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From comeback of the week to the star of the show: Michael Verney’s stand-out moments from Cheltenham

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Jockey Rachael Blackmore celebrates on Honeysuckle after winning the Close Brothers Mares' Hurdle on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Jockey Rachael Blackmore celebrates on Honeysuckle after winning the Close Brothers Mares' Hurdle on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Jockey Rachael Blackmore celebrates on Honeysuckle after winning the Close Brothers Mares' Hurdle on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

What a week it was at the Cheltenham Festival, with many more equine memories created that will live long in the minds of racing fans. Here are the stand-out moments as we look back at the winners and losers over a fascinating four days at the Cotswolds.

Star(s) of the week

Team Honeysuckle lit up the opening day with a famous success as one of the most extraordinary scenes in Festival history overshadowed the Champion Hurdle 40 minutes earlier.

The winners’ enclosure exploded in emotion after a fairytale finale. The mighty mare lost her 16-run undefeated streak earlier this season and it seemed like her best days were behind her, but Henry de Bromhead had her primed to score under Rachael Blackmore before heading off to start a new career as a broodmare.

Ride of the week

It was fitting that the best performance of the week was saved for the showpiece event with Paul Townend providing a masterclass which legendary rider AP McCoy called “as brilliant a ride as I have ever seen in a horse race”.

Aboard the red-hot favourite Galopin Des Champs, Townend held him up before slowly picking off his rivals and challenging at the final fence to surge clear by seven lengths. Skill, patience, bottle and brilliance from the Cork rider.

Surprise(s) of the week

There was no shortage of surprises on the final day with trainer/jockey Bradley Gibbs stunning several bigger hitters in the Hunters’ Chase at hefty odds of 66/1, while the Dan Skelton-trained Faivoir (33/1) took the County Hurdle under Bridget Andrews.

Having enjoyed a spectacular week with three winners in three days, it was also a fair shock that the De Bromhead-trained duo of A Plus Tard, the defending champion, and 2021 hero Minella Indo never got going in the Gold Cup before being pulled up.

Future Superstars

This award has both human and equine winners. A Dream To Share was certainly well-named as the exciting five-year-old added another string to his bow with a polished display in the Champion Bumper to hand John Kiely, 85, a first Festival success.

Leaving Cert student John Gleeson (18), son of RTÉ racing presenter Brian, gave a polished display in the saddle while Michael O’Sullivan also announced himself with a double, headlined by Supreme success on Barry Connell’s Marine Nationale.

Quote of the week

“I have about as much respect for Michael O’Leary’s opinion as he has for my opinion. I didn’t see any father of the year awards being thrown out yet ... I’m happy enough with my responsibilities at home.”

There were no punches pulled by Davy Russell in response to Michael O’Leary’s criticism of the 43-year-old’s retirement U-turn when claiming that “at a certain point in time you should put your family first and not your riding career”.

Friday Firsts

Brian Hayes has toiled hard throughout his career in the saddle and the Cork rider, partner of Blackmore, enjoyed his day in the sun as the teak tough Impervious scored in the Mares’ Chase to hand him a first Festival winner.

That was Colm Murphy’s first Festival success since rejoining the training ranks while Irish eyes were also smiling as Kildare native Aidan Kelly steered home the winner of the finale – the Martin Pipe – when aboard Iroko (6/1).

Horses for Courses

Some horses just come alive around the Cotswolds and Sire Du Berlais proved his love for the Festival once again when causing a 33/1 shock in the Stayers’ Hurdle for a third Festival success.

Gordon Elliott’s 11-year-old was being aimed at a Pertemps treble but when failing to qualify for that contest, the Meath trainer switched tack with the Grade One preferred and he delivered his best once again under Mark Walsh.

Wow of the week

There are few times when your jaw is left on the floor after a performance but Constitution Hill did it once again when laughing at State Man – a brilliant horse in his own right – for a comfortable Champion Hurdle success.

He has been dubbed a superstar for some time and he keeps living up to that billing. What happens next will be fascinating – will he stay over hurdles or switch to fences – while Willie Mullins now feels that brilliant Ballymore winner Impaire Et Passe may be one to go to war against him with.

Comeback of the week

Scaling Festival heights like success in the Ryanair Chase seemed very unlikely for Envoi Allen but De Bromhead worked the oracle as the nine-year-old finally delivered his best outside of novice company to fend off Shishkin.

Two of the biggest cheers this week were saved for Hewick (Gold Cup) and Dysart Dynamo (Arkle) as both made it to their feet following crushing falls. They thankfully live to fight another day after unlikely comebacks.

Celebration of the week

You will go a long away to equal the celebrations around The Real Whacker after Paddy Neville’s seven-year-old held off the fast-finishing Gerri Colombe in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase.

Led by owner Davy Mann – donned in his red pinstripe suit – the winners’ enclosure was wild and the Gold Cup is next.


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