No victors at Cheltenham
Wexford riders and trainers had a big presence at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival, being involved with over 30 runners over the four days, and while there were some good performances we can claim no outright winners this year.
Seán Flanagan had four rides and was part of the week's major races and picked up some big money. In his first ride in the Gold Cup, Noel Meade's Road to Respect (9/1) battled on gamely to take fourth behind Native River, earning a tidy £34,600.
On the opening day he was fourth on Identity Thief in the Champion Hurdle behind the great Buveur D'Air (worth £25,000), and he was also fourth on Sub Lieutenant in the Ryanair (worth £18,600).
He partnered Liz Doyle's (Crossabeg) Last Goodbye in Wednesday's Handicap Chase and was in contention for much of the way, but the horse made too many scratchy jumps and faded back into midfield.
It had been a hectic few days for Seán prior to Cheltenham too as he became a dad for the first time a week before the meeting. He and partner Lauren are delighted with daughter, Lilah Darcy. 'It's been a whirlwind of a week…I can't stop smiling, it's magic,' was his happy comment.
We had to wait until the second-last race of the 28 on Friday for our closest call. Trainer Paul Nolan had just one runner this year, and Discorama outran his 40/1 odds to finish a very creditable and fast-finishing second in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle under Dylan Robinson, behind Gordon Elliott's Blow by Blow.
In the same race, Jonathan Moore had his only ride of the week but finished in midfield on Elliott's Flawless Escape.
Trainer Pierce Power from The Hook had his first Festival runner earlier on Friday when his Burning Ambition went off 4/1 favourite under Jamie Codd for the Foxhunters Chase, 'The Amateurs' Gold Cup', and he was bang in contention when second at the second-last but ran out of gas on the punishing finish up the hill to finish eighth, behind Pacha Du Polder.
This was the story for a lot of the Wexford contingent and a great many horses this Festival - the toughest underfoot conditions for some years and the last two furlongs up the famous hill proved their undoing. It was a great achievement for Power to have got him there.
Codd had four rides in all but failed to add to his seven Festival winners, his third on Sqouateur in the Kim Muir on Wednesday being his closest. His great ally, Cause of Causes, failed to fire on this occasion in the Cross Country.
Point-to-point champion, Barry O'Neill from Kiltealy, had three rides and had a good week. He was an excellent third of 16 in the National Hunt Chase on the opening day on Sizing Tennessee (8/1), and was sixth of 24 in the Foxhunters on Grand Vision (14/1), both for Colin Tizzard.
J.J. Slevin (Caim) had six rides and a good week. Five of them were for Joseph O'Brien and four of them on the closing day. His best effort was third of 23 behind Paul Nolan's horse in the Martin Pipe on Early Doors (9/1); he was fifth of 23 in the finale on Three Stars (12/1) for Henry De Bromhead, and he was also fifth of 20 on Tower Bridge (33/1) in the Albert Bartlett.
Wexford can lay strong claims to Robbie Power, son of former showjumping star Con from Fethard and mother, Margaret, of the Latta family from Enniscorthy area. Robbie did not enjoy the Cheltenham he hoped for with Our Duke not showing in the Gold Cup, and his best from eleven rides was his second on Supasundae behind Penhill in the Stayers' Hurdle.
British-based Daryl Jacob had eleven rides for the week but his best effort came in the very first race on Tuesday when Terrefort (3/1f) was second to Shattered Love in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle. Daryl is retained rider for Simon Munir and Simon Souede but missed out on their big winner of the week, Footpad, trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Ruby Walsh in The Arkle.
Jacob finally broke a barren spell at Kempton on Saturday when winning the £35,000 handicap chase on Kildisart (5/1), one of just two rides.
Tom O'Brien had just three rides at the Festival on Thursday and Friday, his best being fourth of 22 on Ballyalton (16/1) behind Davy Russell on The Storyteller.
However, he picked up four winners in the three days prior to heading for the Cotswolds, a double at Plumpton on Monday and singles at Sedgefield on Tuesday with his only ride, Pineapple Rush, and at Huntingdon on Wednesday with That's A Given.
Paul Rothwell from near Bunclody has good reason to be happy with this year's Cheltenham. Summerville Boy, winner of the opening Supreme Novices' Hurdle, and the impressive second place by Black Op to Samcro in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle, were both sired by Sandmason, at his Lacken Stud.
Under-rated by many, he is currently available at a €1,000 covering fee, and has an excellent winners to runners strike rate. He covered just twelve mares in 2015 and his crop will include the full brother to Summerville Boy. After this success, Sandmason is sure to be in much greater demand from now on.
Far from the glitz and glamour of Cheltenham, Pat McDonald was back in full flow on the bread and butter all-weather circuit and he got back into full swing with four winners in the week.