Rachael Reigns Over Cheltenham

High Five: Rachael Blackmore celebrates her fifth win of the week aboard Telmesomethinggirl | racingfotos.com


“Out of this world,” was how Rachael Blackmore described her week at Cheltenham so far, but it is becoming increasingly clear that the top echelon of National Hunt racing is very much her world.

The 31-year-old now leads the jockeys' table with five Festival winners in the last three days, with Jack Kennedy her closest pursuer on three. Two of her triumphs have come on horses owned by Cheveley Park Stud, which has now celebrated two winners at each of the last three Cheltenham Festivals. Wednesday's victory of Sir Gerhard (Ire) (Jeremy) in the G1 Weatherbys Champion Bumper was followed 24 hours later by the emphatic G1 Ryanair Chase triumph of Allaho (Fr) (No Risk At All {Fr}). The link between the two, apart from the owner and trainer Willie Mullins, was the brilliant, dominant riding of Blackmore, who on each horse dictated the race from the front, running her rivals ragged.

In the case of Allaho, his relentless pace started to force errors from those in pursuit of the 7-year-old, whose near-flawless jumping bought him lengths at each fence. Having dispatched his stable-mate and last year's Ryanair winner Min (Fr) (Walk In The Park {Ire}), who was eventually pulled up, he kicked into another gear for his final thrust up the hill, leaving the Joseph O'Brien-trained runner-up Fakir d'Oudairies (Fr) (Kapgarde {Fr}) 12 lengths adrift as he sailed across the line.

Add the Cheveley Park Stud brace to Blackmore's historic Champion Hurdle success aboard Kenny Alexander's Honeysuckle (GB) (Sulamani {Ire}) on the opening day, the victory of Bob Olinger (Ire) (Sholokhov {Ire}) in the G1 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle on Wednesday and, later on Thursday the daring late run on Telmesomethinggirl (Ire) (Stowaway {Ire}) to clinch another victory for owner Alexander and trainer Henry de Bromhead in the G2 Parnell Properties Mares' Hurdle. With one day to go and some enticing rides on Friday which include another Cheveley Park Stud runner A Plus Tard (Fr) (Kapgarde {Fr}) in the G1 Well Child Cheltenham Gold Cup, it seems likely that Blackmore will end the week on top.

While she rightly dislikes references to her being a female jockey, the fact remains that her outstanding achievements will ease the way for other women following in her wake. It is not unthinkable that Blackmore will become champion jockey in Ireland—she is currently battling it out with Paul Townend—and the same goes for Hollie Doyle on the Flat in Britain this coming season. Such an idea, that two women would be so dominant in the jockey ranks, could not have been entertained even five years ago.

Typically, though, Blackmore deflects the praise to the horses who have carried her to her lofty position. Commenting on the 7-year-old Allaho, she said, “For a jockey, when you're getting legged-up on these kind of horses for Willie Mullins and Henry de Bromhead, they just know their job, it's fantastic.

“He was just jumping and travelling. He's just a real galloper and that's how I rode him. It was either going to work, or it wasn't, and look, it worked. It was only when I came back in and people were saying that we went some gallop, but he felt in his comfort zone everywhere. It was fantastic.”

The last few months have brought a mixture of sadness and angst for those connected to Cheveley Park Stud. On Dec. 29, the organisation lost its patriarch David Thompson, who acquired the historic stud with his wife Patricia back in 1975. Though more readily associated with the Flat over more than four decades, it was Thompson's particular love of jumpers that prompted a rash of high-profile purchases in recent seasons and, though expensively procured, they have also been incredibly well selected.

The horse that was perhaps the most widely expected to secure his third successive Cheltenham Festival victory coming into this week was Envoi Allen (Fr) (Muhtathir {GB}), who was sent off as 4/9 on for the G1 Marsh Novices' Chase but fell at the fourth fence under Jack Kennedy. The 7-year-old was one of eight horses moved by Cheveley Park Stud in the wake of the publication of the controversial Gordon Elliott photograph, as was Sir Gerhard. Such a decision, with just two weeks to those horses' main targets of the season, would not have been an easy one to make and will undoubtedly have caused much consternation for the owners, who also have the unbeaten Quilixios (GB) (Maxios {GB}) as second-favourite for Friday's G1 JCB Triumph Hurdle.

