No horse put more distance between themselves and their rivals at the Cheltenham Festival come the finish line this year than Appreciate It.

He gave the premier National Hunt horse racing meeting’s winningest handler and multiple Irish champion jumps trainer Willie Mullins a seventh success in its opening race, which also opened the floodgates for the Emerald Isle. The tide swept almost all British horses away and powerful domestic stables like those of Ditcheat maestro Paul Nicholls and Dan Skelton went without any victories.

This trend continued into the Grand National meeting and in the world’s most famous steeplechase itself. Each of the first five home in the Aintree showpiece, and all but three of 15 finishers were trained in Ireland.

Besides being the winner of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival day 1, Appreciate It landed two Grade 1 races at Leopardstown on his side of the Irish Sea earlier in the season. Whatever happens at Punchestown at the end of the campaign, this is a seemingly seriously smart horse on paper based on his results going forward.

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A modern record margin of 24 lengths for Supreme success, if taken literally, suggests Appreciate It is a horse with the world at his feet. Closer scrutiny of his form may give a different impression, however. Appreciate It was sent off odds-on for three of his first four hurdles starts, so the market thought there wasn’t much in the way of opposition.

The two-mile novice hurdle division has been particularly weak this jumps season, then. Repeat victories over previous Grade 1 winner Ballyadam showed the superiority of Appreciate It, but there was a big chance for his rival to advertise that form when stepped up in trip at Aintree.

 

What happened instead was Ballyadam flopped, further denting the value of the Supreme. Appreciate It faced the smallest field in the race’s history with just seven rivals in total. The third home, For Pleasure, is a keen sort who also bombed out during the Grand National Festival.

There was also a final flight faller, Appreciate It’s stable companion Blue Lord, in the Supreme which may mean his comprehensive victory flatters him slightly. Nonetheless, bookmakers make him the early favourite for next year’s Arkle over fences. He is also prominent in the betting on the Marsh Novices’ Chase and could do no more than beat the horses put up against him.

Wins in an Irish point-to-point and in various National Hunt Flat races, plus second in the Champion Bumper, earlier in his career mean Appreciate It is clearly quite a versatile horse. Some of his prospective Arkle rivals could certainly be campaigned over longer trips if switching to fences, and you could also say the same about him.

Mullins initially had novice chasing in mind for Appreciate It long-term. Whether his exploits over the smaller obstacles could force his master trainer into a rethink and tilt at the Champion Hurdle next season remains to be seen. If tackling the Cheltenham Festival opening day feature, Appreciate It may end up against the formidable and currently unbeaten Henry De Bromhead trained mare Honeysuckle sooner or later.

Before this year, Irish trainer Henry de Bromhead was arguably best known for his successes with Sizing Europe. With a victory in the 2010 Arkle Challenge Trophy, he was the horse that landed the 48-year-old his maiden Cheltenham Festival triumph, and he followed that up with a win in the Queen Mother Champion Chase back at Prestbury Park in 2011.

From there, wins were few and far between for de Bromhead at Cheltenham, especially in the big outings with only Special Tiara winning a feature race, the 2017 Champion Chase, in the decade between 2011 and 2021. However, this year, the County Waterford-based trainer has taken the sport by storm and in the last couple of months alone, he has made history on numerous occasions.

That includes becoming the first trainer to win National Hunt racing’s big four races in the same year. So, without further ado, lets take a look at his historic quadruple.

Cheltenham Champion Hurdle – Honeysuckle

Given that Honeysuckle went into the Champion Hurdle, day one’s feature race, unbeaten in 10 races, it’s no surprise that the mare was heavily backed on the online sports betting sites, and she duly delivered for de Bromhead. With fellow history maker Rachael Blackmore in the saddle, Honeysuckle went on to beat Willie Mullins-trained Sharjah by over six lengths with defending champion Epatante lagging some nine-and-a-half lengths behind in third.

Queen Mother Champion Chase – Put The Kettle On

Despite boasting over 70 wins at the Festival, Mullins is yet to win the Champion Chase. Odds-on favourite Chacun Pour Soi (8/13) was expected to end that drought this year. However, Aidan Coleman and Put The Kettle On had other ideas. It was an extremely tight race and the drama heightened with several horses in contention as they raced up the home straight. In the end, it was Put The Kettle On, who set off at 17/2, who landed a narrow victory, beating Nube Negra over the line by just half a length. The market leader was just a further length behind.

Cheltenham Gold Cup – Minella Indo

Given de Bromhead’s and Blackmore’s week in the build-up to the Gold Cup, it seemed if anyone was going to deny Al Boum Photo an historic third successive victory in the showpiece race it would be A Plus Tard. However, it was the trainer’s much less fancied entry Minella Indo who prevailed. Blackmore is the horse’s regular rider, but with the 31-year-old opting to ride A Plus Tard, Jack Kennedy was sworn in for the race, and the 21-year-old guided the 9/1 shot over the line a length-and-a-quarter clear of Blackmore. On top of the impressive 1-2 in the Gold Cup, de Bromhead became the first trainer to win the three races in the same year at the Festival.

The Grand National – Minella Times

Just when you thought a 1-2 in the Gold Cup couldn’t be topped, de Bromhead landed the same feat in the recent Grand National. Minella Times lined up for starter’s orders amongst the front runners at around 9/1, and the whole nation would have been on their feet cheering as Blackmore and the eight-year-old romped over the line, as she became the first female jockey to win the prestigious race in the process. Behind her was fellow de Bromhead-trained horse Balko Des Flos (100/1) and jockey Coleman.

“It’s just brilliant, a lot’s down to Rachael and she was just brilliant on him today,” de Bromhead said afterwards. “She hardly left the rail, she was just brilliant on him and it’s brilliant to get it for the McManus family. I’m over the moon. And Balko Des Flos was brilliant as well.”

There are of course many champions of racing. Just yesterday we saw the shock retirement of Four-time champion jump jockey Richard Johnson – a man who amassed a mind boggling 3500+ career wins and was much loved and respected by all in racing. Despite of all those wins though, and two Cheltenham Gold Cup victories, a Grand National win eluded him. Does that make him any less of a champion though? Of course not.

I feel similarly about Katie Walsh. In the above Betway Racing video Walsh explains not only how she holds the women’s record for placing third in the Grand National in 2012 (and has ridden three winners at the Cheltenham Festival), but also details the hard fought efforts across decades to carve out a place for women in racing. For me, her ‘champion’ status clearly also involves championing the well overdo recognition of woman in the sport, and in the Grand National itself. In this years Aintree Grand National three women take part (a joint record), and I’m sure that it’s only a matter of time before one of them is first past the post. Tune in on April 10th!

Here at Champions of Racing we both highlight and celebrate jockeys, and trainers who excel at the highest level in this, the sport of kings. There can be no greatest platform to demonstrate your racing credentials than the Cheltenham Festival, held in March of every year. In 2021 we get to see the likes of Al Boum Photo, Champ and A Plus Tard show us what they’re made of, and of course it’s also an opportunity for jockeys and trainers alike to excel too. A prime example of that is the Prestbury Cup, which sees Ireland and Great Britain go head to head. Betway have created their own humorous version of the Prestbury Cup in quiz form. Mark Noble and Jesse Lingard (Team UK) and Michail Antonio and Darren Randolph (Team Ireland) go head to head with their racing knowledge. Check it out.