Albeit from the sofas in their living rooms, punters and racing fans witnessed an historic Cheltenham Festival this year, an event that wrote stories pinning the eyes of the nation on the sport of horse racing.
Withdrawals from betting apps and the buzz of watching Rachael Blackmore secure yet another victory have people across the country counting down the days until 2022 – only 358 to go.
It was business as usual for trainers Henry de Bromhead and Willie Muillins, as they reaped the rewards at the festival, but local trainers Kim Bailey and Fergal O’Brien also had takeaways from the four days at Prestbury Park.
The shining star was Bailey’s Happygolucky, which placed second in the Festival Handicap Chase on day one of the races, with jockey David Bass riding him.
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Fifth place in the Ballymore Novices Hurdle with Does He Know, along with First Flow placing sixth in the Queen Mother Champion Chase made for an eventful Wednesday at the eerily quiet racecourse for Bailey’s yard.
Thursday presented hope for an Imperial double with O’Brien’s Imperial Alcazar running in the Pertemps Final, as Bailey’s Imperial Aura competed in the Ryanair Chase.
Despite Imperial Alcazar being a stand-out at Ravenswell Farm heading into the week, the Irish bred horse placed 16th, yet jockey Liam Harrison rode Ask Dillon to an unexpected sixth place in the same race.
Imperial Aura placed 10th and with Vinndication and Younevercall securing sixth and eight in the Stayers’ Hurdle on day three respectively, Bailey proved dominant.
A 17th place finish for Bailey trained Another Venture in the final race of the day, Kim Muir Challenge Cup, belies the awe-inspiring story of the yard’s partnership with Cheltenham based cancer charity Maggie’s, to whom a percentage of the horse’s winnings are donated.
On the fourth day, O’Brien claimed fifth place in the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle with Paddy Brennan riding Alaphilippe to round off an unforgettable meeting in Cheltenham, but O’Brien is still searching for his first Festival winner.