The 2021 Cheltenham Festival In Review

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This year’s Cheltenham Festival has come and gone, presenting the UK with what must have been an emotional release given the trying times we’re still in a year on. The multi-day event, always one of the most highly anticipated races in the country, proved a resounding success, with Irish ace Minella Indo winning the Gold Cup to hand Henry De Bromhead a hat trick of victories. 

De Bromhead also won the Champion Hurdle and the Champion Chase, taking the Gold Cup on the final day despite jockey Rachel Blackmore leading affairs atop A Plus Tarde. The 31-year-old fell just short of becoming the first woman to win the Gold Cup but snagged the Leading Jacket Trophy on the back of six wins.

Blackmore started the day with a sixth triumph, taking the JCB Triumph Hurdle with Quilixios. Kevin Sexton won his first Cheltenham Festival race, beating all chasers to claim the County Handicap Hurdle sat on Belfast Banter. Mark Walsh emerged victorious atop Vanillier, having contested the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.

Walsh rode in place of Jonathan Moore, who declared himself injured and stepped down to miss out on two big races. 

Porlock Bay shockingly won the Hunter’s Chase under the guidance of Lorcan Williams, Paul Townend won the first-ever Mrs Paddy power Mares’ Chase on board Colreevy while the final race of the day went to Galopin Des Champs. Sean O’Keefe rode the latter to victory in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle.

“Sean just bided his time and gave him a very good ride,” trainer Willie Mullins said. “I had this horse entered up in a lot of handicaps and we divided them up as best we could. We had two jockeys on the horses we thought had a chance. Gentleman De Mee was just too keen, but he’s obviously a good horse.”

Blackmore, meanwhile, has earned plaudits from all over after pulling in six trophies during the Festival. Although she was no stranger to racing fans before the recent event, she’s likely to have earned herself several more admirers after the performance, one which nearly saw her win the Gold Cup.

The 31-year-old rode Honeysuckle to a big win in the Champion Hurdle before getting atop Bob Olinger en route to a Ballymore Novices Hurdle win. Blackmore also took the Sir Gerhard’s Champion Bumper, as well as a win in the Ryanair.

“I’m genuinely just so overwhelmed by these last few days,” she said after winning the sixth piece of silverware. “It’s all about the horses you’re getting on, and I just feel so lucky to be riding for the people I’m riding for. “I can’t comprehend that I’m the leading rider – it’s a bit surreal.

“Getting an award from AP McCoy in the shape of Ruby Walsh is crazy.”

“It’s been incredible what’s she’s done, tactically all week she’s been in the right place on so many horses,” Ruby Walsh pointed out after the display. “The wider world will see her now for what she wants to be, and that’s just a jockey.”

As for Gold Cup winner De Bromhead, he couldn’t quite believe he pulled it off.

“I look back at the Gold Cup with disbelief, to be honest. I watched it back this morning and was kind of going ‘this didn’t happen’,” he said via Racing TV on Sunday.

“Minella Indo kept staying and I’m not sure we’ve seen the half of him – he’s so tough.

“I haven’t really spoken to Barry (Maloney, owner) about plans, but Punchestown would be great if he seems good – I think we should strongly consider Punchestown.”

Minella and A Plus Tarde could run at Punchestown and the Grand National at Aintree, respectively. The Grand National, which comes first, is another high-profile race and betting sites all over are offering odds on the April event.

Cloth Cap is the current bookies’ favourite at 9/2. Any Second Now is 10/1 while Burrows Saint is 14/1.

“The one question about A Plus Tard going into Cheltenham was he’s got so much class, would he get the last two furlongs? But he really did, in fairness to him – and wouldn’t he have been a very impressive winner if ‘Indo’ wasn’t there?” De Bromhead said in reference to a potential Aintree run.

“A Plus Tard’s form is ridiculously better on left-handed tracks, so if he’s well, we’re considering Aintree for him.”

The racing calendar is certainly heating up again on the back of a very worrying period. Horse racing enthusiasts could enjoy events from afar, with a number of sportsbooks offering free race streaming to persons who have placed bets via their platforms. The Grand National, set for April 10, will be live on ITV.

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