WHERE’s the best place to begin a National Hunt review of the year? It all builds up to Cheltenham, doesn’t it?
It was thankfully changed times when the Irish packed their bags to come home on the Friday evening. In 2020 they had left in fear of what was to come with Covid taking hold and in 2021 the merry few had left to return with no fanfare, in the isolated groups they had arrived in.
This year they left in celebration. The big five, the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase, Ryanair Chase, Stayers Hurdle and Gold Cup, all safely captured and trophies heading back over the Irish Sea. Willie Mullins got the Champion Chase with Energumene to compete the full set of Cheltenham championships. He also trained a record 10 winners over the week, including six Grade 1s.
Rachael Blackmore took all the Saturday newspaper headlines as she got the Gold Cup that had eluded her in 2021 as A Plus Tard found the finish he had been lacking the previous year to reverse the placings with Minella Indo, another one-two for Henry de Bromhead.
“I can’t believe it, I’m so lucky to be getting to ride these horses,” Blackmore said after Honeysuckle had galloped away with her second Champion Hurdle two days previously.
Allaho and Gavin Cromwell’s Flooring Porter repeated their Ryanair and Stayers Hurdle victories. Add in new stars Facile Vega and Vauban to Willie Mullins record number of 10 winners for the meeting. Bob Olinger scored a fortunate win in the Turners Novice after Galopin Des Champs fell at the last.
The Cross-Country was to be the swan-song of Tiger Roll after three wins in the race but first the rains arrived to the day and then stable companion Delta Work and Jack Kennedy prove just too strong on the run-in to deprive him a final win at the track where he first hit the big time in the 2014 Triumph Hurdle.
There was some disquiet among racefans immediately after but the two horses both returned to the winner’s enclosure for the final farewell.
Gordon Elliott returned to the Festival after his enforced absence the previous year but didn’t enjoy the best of luck. He also won the Coral Cup with Commander Of Fleet but had disappointments in the novice hurdles with Mighty Potter and sadly lost Ginto to a fatal injury just as he looked like playing a hand in the Albert Bartlett finish. There were also Grade 1 second places for Queens Brook, American Mike, Fil Dor and Three Strip Life. Paul Townend and Patrick Mulllins topped the jockey’ standings sharing most of Willie’s 10 winners.
Joseph O’Brien was on the scoreboad with Banbridge and Padraig Roche got his first Cheltenham winner when Brazil touched off the Mullins hot-pot Gaelic Warrior in the Boodles Novices.
Earlier in the season, Frodon had given Paul Nicholls and Bryony Frost, in the midst of her BHA hearing in bullying claims against Robbie Dunne, a popular success in the Grade 1 Ladbrokes Chase in Down Royal, beating Galvin and Gold Cup winner Minella Indo.
Irish chasers then went on and smash and grabbed two of the Grade 1 chases. A Plus Tard looked new and improved when he cantered home under Rachael Blackmore in the Betfair Chase at Haydock, while Blackmore came in for a little criticism on Minella Indo in the King George. A duel up front with Bryony Frost on Frodon left the door open for a canny tactical ride and who better than Danny Mullins to step into that role. Out the back on Tornado Flyer, he crept into it on the bend and had energy to spare when all else were empty.
The season across the Channel had to end on an Irish winner in the Bet365 Gold Cup and it came from a more unlikely source when Shark Hanlon’s bargain purchase Hewick was prominent through and went clear under Jordan Gainford to win by eight lengths on the last day of the British season at Sandown. Little did we know then where the story would end – or has it ended?
Honeysuckle was the Dublin Festival heroine
FOR once the Dublin Racing Festival didn’t convincingly point the way to Cheltenham success. Honeysuckle claimed her second Irish Champion Hurdle to a great reception on her way to the Cotswolds but it was noted that, of the 18 Irish-trained Cheltenham winners, 13 had not actually used the DRF as a stepping stone this year.
Conflated sprung a surprise for Gigginstown and Gordon Elliot in the Grade 1 Paddy Power Gold Cup to beat Minella Indo by over six lengths but he went to the Ryanair rather than Gold Cup at the Festival. The Mullins Grade 1 winners Vauban, Facile Vega and Sir Gerhard went on the Cheltenham success, while Grade 1 Ladbroke Novice Chase Galopin Des Champs was desperately unlucky at the Festival and the DRF Grade 1 winner Chacun Pour Soi was another casualty a month later.
For the Christmas festival, Leopardstown made a late call to go behind closed doors due to staffing issues. The only low-lying suns also made an appearance, causing the last to be omitted in many of the Grade 1s. Ferny Hollow took the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase but injury has sidelined him since. Sir Gerhard and Facile Vega made winning seasonal debuts.
Sharjah made most of the absence of some of the hurdling stars, getting the better of Zanahiyr to won his fourth Grade 1 Matheson Hurdle in a row under Patrick Mullins, surviving the omitted last and a canny Jack Kennedy ride.
Klassical Dream looked likely to dominate the staying division when getting the better of Flooring Porter in the three-mile Grade 1 Dornan Engineering Christmas Hurdle but he came unstuck at Gowran in the Galmoy won by Royal Kahala and it wasn’t until Punchestown that he got back to his best.
Master McShee and Ian Power won the Grade 1 BoyleSports Faugheen Novice Chase in Limerick for trainer Paddy Corkery \ Healy Racing
In Limerick, Master McShee, Ian Power and Paddy Corkery struck blow for the small guy, snatching the Grade 1 Faugheen Novices Chase by the minimum margin from the Gordon Elliott-trained Farouk D’alene.
