No ‘Luck of the Irish’ at Cheltenham
It is arguably the biggest date in the British horse racing calendar but in five of the last six years, Irish-trained horses have won more races at the Cheltenham Festival than their home counterparts. Last year was an especially humbling experience for the Brits, with the Irish winning 23-5 across the week. That trend is unlikely to end any time soon and particularly this year, the leading Irish trainers have plenty of expensive young horses to call upon boasting huge strength in depth.
Willie Mullins has trained more winners than anyone else
The ace in the hole for the Irish has been Willie Mullins. Indeed, no trainer in the history of the Cheltenham Festival has sent out more winners than County Carlow-based trainer. Mullins was crowned champion trainer at the meeting for the eighth time last year and his total tally now stands at a staggering 78 wins. Nicky Henderson, who last won the leading trainer title in 2012, is his closest pursuer on 70 winners.
Mullins has won 15 of the 21 races restricted to mares at the Festival
The race Mullins has won more than any other is the Champion Bumper, which he has now taken an astonishing 11 times, including last year with Sir Gerhard. He has also won the Mares’ Hurdle nine times, including on six occasions with Quevega, and has dominated the early editions of the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, winning five of the first six runnings. Given that success, it’s perhaps unsurprising that he sent out a one-two in the first renewal of the Mares’ Chase last season.
Henry de Bromhead last year became the first trainer to win Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and Gold Cup
Mullins may have won the leading trainer title on countback last season edging the verdict due to having sent out more second-placed runners, but Henry de Bromhead wouldn’t have swapped places for the world as his six wins included the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and Gold Cup. Becoming the first trainer to win the three most prestigious races in the same week last time out, De Bromhead will be hopeful of claiming at least two of trio of races again, with Honeysuckle set to defend her Champion Hurdle crown. A Plus Tard meanwhile, is favourite to go one better than last year in the Gold Cup.
Irish eyes smile on Rachael Blackmore
Rachael Blackmore’s Grand National success aboard Minella Times may have been the most memorable moment of last season, but her exploits at the Cheltenham also took high rank 12 months ago. Blackmore was crowned leading rider at the Festival with six winners, including the aforementioned Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle, Bob Olinger in the Ballymore and Allaho in the Ryanair.
Davy Russell the leading active jockey
No active rider has ridden more winners at Cheltenham than Davy Russell, whose tally of 25 wins places him behind only Ruby Walsh, Barry Geraghty and Pat Taaffe on the all-time list. Russell was forced to miss the meeting last year with injury but had three the previous season with Envoi Allen, Samcro and Chosen Mate.
Gordon Elliott boasts level-stake profit with handicap hurdlers
All three of those were trained by Gordon Elliott and if Mullins is indeed on the lips of many punters this month, Elliott is not far from the same whispers in the paddock. Only five trainers have sent out more winners in the Cotswolds than the relative youngster at 43 and Elliott looks set to build significantly on his tally of 32 this year. A key part of his success has been with his handicap hurdlers and ten of his winners have been with such types. Such is his credence in the winner’s enclosure, you would have turned a profit of just over £60 to a £1 level stake at SP alone, backing all his handicap hurdlers at the Cheltenham Festival since 2010.
Tiger Roll bids to equal win record
One horse has made a big contribution towards Elliott’s Festival tally of 32: Tiger Roll. Best known for becoming the first horse since Red Rum to win back-to-back editions of the Grand National, he has also won five times at the Cheltenham Festival, landing the Triumph Hurdle, National Hunt Chase and three editions of Cross Country Chase. Bidding for number six this year, if he is successful, Tiger will equal Mullins’ own Quevega for the record of most Festival victories.
Champion Chase favourite Shishkin is Timeform’s highest-rated horse
One of the most eagerly-anticipated races at this year’s meet is surely the Champion Chase, which features a rematch between the two highest-rated horses on Timeform’s ratings. Shishkin (181+) and Energumene (180) fought out an epic edition of the Clarence House Chase only weeks back, where it was Shishkin who eventually stormed home to victory having looked in trouble for most of the home straight. Shishkin will be bidding to confirm that form in the Champion Chase as he goes in search of a third win at the Cheltenham Festival after landing the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Sporting Life Arkle.
Allaho could repeat 2021 best performance
Shishkin was hugely impressive in the Sporting Life Arkle, but the showstopper at Cheltenham last year – again based on Timeform’s figures – was Allaho’s 12-length demolition job in the Ryanair Chase. It was a completely dominant display after an unrelenting gallop that resulted in more than half the field being pulled up and Allaho will be tough to beat again this year.