Cheltenham Festival: The Ultimate Guide - 2021-03-05


The road to the winner’s enclosure


Anthony Ive

IT TOOK 11 seasons for an Irish-trained horse to win the Ryanair Chase and it was Vautour who did the honours in 2016. Un De Sceaux and Balko Des Flos then took the prize back across the Irish Sea in the following two seasons before Frodon was victorious for the home side in 2019. Last year, however, it was Willie Mullins who landed the spoils for Ireland with Min. The nine-year-old was looking likely to be forever the bridesmaid, with Altior having denied him twice at previous Cheltenham Festivals (he also finished fifth to Altior in the 2019 Champion Chase). But the step up in trip, and avoiding his arch nemesis, was the making of him. The season started in the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown, in which the Walk In The Park gelding bowled along, attacking each fence, winning by two and a quarter lengths, with Hardline and Presenting Percy in behind. He then took on stablemate Chacun Pour Soi at the Dublin Racing Festival, coming second to the favourite and showing that he needed further. Sent off 2-1 second favourite at the Cotswold track, Min tracked Frodon early on. Bryony Frost sent her mount forward, setting a decent pace until the seventh fence, where Min jumped beautifully to hit the front. Paul Townend’s mount continued to jump fluently and efficiently with Shattered Love on his outside. With every leap Min put pressure on the competition, with many unable to cope. As they came around the turn and into the home straight, the only horses able to keep up were A Plus Tard and Saint Calvados. At the second-last Min outjumped A Plus Tard, adding half a length to his lead as Saint Calvados stalked on the inside. Jumping the last it looked like Min would romp home only for 16-1 shot Saint Calvados to fight back with every yard, but he could not get his head in front as the Mullins stable won the race for the third time in five years.



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