Champion Irish jumps trainer Willie Mullins (pictured above) sent out 12/1 shot Penhill to produce a stunning victory in landing the Cheltenham Festival day three feature, the Grade 1 Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle under a tremendous ride from Paul Townend.
In a race where there were ten horses still in with a chance going to the final flight, Penhill emerged from virtually last place to throw down a challenge to fellow Irish raider Supersundae (6/1) as they pulled away from the favourite and long-time leader Sam Spinner (9/4f). In a battle royal to the line, Penhill, having his first run for nearly 11 months, ran on bravely to score by two lengths as Wholestone (14/1) stayed on best of the rest to grab third.
Winner of last year’s Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, Penhill becomes the first horse to double up and go on to take the Stayers’ Hurdle as well.
“It’s been a frustrating couple of days,” admitted Townend having gone close a number of times earlier in the meeting, notably when runner-up on Melon in the Champion Hurdle. “I’m just relieved.”
Asked about the fact that Mullins had prepared Penhill to perfection after such a long absence, Townend, who went on to complete a double when partnering hot favourite Laurina (4/7f) to a facile 18-length success in the Trull House Stud Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle later on the card for Mullins, simply added, “He’s a genius.”
Balko Des Flos (8/1), the higlight of an outstanding 361/1 treble for jockey Davy Russell, rescued the bookmakers in the Grade 1 Ryanair Chase earlier on day three as he got the better of last year’s winner Un De Sceaux (8/11f), the horse who had been many punters’ banker of the day.
After public favourite Cue Card dropped away and was pulled up after the sixth last Un De Sceaux appeared to have a straight-forward task, but the Henry de Bromhead-trained Balko Des Flos loomed up ominously before sweeping past at the third last. From there he galloped on powerfully. Try as he might, Un De Sceaux was never going to peg him back.
The winner carried the colours of the Gigginstown Stud, owned by Michael O’Leary, who also sponsored the race with his Ryanair airline. It was a second win of the afternoon for the owners.
“I”m delighted,” said de Bromhead. It was a super ride from Davy and it’s just nice to get one here [at the Cheltenham Festival]. We were a bit worried when the ground went a bit soft … he put in some fantastic jumps.”
Davy Russell initiated his treble this afternoon when partnering Delta Work (6/1) to the narrowest of victories in the ultra-competitive Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle (1410), edging out the wholesale gamble Glenloe (9/2f) by a nose in the closest finish of the meeting.
Another big Irish gamble completed Russell’s treble as he scored on 5/1 favourite The Storyteller in the Brown Advisory & Merribelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase, beating 25/1 shot Splash of Gine by a length-and-three-quarters.
Earlier in the day, 18-year-old rising star jockey Jack Kennedy followed a superb double yesterday at the Cheltenham Festival with victory in the Grade 1 JLT Novices’ Chase, on the impressive Gordon Elliott-trained Shattered Love (4/1), also in the Gigginstown House Stud colours.
Elliott’s mare provided the perfect start to the day for Irish punters getting the better of a battle with Nicky Henderson’s Terrefort (3/1f), eventually pulling away in the last 100 yards to score by seven lengths, with five lengths back to Gary Moore’s Benatar (10/1).
“She’s a super mare. She‘s being doing nothing but improving. A big thank you to Gordon and all the team. She does everything so easy. I’m delighted.”
The home team finally had something to celebrate in the last race of the day when the Warren Greatrex-trained Missed Approach (8/1), ridden by Noel McParlan, just denied the gambled on favourite Mall Dini (4/1f) by half a length in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Chase.