How Father Sean Breen would have loved this year’s Cheltenham Festival. The late parish priest at Ballymore Eustace, who owned a horse or two and had a pundit’s tipping spot on Kildare FM, used to complain that it was most inconsiderate of people to die in the Cheltenham run-up: over 40 years, it was only ever funerals that stopped him attending to conduct his usual service for his fellow Irish attendees, bless a few Irish horses and pray that the Almighty would leave enough in the bookmakers’ satchels for Irish punters to be paid out their winnings. There was nothing in the Bible, he used to argue, that said we should not gamble.
Beware the invaders from across the Irish Sea at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, I wrote a month ago. And so it came to pass: the Irish swept in like an equine tsunami. They brushed aside their British competitors as if they were plough horses and galloped off with almost every trophy worth hoisting. Quite simply: we were stuffed. And lo, after a 23–5 victory for the invaders there has been gnashing of teeth, tearing of raiment and pitiful cries for the British Horseracing Authority to Do Something About It.
It certainly was some drubbing. The delightfully modest Henry de Bromhead became the first person ever to train the winners of the top three races — the Gold Cup, Champion Chase and Champion Hurdle — at a single Festival. Willie Mullins’s six winners, making him champion Festival trainer for the eighth time, were more than the total for all British trainers combined. With her own six winners, champion jockey Rachael Blackmore showcased her tactical genius, her toughness and a calm professionalism that should have made the term ‘female jockey’ redundant for ever.