Reflecting on her association with Cheveley Park Stud, Blackmore said, “It was a disappointing start to the day for [the Thompson family], but look Envoi Allen is up and he is okay, and so is Jack, and that's the main thing. They will live to fight another day. I'm very grateful to them for being so supportive of me and giving me the opportunities on their horses.”

Willie Mullins, who also trains last year's winner Min, added, “Allaho did everything right. The first thing I did when Rachael come back in was lift her number cloth to see if the lead bag was in there as it looked like Allaho was just carrying Rachael around there! He was just awesome. His galloping and his jumping, if you put it together I was hoping he could do that over three miles, but if he is only a two-and-a-half mile horse that will do me.”

He continued, “Watching him at home, all the time everyone has felt he is a galloper and a jumper and that you don't need to hold him up. I was sort of as gobsmacked as anyone else watching it as I fully expected the two horses in front to probably collapse coming to the third last and if they did you would have said they have gone too fast and took each other on, but that is their style of racing and that was the plan from the start and we just had to hope one of them would be good enough.”

Cromwell Floored By Success

While Willie Mullins and Henry de Bromhead been prominent this week with four winners apiece, the 17 victories for Irish-trained horses from 21 races have also been spread out among their compatriots. Gordon Elliott's stable, now under the care of Denise 'Sneezy' Foster, has had a winner each day, while Noel Meade, Paul Nolan and Paul Hennessy have also enjoyed winners. One of the most impressive performances, from another front-running ride, was that of Flooring Porter (Ire) (Yeats {Ire}), who made all, jumping exuberantly, to land the G1 Paddy Power Stayers' Hurdle.

The 6-year-old's trainer Gavin Cromwell first came to wider prominence when Espoir d'Allen (Fr) won the Champion Hurdle two years ago, the spring after his Princess Yaiza (Ire) (Casamento {Ire}) provided him with a major Flat win on Arc weekend in the G2 Qatar Prix de Royallieu. Tragically, Espoir d'Allen died just months after Cheltenham following an injury to his shoulder during training. Deservedly, the softly spoken Cromwell, who started out in the racing business as a farrier, now has another exciting young hurdler on his hands.

Admitting that it was a “fairytale” to win another of the Festival's championship races, he said, “We won a Champion Hurdle a couple of years ago and it was massive. I didn't think I'd ever win a race in Cheltenham, and to come back and win a second one is fantastic.”

He added of Flooring Porter, who was unsold at €5,500 when offered for sale as a 3-year-old and is owned by a syndicate led by carpet shop owner Ned Hogarty, “We came across this fella by accident. He was a very cheap store and progressed right through the ranks. It's a bit of a fairytale, really, and just goes to show that it is possible with a cheap one. He wasn't bought expecting him to be a Grade 1 horse.”

There was a sting in the tale for jockey Jonathan Moore, who has partnered Flooring Porter in 11 of his 15 starts but stood himself down on Thursday morning having failed to recover sufficiently from a race fall on Sunday. Danny Mullins instead took the ride and recorded his first win at the Festival.

Cromwell added, “Danny gave him a smashing ride. It's very unfortunate for Johnny Moore that he couldn't ride him. Thankfully, and rightfully so, he stood himself down, and he suggested Danny would be well suited to the horse. Johnny has ridden him all along and brought him all the way to here, and it is very unfortunate for him. Hats off to Johnny, it was so unselfish and I'm very grateful to him.”

Flooring Porter completed a Grade 1 double on the day for the four-time Ascot Gold Cup winner and Castle Hyde Stud resident Yeats following the win of JP McManus's Chantry House (Ire) in the March Novices' Chase. Yeats has also been represented this week by two impressive handicap-winning mares, Heaven Help Us (Ire) and Mount Ida (Ire). 

The late Whytemount Stud resident Stowaway (Ire) has also had a good week, his four winners including the Grade 1 scorers Monkfish (Ire) and Put The Kettle On (Ire), as well as Telmesomethinggirl (Ire) and The Shunter (Ire), while Kilcruit was runner-up in the G1 Weatherbys Champion Bumper and Fiddlerontheroof (Ire) was second to Monkfish.

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