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Cheltenham Festival review: Mullins the maestro but Brits bite back

Another Cheltenham Festival is in the books, four more days of equine brilliance in the Cotswolds and one more set of stories to add to jumps racing folklore.

As the dust settles on Cheltenham 2024, we're taking a look back at some of the narratives that unfolded across another unforgettable week for fans of National Hunt racing.

Horse Racing

Hero of the week

It really can only be one man. Willie Mullins continues to redefine the boundaries of what is possible in jumps racing and, in particular, at this meeting.

He opened with a treble on Tuesday, Gaelic Warrior, State Man and Lossiemouth oozing class in their wins, and sailed through the century marked as Jasmin De Vaux won the Champion Bumper, fittingly with his son, Patrick, doing the steering.

By the time Galopin Des Champ had retained his Gold Cup crown, Mullins' incredible Festival tally stood at 103, while his nine winners across four days matched the haul of Britain's trainers combined at the meeting.

Mullins nine, Ireland nine, Britain nine. An incredible trainer.

Shock of the week

It was not all plain sailing for the Closutton maestro, mind you. In the Queen Mother Champion Chase on Wednesday afternoon El Fabiolo was all set to bring up the Mullins century having gone off a 2/9 favourite.

His jumping looked iffy from the get-go and a mistake at the fifth fence saw his legs sprawled on the turf with jockey Paul Townend immediately pulling him up afterwards, leaving Captain Guinness to fend off Gentleman De Mee for the glory.

El Fabiolo is 2/1 to atone with victory in the Champion Chase in 2025.

Feat of the week

Dan and Harry Skelton deserve enormous praise after tallying a career-best four winners at the Cheltenham Festival together.

Langer Dan became the first even dual winner of the Coral Cup on Wednesday, while Grey Dawning got the best of Ginny's Destiny in a Turners Novices' Chase battle for the ages.

Protektorat was too good for defending champion Envoi Allen in the Ryanair Chase and Unexpected Party won the Grand Annual.

After a magnificent Festival, Skelton is leading the trainers' championship in Britain and is now 5/2 to fend off his old boss Paul Nicholls come the bet365 Finale at Sandown next month.

"It's something I've always wanted to do," said Skelton of becoming champion trainer. "If it does become a fight, we'll put up our best attack and Paul will put up his best defence.

"He is the man who taught me most. If I beat him, I know I'll have beaten a champion."

Managers of the week

For a short time on Wednesday afternoon, the Cheltenham Festival a bit like Match of the Day as two of English football's iconic figures from the dugout came to prominence as winning owners.

Sir Alex Ferguson is part owner of Protektorat and also Pertemps Final winner Monmiral, so he was to the fore after their wins.

Not to be outdone, Harry Redknapp got in on the act when his charge, Shakem Up'arry, won the Festival Plate for trainer Ben Pauling, as the Brits outscored Ireland 5-2 on Wednesday.

Outsider of the week

Monmiral got back to his best to win the Pertemps for Paul Nicholls and Harry Cobden at 25/1, but he was to be trumped on Friday afternoon as Stellar Story won the Albert Bartlett at 33/1 for Gordon Elliott and Sam Ewing.

It was a first Festival winner for the rider as they got up in the shadows of the post to deny gallant frontrunner The Jukebox Man in a thriller.

Rider of the week

Derek O'Connor deserves a mention having come agonisingly close to winning all three amateur riders' races, while Harry Cobden certainly went a long way to silencing his doubters, but Paul Townend has now surely put himself on the way to being regarded as a true great of the saddle.

He was imperious on the likes of Gaelic Warrior, State Man, Lossiemouth and Ballyburn, but it was Friday's double that perhaps set him apart.

He came from last to first on Absurde to win the County Hurdle, barely able to keep the smile off his face at the cost nature of the win, then showed his ability once more to remain calm under maximum pressure on board Galopin Des Champs in the Gold Cup.

He had the best horse, but had to negotiate the challenge of the loose horse Fastorslow in the closing stages and did so with aplomb.

His boss summed it up best, Mullins saying: "What a rider that man is. There can't be one bit of warm blood in his veins, it's all cold."

Finish of the week

Day three was billed as St Patrick's Thursday, but it was all about the Brits after Grey Dawning beat Ginny's Destiny in a compelling Turners Novices' Chase.

Harry Skelton and Harry Cobden engaged in battle quite a distance from home, but they had the horses' under them to see it out, with Grey Dawning coming out best. He's now a 12/1 chance for Gold Cup glory in 2025.

Skelton won the battle, but Cobden is on his way to winning the war, he's now 1/8 to be crowned Britain's champion jockey for the first time in his career and it's an accolade he richly deserves.

This article was written by a partner sports writer via Spotlight Sports Group. All odds displayed on this page were correct at the time of writing and are subject to withdrawal or change at any time.

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