Porter Floors 'Em To Remain King Of The Stayers

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Danny Mullins celebrates with the owners of Flooring Porter | PA Images

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CHELTENHAM, UK–Depending on your preference, Thursday at Cheltenham is either Paddy Power Stayers' Hurdle day or Ryanair Chase day but either way, on St Patrick's Day each of the Irish-sponsored co-feature races produced a repeat Irish winner.

The one key difference 12 months on was that the owners of Flooring Porter (Ire) (Yeats {Ire}) and Allaho (Fr) (No Risk At All {Fr}) were allowed on course to celebrate in person. And celebrate they did. The huge black-and-white-bedecked entourage that accompanied the dual Stayers' Hurdle winner Flooring Porter made the most of every second of the aftermath of their tough little horse's rousing victory, prompting scenes in the winner's enclosure resembling a pitch invasion as the winning jockey Danny Mullins was carried on the owners' shoulders. 

It was hard not to share in their joy and marvel at the pillar-to-post success of the 7-year-old, who was given to his trainer Gavin Cromwell four years ago after failing to reach his reserve of €6,000 at the store sales. He has now won £462,000 in prize-money and, as his manner of victory showed, is clearly still full of running. 

What he lacks in stature – and he was easily the smallest and slightest of the 10-runner field – Flooring Porter makes up for in heart, with a running style that lays down the gauntlet to his rivals and says 'catch me if you can'. Catch him they couldn't, even though the favourite, and Flooring Porter's conqueror last time, Klassical Dream (Fr) (Dream Well {Fr}), loomed ominously when freewheeling down the hill under a motionless Paul Townend. But Danny Mullins was sitting aboard a partner with deeper reserves, and as Flooring Porter's challengers lined up behind him, he flew the final hurdle to land spring-heeled and find another gear to boost him back up the hill for home. With Klassical Dream fading out of contention, Thyme Hill (GB) (Kayf Tara {GB) ran on for second, with the 2019 winner Paisley Park (Ire) (Oscar {Ire}) just a nose behind him in third. 

“For these races you have plan A to Z, but I never came out of plan A, and that hardly ever happens,” said a beaming Mullins, whose father Tony has enjoyed a share of the limelight in recent years as the trainer of Princess Zoe (Ger).

“These championship races are what it's all about. The most special thing about it today is the reaction from the owners. They weren't here last year to enjoy it and it's very special for them. It's fantastic to hear the boys enjoy it like that, and it shows it can be done with a syndicate. You don't have to be in the elite to win at Cheltenham, and that's the magic of jump racing.”

The team of four friends that make up the Flooring Porter Syndicate ended up buying the horse after spotting a Facebook advert, and they include Ned Hogarty, who owns a flooring business in Galway. He said, “It shows you don't have to be a sheikh to win a Grade 1! We came here hopeful. The rain yesterday probably didn't play to our strengths, but it worked out. We all needed this at home. It's been strange times the last couple of years and this is a morale boost.”

Hogarty added, “If anyone had told me we wouldn't have won again [since the last Festival] until now I wouldn't have believed them. The horse was due it, we were due it, the parish was due it, and the country was due it. Hopefully we can all celebrate and drink a few pints on Paddy's Day. It's memories we'll have forever.”

A key figure responsible for helping to make those memories is Cromwell, the former farrier who took Cheltenham by storm three years ago when saddling Espoir d'Allen (Fr) to win the Champion Hurdle. Sadly the 5-year-old was never seen on a racecourse again after suffering a fatal accident in training some months later. But Cromwell has returned from that tragedy with a horse whose quirks have taken some careful management but who has stamina and verve in abundance. For good measure, between Flooring Porter's two Cheltenham victories, the versatile trainer has also enjoyed a 2-year-old group victory at Royal Ascot with Quick Suzy (Ire) (Profitable {Ire}).

“I was worried as to whether he'd get done for a turn of foot but Danny kept his cool and he knew what he was doing – he knew what he had underneath him,” said Cromwell. 

“Danny is so good with these front-runners, he seems to have a serious clock in his head. It's there for everyone to see and Flooring Porter hasn't been straightforward, he's just gone with him straight away and he's just a proper horseman.”

He added, “The crowd here is just magic. It was amazing here when Espoir d'Allen won the Champion Hurdle but we came here as an outsider and he wasn't that expected. Coming here today we had one of the fancied ones and we fancied him. It all worked out, so it's fantastic.”

