The famous win saw the County Waterford trainer become the first to complete a ‘clean sweep’ of the Festival’s three signature races in the same week after Honeysuckle and Put The Kettle On won the Champion Hurdle and Champion Chase.
And the stablemates battling it out, just like Little Owl and Night Nurse did in 1981, encapsulated the dominance of the Emerald Isle at a record-breaking festival which saw dual Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo finish third. Native River, the 2018 winner, was the best of the home runners in fourth for the retiring Colin Tizzard.
The meeting ended with 23 Irish-trained winners – and five for Britain which included Vintage Clouds for Yorkshire’s Sue and Harvey Smith.
Ireland is home to most of the best horses, trainers and jockeys at present, an advantage accentuated by the competitiveness of their three major jumping festivals, enticing prize money for owners, a thriving point-to-point circuit where so many future champions are being discovered and, latterly, a Cheltenham build-up unhindered by inclement weather.
Yet this last point should not detract from the magnitude of Ireland’s success – a total contrast to the meeting, many years ago, when they had just one winner – or de Bromhead in particular.
The Mike and Barry Moloney-owned Minella Indo won the 2019 Albert Bartlett Hurdle here and was second in last year’s RSA Chase to Nicky Henderson’s Champ who was the first to drop out of this fast-run Gold Cup after his jumping was put under pressure by the frenetic early pace.
Always ridden by jockey of the moment Rachael Blackmore, the only errant decision she has made was to choose A Plus Tard over Minella Indo, creating an opening for 21-year-old Jack Kennedy to enjoy a redemptive ride just 24 hours after coming to grief on top novice chaser Envoi Allen.
Yet, as the pacesetting Frodon began to tire and the field became stretched out, it was, in fact, Blackmore who produced the race-defining move on the home turn when she boxed in the hat trick-seeking Al Boum Photo.
This race-riding enabled Minella Indo to surge clear – and, just as Little Owl did four decades ago, find a bit more when the runner-up narrowed the advantage in the final strides.
Blackmore began Gold Cup day with victory in the Grade One JCB Triumph Hurdle on the de Bromhead-trained Quilixios, a success which saw her become the first female to land the leading jockey accolade at the meeting with six wins – more than Great Britain’s combined tally. She was that dominant.
And as the Irish contingent of trainers, jockeys and stable staff at Cheltenham donated 25,000 euros to WellChild to show their appreciation for the efforts taken to ensure the Festival could go ahead in a bioscecure bubble, albeit without crowds, de Bromhead was quick to praise his whole team including his wife Heather, and their children, who were forced to stay at home.
“As I say though everyone who is working with us home and the crew here I couldn’t do it without them and the clients that give us the opportunity to buy these good horses.
“I just feel extremely lucky,” said de Bromhead who saddled six winners this week.
“It will be me myself, and I on the car and on the ferry and that is there is no celebrating. It will be quarantine for five days when I get back home. I’m looking forward to getting back home and seeing the family.”
As for Minella Indo, the trainer said: “Whatever it is about here, he just comes alive. He’s fast asleep at home on a daily basis, but even saddling him today, he was kicking the back door and so up for it.”
De Bromhead added of riding arrangements: “Rachael had the choice. Everyone has been asking which had the better chance, but I couldn’t split them. I don’t like to interfere as I’d hate to put her the wrong way.”
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