Cheltenham hat-trick for Royal raiders
There was Royal rule at Cheltenham today as three Meath trainers were in the winners enclosure with Gordon Elliott claiming the Grade One Stayers Hurdle with his 33/1 outsider Sire Du Berlais.
Tony Martin was the first Meath man into the number one spot in the ring when he saddled Good Time Jonny at odds of 9/1 to win the Handicap Hurdle, while Seddon followed Sire Du Berlais into the enclosure for Stamullen man John McConnell in the Magners Plate.
Sire Du Berlais led home a one-two success for Elliott with Teahupoo awarded second place in the stewards room as jockey Davy Russell was judged to have been impeded as he jumped the last and was edged into third by Dashel Drasher.
Sire du Berlais added to his victories in 2019 and 2020 Pertemps Final by landing the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle and Elliott was delighted and praised his jockey Mark Walsh.
"After a hurdle or two I knew we were in a good rhythm. Of course it is a surprise, but Sire Du Berlais can do that; he’s either first or last, but he’s well able, anyway," said the Summerhill man.
"In fairness to him, he’s very tough. Mark gave him a brilliant ride. It’s great to win the race - obviously we were short-headed in a Grade One yesterday, so it’s great to win. It’s a great game here.
"We love training horses and we love coming here. It’s brilliant.
“We couldn’t get him qualified for the Pertemps Final, but anyway, it worked out well. It didn’t work out for us, with ground one day, and his handicap, he got a good mark off the handicapper, so we said we’d come here.
"To be honest, he doesn’t do anything too exciting - he minds himself, which is why he is still going at his age (11). I didn’t even think about winning this with him - I thought I was going to win it with the other horse,” admitted Elliott.
Elliott's Teahupoo was sent off favourite at odds of 9/4, but jockey Russell said he just couldn't his charge into contention.
"I just couldn’t get upsides the winner, but he ran a noble race. Gordon won’t be overly upset about it but I am!," admitted Russell.
"It’s great for the connections of the winner, he’s a fabulous horse. I’ve had the pleasure of riding him a couple of times and he really is a yard favourite. This lad (Teahupoo) is still only six and he’s as game as they come so he’s got a bright future.”
While Teahupoo was sent off as favourite Flooring Porter was bidding for a hat-trick for Gavin Cromwell in the race and while he had to settle for fourth the Meath trainer was happy with his stable star's performance.
"He looked back to his old self, absolutely. He ran a grand race and he’s gone out on his shield," said Cromwell
"I suppose five or six weeks ago it was looking like he wouldn’t be here so we’ll take that now. He’d been pleasing me in the run-up and the last three weeks he’s been in great form, so he’s run a solid race.”
Prior to Sire Du Berlais's win Tony Martin produced training masterclass as Good Time Jonny justified odds of 9/1 to win a thrilling Pertemps Final by three and a quarter lengths from Elliott's Salvador Ziggy.
Jockey Liam McKenna enjoyed a first Festival success when partnering Good Time Jonny to victory and he was full of praise for trainer Martin and the instructions he gave him.
"I don’t know how I did that. I had a willing partner from turning in and the long run in really suited him but everything else didn’t suit him how the race was run," said the jockey.
"I never got into a position that I was comfortable with and we were always a little bit further back than we wanted to be.
"The plan was not to get upsides until going to the last and somehow we were able to get upsides going to the last and then he just put his head down and toughed it out.
"That was the first problem (the start) and not too far along a horse fell in front of him and he had to step to the side to get by him. It all just worked out at the very end.
"I rode him at Leopardstown in the qualifier and he was a little bit the same (not jumping well) and I just put it down to the softer ground and that he is a better horse on better ground.
"When he started to pick up going to the last from there on, I knew he was going to do it. It took a furlong and a half for him to outstay them. It (that feeling) is indescribable, maybe next time I can tell you. It is just sinking in now.
"My first ride back from breaking my collarbone was the Galway Hurdle then I got going after that then I broke my cheekbone and eye socket a month after and was out again for a while. It has been touch and go but the highs have been very high and I’m happy with that.”
For trainer Martin, it was a seventh Festival win and his first since 2015.
"He was last at the top of the hill, but Liam had the patience to sit and wait, and it turned out well," said Martin.