EMMET Mullins has quickly made a name for himself as a canny trainer and hit the big time in no uncertain fashion when he won the Grand National with Noble Yeats. Noble Yeats was making his eighth chase start when he lined up at 50/1 for the National. Yet he was a still a novice with only a win in a Galway novice chase in October to his name. Robert Waley-Cohen had bought the seven-year-old after he had finished second to Ahoy Senor in the Grade 2 Towton Novices’ Chase at Warwick and leading amateur rider Sam Waley-Cohen was on board in what was to be his final ride. Aintree favourite was Ted Walsh’s Any Second Now who made a bold bid. Cross-country winner Delta Work made it an Irish one-two-three.
Gordon Elliott had better luck with Sire Du Berlais beating the Stayers Hurdle champion Flooring Porter in the three-mile Grade 1 while Three Stripe Life scooped a Grade 1 in the Mersey Novices’. Pied Piper dead-heated for the Grade 1 Juvenile but was demoted to second for slight interference. Willie Mullins’ Gentleman Du Mee trumped Arkle winner Edwardstone in the Grade 1 Maghull Novices.
GORDON Elliott didn’t enjoy the best of Cheltenham but he made a better bid at Aintree and Punchestown though many of the Mullins Cheltenham stars followed up also.
Energumene proved his merit over stable companion Chacun Pour Soi over two miles but Allaho was the star, stepping up to three miles for the Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup, he saw off Clan Des Obeaux by 14 lengths in his positive put-them-to-the-sword style.
Klassical Dream won his second Grade 1 Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle and added to his Christmas Grade 1 win, but it was a weak race. The 15-year-old Ballyboker Bridge’s earlier success over the banks in the La Touche Cup Cross Country Chase was arguably as popular.
The Nice Guy took the Grade 1 Irish Mirror Novice Hurdle over three miles from his Cheltenham second Minella Cocooner. Facile Vega added the Grade 1 Punchestown Champion Bumper and County Hurdle winner State Man took the Grade 1 Alanna Homes Champion Novice Hurdle. Elliott’s Mighty Potter impressed as he won his second Grade 1 of the season on the first day.
FAIRYHOUSE at Easter rang to the sounds of Ole Ole from the stands. It was not to everyone’s liking but the younger, vocal group of racegoers were welcomed by many.
Since Cheltenham there has been a new atmosphere at racecourses and it really landed @Fairyhouse this afternoon and over weekend. Younger and much louder crowd than I’ve ever heard before - makes for an incredible atmosphere from my position for sure
Man of the moment for the second year was local trainer Dermot McLoughlin. To win one took some master-planning at 150/1 but to win a second National, with 40/1 shot Lord Lariat and another lesser-known rider in Paddy O’Hanlon, took some doing. In the Grade 1 BoyleSports Gold Cup Novice Chase, Galopin Des Champs gained Cheltenham compensation, leaving Master McShee 18 lengths in his wake.
AWAY from the Grade 1s, the Galway races were back in full throttle. Attendances were down on 2019, but one wet day and rising accommodation prices were blamed. If it was Galway, Tony Martin and John Breslin’s colours were familiar sights and Tudor City, most ably steered by Liam McKenna, just back from a long spell out injured, provided the duo with another big win in a Galway feature contest.
Tudor City was adding a second Guinness Galway Hurdle (first came in 2019) while he had also won at the flat around Ballybrit as far back as 2015.
There were no less scenes of celebration the day before when Hewick heroically held off all challengers to give Shark Hanlon his second big handicap of the year after Jordan Gainford had won the Bet36 Handicap Chase at Sandown in April. Unlucky next time in the Kerry National when falling at the last when coming to challenge, the trio took their luck stateside and bagged the American Grand National with great scenes of Irish celebration in Far Hills in October.
Listowel pulled in the crowds again, Busselton taking the Kerry National for Joseph O’Brien. Ballinrobe punched above its weight for a smaller track, while the long hot summer also saw a kerfuffle over watering in Kilbeggan, not the track but the stable staff!
David Christie deserves a note – he missed out by the narrowest margins to Willie and Patrick Mullins and Billaway in the big two hunter chases with Winged Leader at Cheltenham and Vaucelet at Punchestown but that horse went on to win the Horse and Hound Cup, Champion Hunter Chase at Stratford, on an evening where the trainer had a double with Ask D’man in the Champion Novices’ Hunters’ Chase.
At Gowran in January, the crowds had returned and free entry swelled the numbers to over 8,000. Seventeen years after Martin Brassil won the feature with Numbersixvalverde, he sent out Longhouse Poet (9/1) in the Mulryan colours and under Darragh O’Keeffe, to keep on strongly to lead on the run-in, to become one of the most fancied Irish runners in the Grand National where he just weakened over the final furlongs to finish sixth.
Sam Ewing was the new young star among the riders and a fantastic weekend in October where he partnered old favourites Peregine Run and Effernock Fizz to big wins helped him secure an Emerging Talent Award at the HRI end of year awards.
Robbie Power bowed out at Punchestown after winning on Magic Daze, Davy Russell waited until all eyes were on Messi and the World Cup final before calling it a day in Thurles.
While horses come and horses go and new stars emerge in the riding and training ranks, 2022 will always be remembered in the sport for the tragedy that came suddenly in early September when Jack de Bromhead lost his life while competing in a pony race in Glenbeigh.