in a row, making it a treble on the opening day for Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins

"What can I say, the mare was fantastic, Ruby was fantastic. She is just a precious mare. This day will probably never be beaten for me," said the normally reticent Mullins.

Delighted jockey Ruby quipped she had done something that neither Kilkenny nor Kerry could do – five in a row.

"Changed them today they'll be cussing me tomorrow," quipped Ruby, after he was jokingly asked if he had changed punters' lives.

Yet, as they say, you simply can't please everyone – the bookmakers were heard to moan it was the "worst possible" start for them with a €30m payout on the heavily-backed winners.

Ireland rugby star Fergus McFadden said he was having a "great day", as he enjoyed the mare's win.

Others spotted included UK royal Zara Philips and former Olympic heptathlon champion Denise Lewis.

Another man used to the bitterly cold forays out on to the football pitch was Jason Sherlock, as the former Dublin footballer appeared unaffected by the wind chill as he whizzed past.

Those Premiership boys appear a more cosseted lot as Republic of Ireland players Simon Cox and Stephen Hunt, along with several of his Wolves teammates, enjoying those cosy corporate boxes.

It would take more than a delayed start to the festival as the windchill dipped to -12C overnight to deter Margaret Connolly (24), from Mullingar, Co Westmeath, from abandoning her fashion.

The shop manager donned a black-and-white dogtooth coat from her workplace, Heatons, accompanied by a black leather dress from the Design Centre, to brave the day's racing.

After notching up plenty of best dressed ladies' prizes, she admitted she might just dip her well-heeled toe into the contest.

Now, they've just got to look forward to doing it all over again today.

Irish Independent

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