Cheltenham Festival recap: The dramatic race for the Leading Trainer award
In the build-up to the 2021 Cheltenham Festival, it seemed that Willie Mullins was going to blow away his opposition and steamroll his way to his eighth Leading Trainer award at the Prestbury Park meeting since 2010. After all, the Irish trainer boasted a favourite in half of the 28 races, including in nine of the 14 Grade 1 races.
However, it was Henry De Bromhead and his trusty jockey Rachael Blackmore who stole the headlines across the four days, and that led to a much closer race for the Leading Trainer accolade than expected. So, before we let too much slip, read on as we recap the dramatic race for the Leading Trainer award.
After a slow start for Mullins at last year’s Festival, where he didn’t land a winner until late into day two, it was important that the Irish trainer got off to a fast start this year, and he did just that. Betfair is an online betting companyand they had Appreciate It as the favourite for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the meeting’s opening race. It was a straightforward victory for the Mullins-trained horse as jockey Paul Townend stormed to a 24-length triumph. De Bromhead-trained Honeysuckle was the favourite in the day one feature race, the Champion Hurdle, and it turned out to be an historic victory as Blackmore became the first female jockey to win the race. Mullins was heavily expected to regain his lead with odds-on favourite Concertista in the Mares’ Hurdle. However, 11/1 shot Black Tears upset the odds.
With the race tied at 1-1 after the first day, it was all to play for in day two and the Irish duo traded blow-for-blow again. Bob Olinger and Blackmore delivered for De Bromhead in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle before Monkfish struck back for Mullins in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase. Chacun Pour Soi was expected to end Mullins’ Champion Chase drought in the day two feature race. However, De Bromhead’s Put The Kettle On stunned at the Festival for the second year in a row as he added a Champion Chase victory to his CV. There was another victory for Blackmore aboard Sir Gerhard in the final race of the day, the Champion Bumper, but this time it was a winning ride for Mullins.
The penultimate day was a slow burner for both trainers. Envoi Allen agonisingly fell for Blackmore and De Bromhead in the Marsh Novices’ Chase before Mullins and the female jockey landed their second triumph of the Festival together with Allaho winning the Ryanair Chase. De Bromhead pulled it back to four apiece with yet another winning ride from Blackmore in the saddle of Telmesomethinggirl in the Novices’ Hurdle.
Quilixios got the day off to flying start for Blackmore and De Bromhead with a victory in the Triumph Hurdle and when Jack Kennedy landed De Bromhead a second triumph of the day in the saddle of Minella Indo in the Gold Cup, it looked as though he was set to deny Mullins a third successive Leading Trainer award. However, victories for Colreevy and Galopin Des Champs in the final two races were enough to turn the tide in Mullins’ favour and he took the award home for the eighth time on countback. Still, it’s arguable that De Bromhead, who became the first trainer to win the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and Gold Cup at the same Festival, went home the happier of the pair.