Cheltenham Festival: Mullins edges ahead of Henderson while O'Leary finally gets hands on Ryanair Chase title

Ireland's domination of the 2018 Cheltenham Festival reached new heights on St Patrick's Thursday, when trainers from the Emerald Isle saddled the first six winners to wrap up the BetBright Cup from Great Britain with a day to spare.

Jockey Davy Russell celebrates winning the Ryanair Chase with horse Balko Des Flos and owner Michael O'Leary, far right, in tow. Picture: Steven Paston/PA

Willie Mullins edged ahead of Nicky Henderson as the winning-most trainer in Festival history, as a double courtesy of Penhill and Laurina took his tally to 61 in all and seven for the week.

Gordon Elliott is just one behind his great rival in the race for the top trainer award at this year’s meeting, thanks to a treble through Shattered Love, Delta Work and The Storyteller.

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Not to be left out, Henry de Bromhead got in on the act with Balko Des Flos in the Ryanair Chase.

Owner Michael O'Leary kisses Balko Des Flos after winning the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA

The latter’s success saw Gigginstown House Stud’s Michael O’Leary finally get his hands on the owner’s trophy for the Ryanair Chase he has sponsored since 2006.

After several near-misses, he struck gold when Balko Des Flos outpointed last year’s winner Un De Sceaux under Davy Russell.

Successful in the ultra-competitive Galway Plate in the summer, the 8-1 chance stepped up to Grade One company and starred on a brilliant day for Gigginstown, who also graced the winner’s enclosure with Shattered Love and Delta Work.

“It’s taken me 15 years to win the Ryanair, so I’m going to enjoy it. I’m going to get seriously drunk upstairs in the next couple of hours!” said O’Leary.

Owner Michael O'Leary kisses Balko Des Flos after winning the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham. Picture: Mike Egerton/PA

“On a serious note, it’s great for Henry – he’s hit the bar a couple of times this week, so it’s great to see him have a winner.”

De Bromhead said: “I thought the ground had gone against us. It hasn’t been raced on as much and it seemed nicer ground than yesterday, but I was still worried about it.”

Penhill won at the Festival for the second year running when springing a 12-1 surprise for the Mullins team in the Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle, in which Middleham trainer Jedd O’Keeffe’s Sam Spinner came home in fifth under Sheffield-born jockey Joe Colliver.