Allaho All Class

It wouldn't be the Cheltenham Festival, or St Patrick's Day, without a winner for Willie Mullins but the trainer had to suffer a heart-rending reversal in the opening contest, the G1 Turners Novices' Chase, when Galopin Des Champs (Fr) (Timos {Ger}) fell at the last after a superb display of galloping and jumping which had put him into an apparently unassailable position. While he lay stricken on the landing side of the final fence, the Henry de Bromhead-trained Bob Olinger (Ire) (Sholokhov {Ire}) galloped on past him, having to be urged up the hill by Rachael Blackmore for what had looked an unlikely victory for so much of the contest. 

With Galopin Des Champs mercifully just winded and returning sound to the unsaddling enclosure, it wasn't long before his trainer and jockey Paul Townend were back out in front, with the imperious Allaho defending his crown and leading home a one-two for Mullins in the Ryanair Chase.

“It makes you wonder why I didn't pick him last year, doesn't it?” said Townend, who has chosen Allaho's stable-mate Min (Fr) in 2021, leaving Rachael Blackmore to land the spoils. “He gallops and jumps. He's just really, really good. We took our time learning about him, and I think we've got there now. That's what he likes to do and he's built for it, look at the size of him. I'm delighted.”

Mullins, now with five winners at Cheltenham this week, said of Allaho, “He jumped from fence to fence and came down to the last as if it wasn't there, and that is a mark of a champion. I was a nervous wreck. The horse was doing everything right for Paul then coming to the last I thought 'here we go again', but he got over it and jumped it well. Paul has nerves of steel and I'm delighted he is on our side.”

The Thompson family of Cheveley Park Stud were the leading owners at last year's Festival with three winners, and two of those, Sir Gerhard (Ire) (Jeremy) and Allaho, have now backed up in 2022. For the final day, they also have a major chance in the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup with A Plus Tard (Fr) (Kapgarde {Fr}), who was second to his stable-mate Minella Indo (Ire) (Beat Hollow {GB}) 12 months ago and is currently favourite to go one better on Friday. 

Though the Cheveley Park Stud colours bear the patriotic red, white and blue of Britain, where the Thompsons' Flat horses are bred and trained, the late David Thompson chose to base his select National Hunt string in Ireland, and he was well rewarded for the investment he made. Cheveley Park Stud has now been represented by nine Cheltenham Festival winners.

Britain Fights Back 

Despite a fairly lacklustre performance from the British trainers at last year's Festival, this time around the honours are more even, with Ireland leading Britain by 11 winners to 10 going into the final day. Thursday's three Grade 1 contests all went to Irish stables but the remainder of the day's races fell to stables in England and Wales. 

The Harry Fry-trained Love Envoi (Ire) (Westerner {Ire}) remained unbeaten when winning the G2 Ryanair Mares' Novices' Hurdle to give jockey Jonathan Burke his first Festival victory. Dual-purpose trainer Hughie Morrison was rewarded with his first Cheltenham winner since Frenchman's Creek (GB) in 2o02 when Mouse Hamilton-Fairley's homebred Third Wind (GB) (Shirocco {Ger}) held off Alaphilippe (Ire) (Morozov) in a tight finish to the G3 Pertemps Final, while Cheltenham specialist Coole Cody (Ire) (Dubai Destination) landed the G3 Craft Irish Whiskey Plate for Welsh-based Evan Williams.  

Williams's namesake, the unrelated Venetia Williams, notched her second win at this year's Festival when Chambard (Fr) (Gris De Gris {Fr}) sprang a surprise in Thursday's finale to win the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup in the hands of Lucy Turner at odds of 40/1. 

A tip of the chapeau must go to former TDN contributor-turned-Paris restaurateur Emmanuel Roussel who was absent from Cheltenham for the first time in many years but was represented on the roll of honour as co-breeder of Chambard with André Cyprès and Antoine-Audoin Maggiar. Roussel, who also named the 10-year-old, explained that Chambard translates loosely to “a noisy mess”. His victory was thus a rather fitting way to bring the curtain down on the penultimate day of the Festival, as the record crowd of 73,754 departed Prestbury Park in varying states of inebriation to regroup for one last hurrah on Gold Cup day. 

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