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'The lady on her back is just as special, she was amazing' - praise for Cheltenham winner Blackmore

Johnny Ward on a day of celebrations for Henry De Bromhead, Rachael Blackmore and Barry Geraghty.
Mar 10th 2020, 6:29 PM 8,783 15

Updated Mar 10th 2020, 7:19 PM

THE SHOW BEGAN at Cheltenham today and if there is a winner, like Henry de Bromhead – who enjoyed a double – there is a loser, like Willie Mullins.

rachel-blackmore-celebrates-winning-onboard-honeysuckle Rachel Blackmore celebrates after her victory in the Mares' Hurdle. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

For many, the talking point of the day was the mares’ hurdle, in which the market was far stronger about Benie Des Dieux than Honeysuckle, which seemed to make little sense. Eventually punters came for the mare, tentatively, but there were sore feelings in the defeated camp.

In a tactical conundrum so muddling as to render all pre-race talk almost obsolete, Honeysuckle was driven up the inner off the final bend by Rachael Blackmore, potentially a decisive move, while the hot favourite stood still.

Ruby Walsh was less than happy with the steer given to Benie Des Dieux by Paul Townend. Willie Mullins alluded to it, rueing “a miscommunication turning for home” and reflecting that Stormy Ireland “should have gone faster” in front too.

It was tactically one of the more notable races you will see and, as much as Rachael Blackmore will tell you she is fortunate to be riding the horses she rides, she will struggle to ride a race better than this.

“Honeysuckle really battled there and threw herself at the last,” reflected de Bromhead after his unbeaten mare held off Benie Des Dieux with deceptive comfort.

Whatever about her, the lady on her back is just as special. She was amazing. She had to sit and suffer and then sneak up the rail. She took her opportunity and was gone. The pair of them are brilliant.”

Blackmore is tough to interview – and beat when she combines with someone with a similar will to succeed. “I was kind of forcing I suppose, but I knew I had plenty of toe at the back of the last,” she reflected.

The atmosphere was slightly different at Cheltenham today with many people probably surprised that it went ahead. Barry Geraghty will rue nothing.

barry-geraghty-onboard-epatante-celebrates-winning The victorious Barry Geraghty after winning the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Since he took the job as top jock for JP McManus, Geraghty has endured too much in the way of injury and setback to render days like this anything but something to cherish. He turns 40 this year and 40 is really no age to be riding horses over hurdles or fences at the top level.

Epatante’s win in the Champion Hurdle was more down to horse than rider but for Geraghty, who clearly cannot have long left in the saddle given his advancing years and the physical battles he has fought, this was supreme redemption.

He put to sleep a mare who must have had memories of blowing her chance when too keen here a year ago as a novice. Everything since has been flawless, with Nicky Henderson registering a double – not bad for a yard reportedly under a cloud.

Barry gave her a beautiful ride, a good pace. He always just had it covered and she has the gears,” the trainer said.

Townend will reflect on a frustrating day. Willie Mullins drew a blank. Mark Walsh, who miscalculated badly on Elixir D’ainay in the opening Supreme won by Shishkin, then had to endure the further annoyance of Fakir D’Oudaries finishing second to de Bromhead’s Put The Kettle On in the Arjle.

“No horse has made all in the Arkle for 40 years,” journalist Rory Delargy pointed out to me before the race yesterday.

We discussed same because it looked like Notebook might, Fakir Doudaries might, even Cash Back might. Afterwards we were obliged to recall that 1980 success of Analogs Daughter once more: no mare had won the event since.

Until now.

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Put The Kettle On has a catchy name, a housewife’s type of bet, and she became the first mare since Analogs Daughter to win the Arkle.

Put The Kettle On is owned by a family syndicate and named after what the dad of John Dermody of the One For Luck Racing Syndicate used to say to him when his mum phoned to say he was on the way home.

Dermody, a primary school teacher, said “I hope some of the parents and teachers might have a bit on.”

Mullins’ frustration endured into the last, Carefully Selected well-beaten behind Gordon Elliott’s Ravenhill, with Jamie Codd recording his third win in six renewals, Gordon Elliott doing the same. We are, of course, at quarter-way.

Two friends revealed to me in recent days that they cancelled Cheltenham, one worring about his kid, the other about his elderly mother. The crowd seemed down on your average Champion Hurdle day at Cheltenham yesterday, but there wasn’t much talk of a virus.

This place makes us all different animals.

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