“It’s incredible! I’m very grateful to be getting these opportunities. He put in a fair performance; he jumped and galloped everywhere. I never felt like I was out of my comfort zone anywhere. It was fantastic.”
Those were the words of Rachael Blackmore as she strolled to victory in last year’s Ryanair Chase aboard Allaho for trainer Willie Mullins. The 12-length victory was certainly remarkable, and served as one of six Cheltenham winners for Blackmore in a week she’ll never forget. A year on, and so much had changed. Spectators were back in attendance, arriving at Prestbury Park in their thousands and Paul Townend had taken over as jockey, ready to retain the Ryanair title and draw Allaho level withAlbertas Run as the most successful horse in the race’s admittedly brief history.
Lightning rarely strikes twice, especially as far as the Cheltenham Festival is concerned, so for Allaho to win two years running is certainly an achievement that deserves some recognition. The added pressure of a full crowd, starved of racing action at Prestbury Park for two years, and the fact he was a clear favourite amongst the best horse racing betting sitescould have led to capitulation.
After all, we saw a few falls in the lead-up to day three including Townend himself, who fell aboard Galopin Des Champs in the Turners Novices’ Chase. The Irishman had fallen behind Nico de Boinville in terms of the leading jockey award, and needed a big statement to turn things around. Fortunately for Townend, Allaho was on hand to deliver, and made light work of a race that he always looked to be in control of.
Indeed, even the usual unpredictability of Cheltenham wasn’t enough to deter the powerful eight-year-old, and even amongst a competitive race card, which included previous Grade One winners like stablemate Janidil and Collin Tizzard-trained Eldorado Allen, it never really looked like anyone was going to threaten Allaho. The build-up to the Festival usually gives an indication of how a horse will perform, and a win at Punchestown followed swiftly by success in the Grade Two Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase were the perfect ingredients for a strong performance at Prestbury Park.
Even as the race was about to the start, and sunlight rose through the previously overcast clouds in the Cotswolds, you felt regardless of any conditions, the horse racing tips would be accurate. Allaho pulled ahead after Eldorado Allen looked to provide some initial competition. The pack closed together momentarily before Townend established a bigger lead, helped in part by Gordon Elliott-trained Conflated — one of the ante-post challengers — falling at the final hurdle to allow Janidil to snatch second.
It was a performance worthy of praise from a trainer as experienced as Mullins, who said: “Allaho jumped from fence to fence and came down to the last as if it wasn’t there and that is a mark of a champion.
“I don’t know what the form book says but 12 months ago I was standing in awe of him. This year I suppose we were used to it now. Last year it was just an awesome performance and a very good performance this year.”