The curtain has closed on another exciting Cheltenham Festival, four days of action-packed horse racing which really demonstrated the importance of spectators. Last year the coronavirus pandemic swept over Prestbury Park, with races forced behind closed doors and the eery silence of an empty racetrack something we hope will never need to be seen again. Normality was back on the horizon this time though, as jockeys and trainers alike were finally allowed to bask in the glory of the boisterous ‘Cheltenham roar’ once again.
In terms of sheer spectacle, you’ll do well to find anything as special as those four days in Gloucestershire this year, as plenty of favourites reigned supreme, with some underdogs coming up with a shock to the horse betting and writing their name in the history books.
Traditionally, Willie Mullins has dominated the Leading Trainer award, and while Henry de Bromhead ran him close last year with an impressive treble that included the Champion Chase and Gold Cup, the Irishman had a more routine run to the top this year, winning the award for the ninth time.
Indeed, Mullins extended his number of Cheltenham winners to 88, while Paul Townend won the Leading Jockey for the second time, although it did take until the final race of day one for Mullins to get off the mark, and how poignant it proved to be with his son Patrick claiming the National Hunt Chase aboard Stattler.
It was a memorable week for Mullins and his stable, who were expecting a tough run with the likes of De Bromhead and Gordon Elliott, who was returning to the Cotswolds after serving his ban at last year’s Festival, and arrived with a cavalry of previous Grade One winners.
The week ended with a record 10 victories, with the highlights including Energumene’s revenge on Shishkin in their Champion Chase and Allaho’s dominance in the Ryanair Chase. Sir Gerhard really got the ball rolling on day two through, where he dispatched Three Stripe Life and stablemate Whatdeawant to win the Grade One Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, after Rachael Blackmore fell at the final fence. “I was afraid going around that we were in the wrong race, but he showed his true ability to stay going.” Townend said after.
“He jumped the best he has ever jumped on the course. His jumping the last day wasn’t great, but he jumped well there.”
As for Mullins, a strong display at the Dublin Festival clearly served as a catalyst for Cheltenham success, and the Irishman’s five winners on the final day helped make up for lost time following a slower start than anticipated.
“We’re delighted,” he said. “Any winner is always good at Cheltenham and Paul has ridden beautifully when you think what happened with Galopin Des Champs earlier in the week.
“With Paul it seems when something goes badly for him it spurs him on even more. That’s sport, I suppose. “I didn’t realise no one has ever trained this many winners here, but since it became four-day Festival things changed numbers-wise.
“I’d imagine this sort of thing will happen more regularly and if they go to five days someone will do it easily! I’m delighted with the whole team and I’m going to accept the award with all my team because they are the ones who do it in the background leaving me free.”