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Wednesday 9th February 2022
   
The Major Talking Points from Last Year's Cheltenham Festival

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As anticipation starts to build over Cheltenham, horse racing fans are finally looking forward to returning to the stands for a big event, after the coronavirus pandemic overshadowed the last 18 months or so of action as far as the National Hunt season is concerned.

It’s still hard to imagine that the 2020 Festival was just weeks before the country’s first national lockdown, and that we’ve not had full stands at the event since. Although last year took place behind closed doors, there were still plenty of entertaining  races and the unpredictability that makes horse betting so special. Read on, as we discuss the major talking points from last year's Cheltenham Festival.

Minella Indo wins the Gold Cup

Perhaps one of the best races of the year, the Gold Cup always comes with much anticipation, and last year lived up to expectation as Minella Indo took home first place for Henry De Bromhead. In the build up to the race, it was always going to be tough to try and call a winner, largely down to the sheer amount of competition —A Plus Tard and two-time defending champion Al Boum Photo being forced to settle for podium places after a great performance from the nine-year-old allowed him to pull two lengths ahead and seal victory, with Native River finishing fourth despite a good start.

It was a performance worthy of the £260,000 winning prize, and one that had De Bromhead singing Minella Indo’s praises post-race:

“We had the mishap at Christmas and then he wasn’t as good in the Irish Gold Cup but we wanted to get a clear round that day and Rachael rode him brilliantly but it has all come together here it’s fantastic.”

He said: “It’s massive and the Gold Cup is what you dream about winning.
“Any of these races, winners at Cheltenham, I can’t tell you how much they mean, you just dream about it. Like I say, I’m going to wake up, it’s Monday evening and that's it.”

Rachael Blackmore starts the year in style

2021 was certainly a year to remember for Rachael Blackmore. Not only did the jockey become the first woman to win the Grand National, but she was named BBC’s World Sports Star at the Sports Personality of the Year awards. Blackmore rode the crest of a wave all the way through the calendar year, but her good fortunes began at Cheltenham, where she picked up six victories including the Champion Hurdle and Ryanair Chase.
Indeed, it was the win with unbeaten Honeysuckle that drew plenty of attention, with the mercurial eight-year-old the talk of the town this time around and it will be interesting to see if that winning streak continues.

Irish trainers the cream of the crop

Over the last few years, we’ve seen the meteoric rise of Irish trainers at Cheltenham. Last year in particular was one to remember for De Bromhead — everything just seemed to fall into place perfectly as he picked up six wins including the Champion Hurdle, Gold Cup and Champion Chase. It was certainly a purple patch that will live long in the memory of the trainer from County Waterford, who like Blackmore would go on to taste victory at the Grand National a month later.

The Festival has a history of success with the Irish, as Willie Mullins, last year’s Festival Top Trainer, and Gordon Elliott have also tasted victory in Grand One races in recent history. It will be interesting to see if the triumvirate can replicate that success this time around, or whether someone different will come along and write their own name into the history books.

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