The Willie Mullins show rolled into Cheltenham Racecourse on Wednesday as the Irish champion trainer landed a 7/1 Grade 1 double.
The best of all came in the feature event of the day as Energumene became the 11th horse to win back-to-back Queen Mother Champion Chases under an ecstatic Paul Townend.
????⚪️ Energumene – a procession as he lands successive wins in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase
— Racing TV (@RacingTV) March 15, 2023
A bet of £400,000 was placed on the nine-year-old with Star Sports Bookmaker at odds of 7/5, winning the punter £580,000 once the Tony Bloom-owned gelding crossed the winning line.
Post-race, Mullins shared that he was confident coming into the contest, as he said: “Paul came home from the Clarence House and said they won’t beat us again. The horse’s work and jumping and everything has been brilliant and we were just keeping our fingers crossed for a clear round.
“I was way more confident coming into this year’s race as we hadn’t got Shishkin to take on and we thought if there was any improvement from the Clarence House that with hopefully with a clear round he would win.”
Similar excitement was shared by Townend, who said: “That was easy, to be honest. I got in a lovely rhythm on him, after the first two fences he was taking them on, he was quick at them, and it was simple – it was just a matter of keeping him in a rhythm after that.
“He allowed me to ride him more forward [than in the Clarence House Chase] because he took on his fences better today. Looser ground probably helped as well and played a factor in it, but he was just more forward. He felt a different horse today.”
However, Energumene’s success over two miles in the Champion Chase was not the first time the ‘master of Closutton’ had been talking to journalists, as he had been tipping his hat to the fans two hours earlier following Impaire Et Passe’s success in the Grade 1 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.
With a quizzical look on his face, the most-winning Cheltenham Festival trainer in history is already looking towards the future, as he said: “I’m looking at him as a chaser; you have to ask yourself now, do you stay hurdling? What would you do?
“The change of pace down to the last and up the hill – wow. I think that was the horse’s fourth run in his life, so there’s a huge improvement there.
“You have to look at everything, including the Champion Hurdle. Yesterday I was telling Michael Buckley, we’ll have to go shopping again to find one to beat you [Constitution Hill], but maybe we haven’t yet!
“He’s in the same sort of mold with his speed, jumping and the way he came up the hill, so maybe we have one.”
Impaire Et Passe went off as the 5/2 second favourite and it looked like it was going to be two from two for the well-backed horses at the start of the day, however, The Real Whacker bravely fended off the challenge of the favourite Gerri Colombe to win the Grade 1 Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase.
It was a fantastic result at the home of jump racing and the crowd loved the game performance, none more so than joint-owner David Mann, who said: “My heart is pounding and my stomach is all over the place. I can’t believe we have had this winner. It is the best day of my life.
“To come here in November and have a winner was so unreal, to come here New Year’s Day and do it was great. Everybody knows I suppose the king of the crop is the big festival meeting which is today.
“Sam Twiston-Davies gave him such a great ride and we are so proud of the team, especially Paddy Neville who came over from Ireland two years ago.
“He is one of my best friends that I grew up with in the same village in Ireland. Paddy has done so much and brought this horse on.”
⭐️ A dream result in the @weatherbysltd Champion Bumper!
John Gleeson is only 18 years of age & wins on his first ride at the #CheltenhamFestival as A Dream To Share stays on best to claim G1 honours for John Kiely in the colours of JP McManus pic.twitter.com/gTRGDX6VcZ
— Racing TV (@RacingTV) March 15, 2023
Fast forwarding to the final race of the day, it was a tale of two Johns in the Grade 1 Champion Bumper as 18-year-old John Gleeson produced a brilliant ride onboard A Dream To Share for 85-year-old John Kiely.
Having burst onto the scene at the Dublin Racing Festival following two victories in summer bumpers, the Brucetown Farms Ltd-bred five-year-old powered up the famous Cheltenham hill to please the remaining crowd at Prestbury Park.
“It’s like a dream and I can’t believe it and even being at the Festival is just unreal,” smiled Gleeson. “It’s very special as we’re a small team at home, but we try our best to get to the next stage and to win.
“I can’t believe it – I’ve been going to John’s with dad for as long as I can remember really, he’s 10 minutes up the road from us and I ride out this horse every day before going to school. He’s very special.”