Rachael Blackmore stole the show once again at Cheltenham as she guided A Plus Tard to Gold Cup glory on a fab Friday for the Irish in the Cotswolds.
A year ago Blackmore and A Plus Tard had to settle for second-best in the Blue Riband behind Henry De Bromhead's other runner, Minella Indo, but this time the roles were reversed.
However, if it was Blackmore's Gold Cup, it was definitely Willie Mullins' day overall.
The greatest trainer in Cheltenham Festival history put a fabulous five-timer on the board on Friday - going into new territory as he hit double figures for the week.
And all seven races on Friday were won by Irish-trained horses, ensuring they won the Prestbury Cup 18-10 over Britain.
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Blackmore continues to shred the pages of racing's history books with her remarkable achievements.
A year on from being leading rider at this Festival, and having won Aintree's Grand National in between, the golden girl careered away from the field on A Plus Tard to become the first female jockey to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Outsiders Aye Right and Santini mostly led the field around before Robbie Power sent reigning champion Minella Indo for home at the third last fence.
Blackmore was behind a wall of horses, but remained ice-cool, eager not to challenge too soon. She brought A Plus Tard alongside Minella Indo at the last and his superior quality saw him scamper 15 lengths clear up the hill, with her mount 4/1 to repeat the victory next year.
The trailblazing jockey admits this was a special moment in the sun-drenched Cotswolds, with last year's Cheltenham achievements having coming in front of empty grandstands.
"I can't believe it," Blackmore said. "I'm so lucky to be getting to ride these kinds of horses and you can't do this without the horses. Being attached to Henry's yard is incredible. This horse is incredible, I don't know what to say.
"These are such special days and I wouldn't swap the Grand National for anything, but this is the Gold Cup. You have all these plans for how things are going to work out and racing doesn't let that happen, but that's happened for me today."
|Nico de Boinville||2|
The afternoon got off to a flying start for the Irish as Vauban led home a one-two-three in the Triumph Hurdle, dispatching key market rivals Fil D'or and Pied Piper after they jumped the last with an impressive turn of foot.
The Mullins-trained Vauban had been heavily touted for the race after last month's Dublin Racing Festival success and he produced a near foot-perfect round of jumping bar a minor blip at the last.
Paul Townend's mount quickened away in fine style up the run-in and while next year's Champion Hurdle - for which he's 7/1 now - is clearly a target, the winning trainer admitted Vauban might be good enough for major Flat races like the Melbourne Cup or York's Ebor.
Mullins said: "He won that without the experience he should have and I think he was looking at everything when he hit the front - the cameras more than anything else - but he picked up quickly again and went on like a good horse.
"You'd have to think of the Champion Hurdle and he has a great Flat rating to work with. I think he'll improve with age and, with the Flat rating he has, he'd be good enough to contest those Cup races."
As Richard Hoiles said in commentary, sometimes The Nice Guy wins too. That was the case as Sean O'Keefe steered home his mount to earn his first Grade 1 as a rider in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle.
The Henry Daly-trained Hillcrest, sent off 9/4fav, looked ill at ease from the outset and was pulled up by Richard Patrick. Fellow market leader Ginto - for Gordon Elliott and Jack Kennedy - appeared to be coming with a winning challenge running to the last hurdle, when he suffered what sadly proved a fatal injury on the flat.
The Nice Guy was going great guns and he picked off stablemate Minella Cocooner - the mount of Townend - before charging home for a six-length win as Mullins enjoyed an Albert Bartlett one-two and, by then, the first three winners on the card.
State Man, much-touted and sent off 11/4fav had landed the County Hurdle earlier with Townend on board, as the Mullins camp utterly dominated proceedings on the final day, while Mullins' stable jockey ended the week as leading rider at the meeting with five winners.
Mullins was already the Festival's all-time leading trainer and he burst through the 80-mark earlier in the week, but on Friday he, like Blackmore, was shredding the pages of the history book.
Mullins bagged an incredible five-timer on the day, ensuring that he was into double figures for the week with a race to spare, when Elimay clung on in gutsy fashion to take the Mares' Chase for Mark Walsh in the JP McManus hoops.
She had finished second last year and it was a similar tale in the Hunters' Chase when Patrick Mullins somehow got Billaway - under the pump for much of the final circuit - to come from the clouds and deny Winged Leader by neck on the line and give his father four on the day - as the popular chaser finally won the amateur riders' gold cup after finishing second in the last two years.
Mullins' rout - no trainer had ever previously gone beyond eight winners at one Cheltenham Festival - meant he'd trained as many winners as Britain had in total when the final analysis was done with ten each.
The finale went the way of the Joseph O'Brien-trained Banbridge under Mark McDonagh, who held off Cobblers Dream for Ben Case and Jack Andrews in second spot, ahead of well-fancied Hollow Games for the Gordon Elliott team, while favourite Langer Dan for the Skelton team was a faller early on.