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A 5-2 drubbing for the home team as Ireland cleans up at Cheltenham's opener

22-October-2022 19:05
in General
by Peter McNeile

The shifting power base of racing was amply illustrated at Cheltenham this weekend, when 5 of the 7 races on Saturday's card were hoovered up by Irish trainers. It was left to Paul Nicholls and Neil Mulholland to hold back the Celtic hordes. 

Both Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins earn Frequent Flyer points for their shuttles across the Irish Sea. However, the scale of their teams now means the Irish calendar cannot keep all their runners apart. On only the second Saturday since the Spring with any valuable races of note, they appeared better primed than their British counterparts to land out of the gate running. 

Only 4 turned out for the valuable Masterson Holdings Hurdle, billed as a match between Milton Harris' Knight Salute and Elliott's Pied Piper. In truth, it looked as if Pied Piper always had the edge on his rival, riunning out a 2 3/4l winner. Elliott was successful again in the Jim Wilson Memorial Novices Chase over 3m with Chemical Energy. Frankly, the distance was immaterial to the winner; he would have won as easily over 2 or 4 miles against his two opponents. 

Willie Mullins sent over Dads Lad to overhaul another Irish runner, Effernock Fizz in the joint feature 2m 888 Sport Handicap Chase, one of two £50,000 chases gracing the card. Rarely for him that was his only runner, but Cheltenham has much to thank Irish trainers for, since 19 of the 64 runners came across the Irish Sea, and a further 21 the previous day. The card would have looked decidely threadbare without them, even if they did plunder most of the races.

Other Irishmen however didn't let Elliott and Mullins have it all their own way. Charles Byrnes booked an early place in the Pertemps Final with qualifier winner Shoot First, a first Cheltenham winner for son Philip, whilst John McConnell wrapped up the meeting with bumper winner Encanto Bruno, one of his 3 runners, to add to his handicap hurdle winner the previous day. 

The Irish love affair with Cheltenham is rooted in more than just the attractive race funds. It's less than 20 years since Cheltenham was offering travel allowances to stimulate runners from Ireland at what was then known as the Open meeting in November. Now it would struggle without them. And yet, there is just one Irish runner at Aintree tomorrow, with an attractive card on offer. 

An opportunity for other enterprising racecourses perhaps?

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