The image of Our Conor bounding up the Cheltenham hill and in so doing turning the normally ultra competitive Triumph Hurdle into a one horse show will remain the abiding memory of the 2013 festival. It was a procession brimming with possibilities and potential. Both in terms of the horse and his extremely talented partner, Bryan Cooper.
Cooper was on the roll of rolls, having also partnered a double that week for Tony Martin courtesy of Benefficient and Ted Veale. As for the Triumph winner, it seemed that fate would eternally intrinsically link his fortunes to those of his rider that day. Even though one of the most high profile and talked about equine purchase one can recall meant Dessie Hughes’ charge would thenceforth be the mount of Danny Mullins.
All concerned must surely now wish the alignment between Cooper and the steed wasn’t so intense. For, two of those awful moments racing sadly often throws up again seemed to overlap as firstly Barry Connell’s star 5-year-old had to be euthanized following a horror fall in the Champion Hurdle and then Gigginstown’s newly appointed retained rider was beset by a second dreadful leg break in the space of a year.
Such is the nature of how these things transpire that one’s trauma leads to another’s triumph. And weren’t the Gods (whoever they are) always going conspire that it’d be the (harshly) deposed Davy Russell who’d benefit most from his replacement’s misfortune. Doing so by booting home winners for local handlers Gordon Elliott (Tiger Roll) and Martin (Savello).
A Cork combination may have lifted the showpiece attraction of the entire 2014 Cheltenham Festival when Russell and Jim Culloty teamed up to land a dramatic and controversial renewal of the Gold Cup with Lord Windermere but there was a distinctly Meath hue to the rest of the week.
Beginning with Jezki. Bred by Gerry McGrath in Clonee, the horse has long oozed ability and no little class but often hasn’t put his best hoof forward. Apart from when partnered by Barry Geraghty, that is. So, sight of Drumree’s finest in the plate should have been signpost enough that a decent run – at least – was afoot.
In keeping with the dramatic theme to the two mile hurdle event of the year, Drumree and Clonee just about prevailed as AP McCoy was again left to contemplate siding with the wrong item of his boss’s property as it was the greatest jockey who ended up ultimately most vanquished having chosen to partner My Tent Or Yours.
Of all the happenings during the second week of March with Meath connections, one stood out like a beacon. Many will of course be aware of my cherished connection to Noel Meade, the travails the affable Castletown man has endured in the Cotswolds over the years will also be familiar to aficionados. Not to mention the trying time the Tu Va team has gone through in recent times.
Therefore, this corner has no problem admitting that there was never greater delight at seeing a horse I hadn’t backed won as when Very Wood reaped the rewards of a typically cool Paul Carberry ride in claiming the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle. Thus becoming the trainer’s fourth winner at the world’s greatest meeting of his long and illustrious career.
On reflection, his starting odds of 33/1 (50’s in the morning) were a tad over-generous given that there were only three lengths between Noel’s horse and the supposed hotpot Briar Hill when they met at Naas. Granted, the great imponderable is what might have happened had David Casey not fallen off the latter, however, even allowing for that, you’d have to think the trainer’s record at the venue had more to do with the pricing than it might have.
Briar Hill’s capitulation was one of a few high profile turnovers for Willie Mullins during the week but the perennial Irish champion was still by far the most successful trainer during the brilliant four days. Thanks to the victories of Vautour, Faugheen, Don Poli and, of course, Quevega.
Pointers also emerged, mind you, as to where the trainer’s future plunders may be led from. Quevega triumphing at the meeting for the sixth consecutive year must surely mark her down as the greatest mare of all time. Surely, though, connections must at least be contemplating letting her out to a paddock at this stage.
Ideally, what should happen is that the Mares Hurdle at Cheltenham should be rebranded in her honour. Champions of the Closutton cause shouldn’t overly fret, for all that, as the yard would appear to have a readymade replacement in Glens Melody. In fact, were Quevega not the undoubtedly unique animal she is, the handover may already have taken place.
Elsewhere, Annie Power remains a source of intrigue. I don’t subscribe to the theory that the daughter of Shirocco didn’t handle the trip in the World Hurdle. A more plausible explanation would be the ground conditions not being to her favour. She remains a Festival winner in waiting.
Don Poli already is one, but the sense is he could go on to even greater things. Sir Des Champs, of course, won the same race a couple of years ago. While there are no guarantees, what is certain is that – though there may be of a changing of the guard – Mullins would appear to have serious weaponry for years to come.