Given the strength in particular of Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott over the past few years, it’s easy to forget that the Cheltenham Festival wasn’t always a happy hunting ground for Irish trainers.
The late 80’s were particularly bad. In 1989 there was no Irish trainer winner of the Cheltenham Festival for the first time since 1947 while there was the sum total of one Irish winner in 1987 and one again the following year.
While there is once again and exceptionally strong Irish challenge heading to the Cotswolds next week, Henry de Bromhead, who has decent chances in three of the four championship races as well as plenty other contenders, could easily add to Waterford’s Cheltenham memories, of which there are many.
1977: MELADON, Triumph Hurdle
The Irish were enjoying a good but not great Festival in 1977. There had been two winners on the opening day, including a second consecutive win for Sykmas in the Champion Chase,
Mac Chariot won the Champion Novice Hurdle on the second day and so it was on to St Patrick’s Day when the Irish won four of the six races to make it the second-best Cheltenham for the Irish since 1958.
The day couldn’t have begun any better. A huge crowd had travelled from Dungarvan to cheer on the Nora Flynn owned Meladon to a first ever Irish win in the Triumph Hurdle. In the crowd was Nora’s husband Noel who was holding on tightly to a 33/1 ante-post bet. Noel’s chances of collecting looked unlikely with Meladon in 12th coming down the hill. But Tommy Carberry timed his challenge perfectly as the Adrian Maxwell trained Meladon asserted in the closing stages to win by three quarters of a length.
1986: DAWN RUN, Gold Cup
March 13th, 1986, the day Dawn Run re-wrote National Hunt history, becoming the first, and to this day the only, horse to win the Champion Hurdle / Gold Cup double.
After winning the Irish, English and French Champion Hurdle in 1984, Dawn Run’s owner, Waterford woman Charmian Hill predicted her star mare would win the Gold Cup. After winning on her chasing bow at Navan in October 1984, injury kept Dawn Run off the course for over a year. A brilliant win over Buck House at the Leopardstown Christmas meeting convinced connections that a tilt at the Gold Cup was on.
Regular partner Tony Mullins was unseated in the warm-up race at Cheltenham in January and was replaced by Jonjo O’Neill at Mrs Hill’s insistence.
When Wayward Lad jumped the last with the lead and with Forgive’n Forget still challenging, it looked like Dawn Run could finish no better than second on third. Half way up the hill though the mare edged in front and when commentator Peter O’Sullevan uttered the immortal words “The mare is beginning to get up”, the crowd went wild as Dawn Run wrote herself into the history books with the most amazing of wins. All hell broke loose as an over-excited, unruly swarm of fans forced their way into the parade ring as the celebrations continued. A remarkable day in very many ways.
1993: MONTELADO, Supreme Novice Hurdle
FISSURE SEAL, Pertemps Final
SHUIL AR AGHAIDH, Stayers Hurdle.
At a function to celebrate three Waterford trained winners at the 1993 Festival, Point-to-Point President Don Carroll described the hat-trick of wins for Montelado, Fissure Seal and Shuil Ar Aghaidh as “one of the greatest sporting achievements in Waterford’s history, victories that would be remembered with pride for many a year to come.”
Having won the bumper at the 1992 Festival, the Pat Flynn trained Montelado shattered the course record on his way to winning the Supreme Novice Hurdle, the opening race of the 1993 Festival. Montelado’s record stood for 23 years until the brilliant Altior improved on it when he won the same race at the 2016 Festival.
Harry de Bromhead’s Fissure Seal battled his way up the hill to the final race of the opening day, what is now know as the Pertemps Final at 14/1, while Shuil Ar Aghaidh stormed up the same hill on the final day to land the Stayers Hurdle at 20/1, the mare giving trainer Paddy Kiely the greatest moment of his training career.
All three horses were ridden by Charlie Swan while the cumulative odds on the treble were 1889/1.
2002: SCOLARDY, Triumph Hurdle.
Charlie Swan was once again on board when the Mullins trained Scolardy sprinted up the hill to win the 2002 Triumph Hurdle into a pro. Sent off the lesser of Mullins’ two runners at 16/1 Scolardy strode clear from the third-last flight and never looked like being caught, passing the post 11 lengths clear of fellow Irish runner Newhall. Scolardy was owned by Waterford business-man David Flynn, who has for many years sponsored the opening race of the New Year’s Day meeting at Tramore.
2010: SIZING EUROPE, Arkle Chase
Sizing Europe gave Henry de Bromhead the first of his nine Festival winners 11 years ago when he got the better of Somersby by three quarters of a length to win the Arkle Chase.
Sizing Europe then went on to win the Champion Chase the following year while De Bromhead added another seven festival winners in the following years. He has trained two winners at each of the last two festivals has excellent chances of adding to his overall tally next week.