Kilkenny Sport Focus
By Michael O’Leary
One of the great Racing and indeed Sporting Highlights of 2023 commences next Tuesday Afternoon March 14th as the Cheltenham Festival gets underway.
As is traditional, The Supreme Novices Hurdle gets The Festival underway and it was 28 years ago to the very day – Tuesday March 14th 1995 – that Tourist Attraction with Mark Dwyer onboard got the ball rolling for The Willie Mullins stable.
A shock 25/1 winner, Tourist Attraction began a sequence of success for The Champion Trainer that continues almost 30 years on.
Heading into this years Festival, Willie is the leading Trainer in Cheltenham Festival History with 88 winners and with his continuing whirlwind run he should reach The Century Mark (100 winners) before long.
Having Trained a record 10 winners at last years Festival, Willie has cemented his dominance since with 5 Grade 1 Triumphs at The Leopardstown Christmas Festival along with a further 6 Grade 1 victories at the Dublin Racing Festival.
The 16-Times Champion Trainer will once again be expected to be leading Trainer at this years Festival, with the powerful strength in depth at his disposal throughout the 4 days.
Starting on Day 1 next Tuesday, Willie’s main hope in the featured Champion Hurdle lies with State Man who has been the outstanding Two-Mile Hurler in Ireland this season with a Hat-Trick of Grade 1 victories.
State Man won The County Hurdle at last years Festival and stepping up in class this season, he was very impressive in winning The Morgiana Hurdle in Punchestown Festival in November before adding The Festival Hurdle and Irish Champion Hurdle in Leopardstown.
He is the only realistic challenger to the long odds on favorite Constitution Hill in a race where Willie has previously won on four occassions.
The Brilliant Honeysuckle who won The Champion Hurdle the past two years is almost certain to line-up in The Mares Hurdle, a race that she won in 2020.
On Day 2, The featured is The Two-Mile Champion Chase in which The Closutton native won for the first-time last year with Energumene.
Energumene’s previous visit to the Cotswolds in late January ended in defeat as he finished Third behind Editeur Du Gite and Edwardstone, and he will be reacquainted with both horses next Wednesday.
The highlight of the week is The Cheltenham Gold Cup next Friday 17th March(St. Patricks Day) and Willie has the short price favorite (Currently 11/8) in Galopin Des Champs.
Galopin Des Champs was a most unfortunate loser last year when falling at The Final Fence while a long way clear in The Turners Novices Chase, but he has bounced back since that setback with emphatic performances.
On Easter Sunday last year at The Fairyhouse Easter Festival, he was awesome when winning The Boylesports Gold Cup by 18 lengths and he maintained that form into this season.
He was highly impressive when running out a 13 length winner of The Durkan Chase at Punchestown in December, before pulling clear inside The Final Furlong to land The Irish Gold Cup at The Dublin Racing Festival.
Galopin Des Champs is a most worthy favorite & has the standout form based in this seasons performances, but he will encounter stiffer opposition and proven performers in what will be an open race.
Among the contenders will be last years winner A Plus Tard and a repeat Triumph of last years success will certainly be most poignant for Trainer Henry De Bromhead, while the dark horse may very well be The Emmet Mullins Trained Noble Yeats.
Noble Yeats won last years Aintree Grand National providing Sam Waley Coen with a fairytale triumph on his Final ride as a Jockey before retiring.
Owned by Robert Waley Coen – Sam’s Dad – Noble Yeats will take in The Gold Cup en route to an attempt of defending The Aintree Grand National in Mid-April.
However, he will have to shoulder a hefty weight of 11 stone 11 Ibs, so The Gold Cup next Friday may represent a greater possibility of winning.
Emmet Mullins charge has had two very good outings in Grade 2 company this season.
In early December, he won The Many Clouds Chase in Aintree before finishing a close Third in The Cotswolds Chase in Cheltenham in late January over a similar trip to Gold Cup.
His debut run this season was victory in the MW Hickey Memorial Steeplechase in Wexford, a race that Minella Indo won in October 2020 en route to winning The Gold Cup.
The Fairytale Story of The Race would emerge if The Shark Hanlon Trained Hewick somehow managed to pull off a famous Triumph.
Bought for €850, Hewick’s progression last year was remarkable as he won both The Bet 365 Gold Cup in Sandown before recording a most memorable win in The Galway Plate.
He was most unfortunate when falling at The Final Fence in The Kerry National while disputing the lead, but he made amends on a most memorable weekend Stateside in October when landing The American Grand National.
Hewick has been rested since following his exertions last year and he will go into the race freshest of all, but it’s his debut at Grade 1 level and an unknown quantity at the highest level.
Overall, The Irish would be expected to continue their dominance of recent years and Willie Mullins favorite to become leading Trainer at The Festival once again.
The Champion Trainer’s strength at his disposal was very evident at The Dublin Racing Festival when three of his odds on favorites were defeated by stable companions all ridden by Danny Mullins, and their is no questioning his superiority especially at The Major Festivals.
The Gowran Native will surely have a leading role throughout the 4 days & one of his winners at The Dublin Festival was Gala Marceau who will be a lead contender in The Triumph Hurdle.
Danny will also have high hopes of winning The Stayers Hurdle for The Third Consecutive year aboard Flooring Porter.
If Flooring Porter pulls it off next Thursday Afternoon, it will be the first time since Big Bucks (2009-2011) to have won Three Stayers Hurdles or World Hurdles in succession.
Big Bucks went on to win 4-in-a-row in 2012.
Danny and his Dad Tony are likely to Team up later that day with Princess Zoe in The Mares Novice Hurdle.
One of the great Racing & Sporting highlights of the year is eagerly anticipated as always, and it all commences next Tuesday Afternoon Lunchtime at 1.30pm with The Traditional Roar that precedes the start of the Festival.