When it comes to the Cheltenham Festival, it is hard to ignore the influence that Irish bred and trained horses have had both recently and historically. Indeed, day three of the 2018 Festival almost saw an unprecedented clean sweep of the card for Irish winners, with only the last race letting them down. Not only is there always a host of Irish winners, but also St Patrick’s Day often falls during the festival itself, with the craic amongst the crowd underlining the influx of horses, trainers and racegoers from across the Irish Sea. What is less well known is the Ulster influence at Cheltenham.
The Republic at the races
The Republic of Ireland is as famous for its race horse trainers as it is for its horses, with the legendary Willie Mullins leading the way. Mullins has been Champion Trainer every year since 2008/09 and last year sent out Al Boum Photo to win the jewel in the Cheltenham crown, the Gold Cup. He passed the 3000 winners milestone in 2018 and has been associated with many famous mounts, including Hedgehunter, Hurricane Fly, Un De Sceaux and Yorkhill.
Irish trained horses have won six Gold Cups since 2000. Their form has been even more impressive recently, with Al Boum Photo last year, Sizing John in 2017, Don Cossack in 2016 and Lord Windermere in 2014 making it four wins out of the last six. Previous Irish winners have included racing royalty such as L’Escargot and Arkle.
What about the North?
Northern Ireland racing has been best represented by the unparalleled jockey, Sir Anthony Peter McCoy, better known as Tony, or just AP. He rode a staggering 4358 winners in his career and was Champion Jockey in every year he competed as a professional, including a string of twenty consecutive titles between 1995 / 96 and 2014 / 15. He retired at the end of that season and we are unlikely to see the likes of him again.
While Willie Mullins has been was busy flying the Irish flag with a host of Cheltenham favourites, McCoy has won no less than 31 major races at the famous meeting. His successes include two Cheltenham Gold Cups, on Mr Milligan in 1997 and on Synchronised in 2012. He has also won the Ryanair Chase three times and the Queen Mother Champion Chase. During his illustrious career, McCoy completed a grand slam of the Grand Nationals as well as almost all of the other flagship races on the calendar.
Ulster horses at Cheltenham
It is fair to say that Ulster horses have not fared quite as well as their southern neighbours at the Cheltenham Festival. In their Cheltenham preview last year, The Belfast Post highlighted a number of horses from north of the border to look out for, but sadly none of them fulfilled their pre-race promise. A Toi Phil produced the best display, posting a creditable fifth in a large field in the Pertemps Final behind three Southern Irish horses. Sadly there was no happy ending for The Storyteller, who was pulled up in the Ryanair Chase, proving that owning a racehorse can be a real rollercoaster of emotions, especially at the flagship meetings like Cheltenham.
Who to look out for this year
Predicting Cheltenham success so far out is never easy, with so much riding on the qualifying races held through the winter months. One to look out for though is the Henry de Bromhead trained Sinoria. The mare had a disappointing run out at last year’s Cheltenham Festival, finishing last of the nineteen horses to complete the Grade 2 Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle. However, a switch to fences seems to have done the trick, and her recent form has been promising, with a twelve length win over fences on debut at Thurles in late November. Cheltenham 2020 may turn out to be a touch too soon for the six year old, but she is definitely one to watch for the future.