Another landmark for Blackmore as Tipp trailblazer lands maiden Grade One triumph
Having watched Bryony Frost and Lizzie Kelly hog the limelight on the third day of the Festival, it was only natural that Rachael Blackmore would bite back yesterday.
Fresh from her first Festival victory on Tuesday on A Plus Tard - and with a statue already built in her likeness outside the track - Blackmore reached another major milestone by notching her first Grade One success.
It wasn't expected by most aboard the 50/1 shot Minella Indo for Henry de Bromhead in the Albert Bartlett Hurdle, but nothing should be a surprise anymore from the modest Tipp pilot.
"We thought that he was coming here with a great chance, but anything can happen. It's thanks to all the lads at home that make these things happen. I am just the lucky one who gets the leg up on days like today," Blackmore said.
"Riding a Grade One winner at Cheltenham is just beyond belief. I am so grateful for everyone who has given me the opportunities to do this. You need to be on the right horses.
"I am the lucky person to be on those horses this week. I really am so delighted. I thought the track, the trip and the ground would suit this lad, and he is a really exciting prospect."
De Bromhead left the Cotswolds deflated on Thursday after Monalee could only muster fourth in the Ryanair Chase but compensation was at the ready for owner Barry Maloney - a university friend of the trainer who backed the six-year-old at 80/1 - much to the Waterford handler's delight.
"We've been so lucky to have Rachael. She's a brilliant rider. What can you say - she just wins and I couldn't understand why we were 50/1," he said.
Aside from an epic Gold Cup victory for Willie Mullins - who finally ended his blue-riband hoodoo with the Paul Townend-ridden Al Boum Photo (12/1) edging out Tony Martin's Anibale Fly (22/1) and helping crown him leading trainer with four wins - it was a day for the home team.
Gordon Elliott's Coeur Sublime (20/1) looked set to land the Triumph Hurdle in the hands of Davy Russell - who left the Festival without a winner for the first time in over a decade - only for Nico de Boinville to swoop late on Pentland Hills (20/1).
Victory for Nicky Henderson's charge secured De Boinville a first Leading Jockey crown with three winners, while UK trainers excelled with a 1-2-3 in the County Hurdle won by Ch'tibello (12/1) for the Skelton brothers, trainer Dan and jockey Harry.
The hosts also had a 1-2-3 in the Foxhunters' Chase won by Hazel Hill (7/2 favourite in the hands of Alex Edwards for trainer Philip Rowley) and a 1-2-3-4 in the Grand Annual.
Ben Case's Croco Bay (66/1) sprung a massive shock under Kielan Woods but the day was saved for the Irish by Early Doors (5/1) in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle, a welcome boost for Joseph O'Brien after the exciting Sir Erec was fatally injured in the opener.
That handed JP McManus the Leading Owners' title with five victories over the four days but O'Brien was clearly still grief-stricken.
"We are devastated about Sir Erec. It is one of those things. It was well documented that he had a stone bruise, but he seemed perfect the last couple of days," a still dejected O'Brien said.
Thirty-three years after his father Jonjo landed the Gold Cup aboard Dawn Run, Jonjo Jnr was the man in the plate as he secured a first Festival win by edging out Elliott's Dallas Des Pictons (7/2 favourite) "having ridden this race on the sofa hundreds of times".
"Both Joseph and I are in massively privileged positions and we don't take that for granted whatsoever. So to do it together is amazing," a beaming O'Neill said.
"Joseph said, 'keep it very simple, get a good start and just sit where you are travelling and don't overcomplicate it.' That was kind of it - small words and he didn't need to say anything else.
"I've ridden this race - any race at Cheltenham - hundreds of times on the sofa so this is a dream come true."
MICHAEL VERNEY’S DAY 4 RACE READS
1.30 GRADE ONE JCB TRIUMPH HURDLE 2m179yds
There was a five-minute delay to start time as hot favourite Sir Erec (11/10) spread a plate before the off and had to be re-shoed by the on-course farrier.
The drama was not finished there, however, as Mark Walsh’s mount went wrong just after the fourth hurdle with Joseph O’Brien’s exciting five-year-old suffering a fatal injury.
Harry Cobden continued to set the gallop on Quel Destin but all the while Davy Russell was cruising into contention on Coeur Sublime and he led between the last two and looked the most likely winner at that stage.
Nico de Boinville was a getting a winning tune out of Pentland Hills though – for his boss Nicky Henderson – and he ran on best of all to repel Coeur Sublime by three lengths with O’Brien getting
scant consolation as his second runner Gardens Of Babylon was a similar distance back in third.
2.10 GRADE THREE RANDOX HEALTH COUNTY H’CAP HURDLE 2m179yds
Ruby Walsh was always held up on Whiskey Sour (5/1 favourite) as Charlie Hammond went to the front and got a nice jumping tune out of Storm Rising early on.
