Nowadays, Paul Townend is bets known for riding Al Boum Photo, trained by Willie Mullins, to back-to-back victories in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2019 and 2020. Indeed, on the second occasion, Al Boum Photo formed the final leg of a 337/1 final-day treble for Townend, which also included Buring Victory in the JCB Triumph Hurdle and Monkfish in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. Those three winners took his overall tally for the week to five which, along with second-place finishes on Benie Des Dieux in the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle and Aramon in the Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle, allowed him to pip compatriot Barry Geraghty to the Holland Cooper Leading Jockey Award for the Ruby Walsh Trophy on countback.
Speaking of Ruby Walsh, Townend, 30, has worked for Willie Mullins for the whole of his riding career and, although he became Irish Champion National Hunt Jockey for the first time in 2010/11, spent much of that career playing ‘supersub’ to Walsh at the Closutton yard. However, Walsh announced his immediate retirement from race riding on May 1, 2019, by which time Townend had emerged from the shadow of his illustrious predecessor; he won the Irish jockeys’ title again in 2018/19 and again in 2019/20.
Of course, Townend is no stranger to the Cheltenham Festival, having ridden at the March showpiece since he was a teenager, although the 2020 Festival was the first time he had experienced the heightened expectation of riding as first choice jockey for Mullins in his own right. Now with 15 Cheltenham Festival winners to his name – the first of which was What A Charm, trained by Arthur Moore, in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle in 2011 – has some way to go to match Ruby Walsh’s career total of 59, but who knows?
Yes. In fact, three different women have trained four different horses to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup six times between them. Jenny Pitman, who made history by becoming the first woman to train the winner of the Grand National in 1983, did so again in 1984, by becoming the first woman to train the winner of the ‘Blue Riband’ event, with Burrough Hill Lad. Indeed, Burrough Hill Lad may have won the Cheltenham Gold Cup again, but for recurring leg trouble, which caused his late withdrawal from the race in 1985 and again in 1986. In any event, ‘Mrs. P.’ won the Cheltenham Gold Cup for a second time, with Garrison Savannah, ridden by her son, Mark, in 1991.
Just over a decade or so later, Henrietta Knight wrote her name into the history books by training Best Mate to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup three years running in 2002, 2003 and 2004, making him the first horse since the legendary Arkle, in the Sixties, to do so. She, too, was denied the opportunity for further success when Best Mate suffered a burst blood vessel just a week before the 2005 renewal of the race.
Last, but by no means least, of the headline-making female trainers comes Jessica Harrington who, in 2017 – at the age of 70 and having held a training licence since 1989 – won the Cheltenham Gold Cup with her very first runner in the race, Sizing John. In a strange case of history repeating itself, Sizing John was a late withdrawal from the 2018 race after suffering a fractured pelvis and remains sidelined for the foreseeable future.
The ‘Cheltenham Roar’ is, of course, the term used to describe the cacophony of noise, generated by a crowd of 65,000, or more, expectant racegoers, which greets the runners in the opening race of the Cheltenham Festival, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, as the starting tape goes up. Attendances on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival – and at the Festival, as a whole – have been increasing, so it is reasonable to assume that the ‘Roar’ is becoming louder, year-by-year.
Loudness of a sound is measured in decibels (dB) and the ‘Roar’ has been measured at 119dB or, in comparative terms, twice as loud as amplified music in, say, a night club or a rock concert, and very close to the noise levels associated with an ambulance siren, chain saw or firework display. Racegoers beware; exposure to noise at this level for more than a few seconds can potentially cause permanent hearing damage.
The simple answer is no, he did not. Martin Pipe, from whom the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival takes its name, was by far the most successful trainer in the history of National Hunt racing. Pipe retired, due ill health, at the age of 60 in April, 2006, but by the end of his career had saddled 4,180 winners and won the National Hunt Trainers’ Championship fifteen times, including ten years running between 1996 and 2005.
Pipe saddled a total of 34 winners at the Cheltenham Festival but, while he won the Champion Hurdle twice, with Granville Again in 1993 and Make A Stand in 1997, the closest he came to winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup was with Rushing Wild, ridden by Richard Dunwoody, who finished a 2-length second to Jodami in 1993. His other runners that year, Run For Free, ridden by Mark Perrett, and Chatham, ridden by Peter Scudamore, finished eighth and eleventh, respectively.