Winning trainer Henry de Bromhead celebrates after Envoi Allen’s victory. Tom Maher/INPHO

Johnny Ward: These are the days we live for – win, lose or just being alive to bear witness

Johnny Ward reports from day three of Cheltenham.

HENRY DE BROMHEAD has yet to respond to my WhatsApp congratulating him on Honeysuckle sent on Tuesday. One senses he has a few to get through.

And, for so much of the mares’ novice hurdle today — now named in honour of his late son Jack — it looked as if he might have a few more to get through.

De Bromhead’s training performance to get Envoi Allen back to his best in the Ryanair, flooring the hotpot Shishkin, saw the same connections’ A Plus Tard collapse in the market for tomorrow’s Gold Cup, a race he hacked up in last year.

All but one of de Bromhead’s quintet of runners in a fiendishly competitive mares’ novice never threatened to win but then there was Magical Zoe, who made up so much late ground but, like everything else, could not reel in the front-running You Wear It Well.

There is no getting away from it: whether grief gets easier or subsides with time is subjective – but there is no doubt whatever that winning races at Cheltenham will make Henry, his wife Heather and his daughters believe that Jack is merely in another room of this great mystery, keeping an eye on the horses he loved.

No doubt he rather loved Envoi Allen. Once considered the greatest thing around at the Gordon Elliott yard, he has had a career as chequered as the worst of us – but was brilliant here under Rachael Blackmore in the Ryanair.

“You’d have to be a little more confident (about A Plus Tard) after that, but they are all individuals,” said a philosophical de Bromhead.

“The amount of people, our friends and family who have travelled over – and Michael O’Leary and Ryanair naming the race in honour of Jack – makes this week very special.”

rachael-blackmore-celebrates-victory-with-mia-and-georgia-de-bromhead Rachael Blackmore celebrates victory with Mia and Georgia de Bromhead. Tom Maher / INPHO Tom Maher / INPHO / INPHO

That was a better endorsement of O’Leary than that of Davy Russell – who memorably rushed to the front in the acerbic stakes this morning when he told ITV he rated O’Leary’s opinion as much as O’Leary his – but Russell awaits that first Cheltenham winner in his brief escape from retirement. Gordon Elliott only lost Envoi Allen because of the fallout from you know what, and he hardly expected it in that order, but the trainer supplied the one-two in the Stayers Hurdle, 33-1 Sire Du Berlais beating the well-fancied stablemate and Russell-ridden Teahupoo.

This was a sublime ride befitting the brilliance of Mark Walsh. A public apology to my brother for only reading his request to back the horse for him after the race – some people genuinely fancied the veteran – but much had to do with the winning pilot.

“Sire Du Berlais can do that; he’s either first or last,” quipped Elliott, who was banned from attending this meeting not so long ago. “Mark gave him a brilliant ride. We were beaten a short head in a Grade One yesterday (with Gerri Colombe), but it’s a great game and it’s great to be here.”

You knew that he, above all else, meant those words.

Paul Nicholls has not gone away you know. Likely he enjoyed the win of Stage Star nearly as much as any of his Gold Cup winners and it all adds to the confidence behind Bravemansgame in the feature tomorrow. I’d think there is a great deal more to the old race than the betting long suggested – it can only cap a sensational renewal of this whole thing.

john-mcconnell John McConnell. Tom Maher / INPHO Tom Maher / INPHO / INPHO

Back to John McConnell. I wrote yesterday that he’d prefer to win a race at Cheltenham than the Irish National – and he only went and did the former today, Seddon prevailing under Dubliner Ben Harvey, who has hardly ever ridden in a big race and looked like he was made for it here.

When I rang McConnell later in the evening, there was no surprise that the background was rather noisy, but his reply was somewhat telling.

“I am just here at the sales – I will ring you back.”

McConnell, having a sensational run of it after wondering should he even continue training not so long ago, evidently has hunger more for more than basking in a rare success.

Young Liam McKenna was probably a little lucky on Good Time Jonny but it was nothing short of a sensational bit of horsemanship, the type of ride that Tony Martin loves; Pa King wasn’t too bad on the Sam Curling-trained Angels Dawn in the nightcap neither.

Lots of firsts today. Meanwhile, Henry de Bromhead gave a big hug to an Englishman, You Wear It Well’s trainer Jamie Snowden, and a picture told a million words.

These are the days we live for – win, lose or just being alive to bear witness.

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