This was a typically competitive 24-runner handicap with last year’s winner Mohaayed joining Storm Rising at the front as the early pace didn’t set the world alight.
There were plenty in with a live chance coming down the hill, but those at the head of affairs began to fade away with two to jump as it set up for finishers to leave their mark.
Dan Skelton continued his outstanding record – winning three of the last four renewals – as brother Harry produced Ch’Tibello between the last two to lead. It looked like a sloppy jump at the last and drifting slightly right on the run-in might cost him but he was galvanised to score by a length a quarter with Henderson pair We Have A Dream (second) and Countister (third) next best with Walsh back in fourth.
2.50 GRADE ONE ALBERT BARTLETT NOVICES’ HURDLE 2m7f213yds
Derrinross set a steady pace throughout under Luke Dempsey and made this contest a proper test with many of the 20 runners already feeling the pinch early in the final circuit.
The JP Manus pair of Rhinestone (17/2) and Birchdale (6/1) were never really in it with both pulled up in the closing stages as eventual second Commander Of Fleet and the third home, Allaho, made their way into the equation late on in proceedings.
None were able to catch Minella Indo, however, as Rachael Blackmore angled Henry de Bromhead’s game six-year-old into the picture as he came tanking with three to jump.
He never looked like relinquishing the lead with Commander Of Fleet two lengths back while there was another seven back to Allaho and the staying-on Dickie Diver was a few lengths away in fourth.
3.30 GRADE ONE MAGNERS GOLD CUP 3m2f70yds
One of the most intriguing Gold Cups in recent memory started off eventfully with Kemboy tight for room when landing awkwardly and unseating David Mullins at the first.
Invitation Only and last year’s second Might Bite duked it out at the front early on but Bellshill was never travelling under Walsh at the back and was pulled up after successive mistakes at the seventh and eighth.
Favourite Presenting Percy (100/30) was held up at the rear by Russell but was never really travelling with his usual verve before finishing eighth.
Invitation Only was fatally injured when falling at the tenth while Definitly Red was brought down by his departure as Might Bite and Native River brought back memories of 12 months ago when duelling in front.
Native River wasn’t nearly as fluent as last year but stayed on resolutely to take fourth as they skipped the third last to avoid the stricken Invitation Only. Al Boum Photo led turning for home and stayed on strongly from the last under Paul Townend to come home two-and-a-half lengths in front with Anibale Fly running a corker to take second – improving on last year’s bronze medal – while Bristol De Mai was a gallant third.
4.10 ST JAMES’S PLACE FOXHUNTER CHALLENGE CUP 3m2f70yds
Sam Waley-Cohen pushed the tempo throughout on Road To Rome in an ultra-competitive renewal and he had a lot of 24 runners under pressure a long way from home.
One of those was the Derek O’Connor-ridden Stand Up And Fight, which made a series of small mistakes before staying on into six, while Paul Nicholls’ Pacha Du Polder was never in contention before pulling up two out.
Three horses unseated while a further 12 were pulled up but favourite Hazel Hill (7/2) was not one of them as Alex Edwards gradually crept forward before making a charge two out. Shantou Flyer was throwing down the best challenge but the closest he could get was four lengths under David Maxwell as Hazel Hill found more on the run-in, while Top Wood was a place back in third.
4.50 GRADE THREE GRAND ANNUAL HANDICAP CHASE 2m62yds
The only Irish runner among 19 – De Bromhead’s Mind’s Eye – was never a factor under Blackmore as a blunder four out saw him soon pulled up.
Outsider Croco Bay was always prominent in the hands of Kielan Woods with a steady pace working to the advantage of those to the fore as few made any case to contend from off the pace. He took it up turning in, winged the final fence and saw off a number of challengers in what was a gutsy display from Ben Case’s 66/1 chance.
Bun Doran was another to race close to the pace and Paddy Brennan was a length and a half behind in second with Nicholls and Bryony Frost a further place back in third with Brelan D’As.
5.30 MARTIN PIPE CONDITIONAL JOCKEYS’ ‘CAP HURDLE 2m4f56yds
With the visiting party needing a win in the 28th and final race of the Festival to level affairs and maintain their grasp on the Prestbury Cup, the pressure was on favourite Dallas Des Pictons (7/2) to deliver.
Donagh Meyler was always travelling with great confidence on Gordon Elliott’s charge led travelling well between final two hurdles. The Willie Mullins pair of Acapella Bourgeois (Ricky Doyle) and Getareason (Liam Gilligan) set a fierce gallop but both tailed away when it mattered most.
Not so Dallas Des Pictons but when the pressure came up the run-in from Jonjo O’Neill Jr on Joseph O’Brien’s Early Doors, there was only winner. The six-year-old knuckled down to come home a length and a quarter to the good of Dallas Des Pictons with Elliott also having the third home in Defi Bleu.