"Days like this are the ones you live for. It’s been a few years now since we had a winner here, but it is worth the agony and the hardship. It’s absolutely brilliant. A bit of a gap makes it better! We had a lot of good years and some bad luck, and it’s nice to be back with some good horses. They are not Grade One horses, but in their own category they are alright. Great men (jockeys and staff) are behind me this year and I’m just so happy for them.
"As they turned in he began to pick up a bit again. I know it is a long way and a long call. He never chased them when he could have, when 10 lads, including non-claiming professionals, would have chased them.
"I know Liam is a claimer but he had the balls to sit and think they had done very little, and he judged it to perfection. The horse answered him the whole way through the last two furlongs.
"These colours, the Beneficial colours, have given us great days.
"It’s unfortunate that Liam is claiming five pounds - he just never got the rub of the green and things didn’t quite happen for him, but he is a more than capable rider and I wouldn’t look past him when I want to claim. He’s as good as any, he just didn’t get the rub of the green at the right time in life.
"The horse has been coming real well since Leopardstown last time, I just thought the ground might not suit him - he likes better ground, but he went through it well.”
Not to be outdone McConnell finally notched his first Cheltenham Festival winner when the recently purchased Seddon landed odds of 20/1 under talented Naul jockey Ben Harvey.
Elliott's Gervey scored for each-way backers when taking fourth at 125/1, but it was all about McConnell and his team.
"Everything went great and he jumped great. I was just hoping he got up the hill. He actually found and he went away from the back of the last. What a performance," beamed McConnell.
"He was a very good horse in his youth. I don’t know why he has come back to life as we haven’t done anything special but he loves being a racehorse and he loves galloping. He is a horse that would do anything for you.
"I’m delighted for him and the owners. They are a small bunch of people that just love racing. I’m delighted for Amy who looks after him and Ben, who is going to be a top jockey, but I am just delighted for the whole team.
"After he won at Leopardstown we knew he was as good over fences as he was hurdles. He was in the Coral Cup, this and the Martin Pipe and we just felt there were less plots in this race than the Coral Cup or Martin Pipe as you have to nearly be a Gold Cup horse to win the Martin Pipe. We were always leaning towards it then we were crying on Wednesday with all the rain but he obviously handles ease in the ground.
"He is just an amazing horse. He is the biggest character going. It was a deep race but I thought he was over priced at 20-1.
"It means everything as I have been dreaming of this since I was five. I always knew I was going to be too heavy to be a jockey so from an early age I knew I was going to be a trainer if I was going to do anything. My folks at home will be on the floor.
"Tuesday was a bad day as we probably should have won the National Hunt Chase with Mahler Mission but it didn’t come through and those 10 seconds afterwards everything goes through your mind that you are not going to have a winner at Cheltenham but for this to come so soon after is breath taking.
"I love winning but I’m in it for the horses and the people. It is just great.
"It is like the greatest robbery of all time Ben with five pounds. He is going to lose that very quickly unfortunately for me. He is going to be a top jockey in years to come. His intelligence, he can see a stride from a mile away and he has a clock in his head. I hate bigging him up as I’m afraid I will lose him but he deserves it.
"The owners have had flat horses but this is their first jump horse. They are nice guys and leave it all to me.”
Winning jockey Ben Harvey said: “Class! That’s the only way to describe it. I had a dream run and I can’t believe it.
"I jumped off exactly where I wanted to be, winged the first which left me in the position I wanted to be. I was a little bit worried about Coole Cody jumping right; I had a job getting settled back just to try and stop Coole Cody interfering with me. Then I came down the hill and was just resisting the urges of kicking too soon and holding on to him as long as I could. He picked up again up the hill and he hit the line really well. He was brilliant.
"John has been a huge part of my career and I am so lucky to have ridden his first Festival winner and mine, and I can’t thank him enough for everything he has done for me. He’s a genius.
“My family would have always been into horses, and my grandfather trained and my Dad rode a little bit, and we’d keep a few horses at home.
"John is my local trainer - he’s only 10 minutes from me, so I’ve been with him since I was 14, and I can’t thank him enough. I’ve had great support from my whole family, who have driven me all over the country to get me here today, and I can’t thank them enough. This is what I have been dreaming of my whole life, and I can’t quite believe it has happened,” concluded the jockey.