Wednesday 21 August 2019

Min and Thistlecrack hit the high notes as festival fever sees crowds jump

Min with trainer Willie Mullins after winning the Racing Post Novice Chase. Photo: PA
Min with trainer Willie Mullins after winning the Racing Post Novice Chase. Photo: PA

Johnny Ward

A huge increase in attendance was recorded at Leopardstown for day one of the four-day racing festival - but most will remember this St Stephen's Day as the one that saw a novice leave even the most hardened cynic in awe in the King George.

Thistlecrack, which only started chasing in recent months, became the first horse with novice status in 46 years to win the Kempton showpiece, bookmakers running for cover afterwards and making him just 5/4 favourite for the Timico Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival.

His victory, in destroying stablemate Cue Card after being heavily eased, had social media in relative meltdown and rider Tom Scudamore reduced to tears. Initially, he was "speechless", but later gathered some words.

"He's on his own. Between myself, my father and grandfather, we've had about 3,000 winners - and he's the best one of the lot," he said.

Thistlecrack's extraordinary performance was a fitting last King George VI Chase televised live on Channel 4, ITV taking over terrestrial coverage on January 1.

Back on home soil, the 14,651 crowd at Leopardstown was more than what attended the Champion Stakes meeting in September and also a dramatic rise from last year's figure of 11,844.

In winning six races across Limerick and Leopardstown, champion trainer Willie Mullins dramatically reduced Gordon Elliott's lead at the top of the trainers' table, the win of Min in the feature novice chase the highlight.

There is €190,000 up for grabs in today's Paddy Power Chase alone, the Mullins-trained The Crafty Butcher - part-owned by rugby stars Ian Madigan and Dominic Ryan - is set to go off favourite.

Irish Independent

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