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Mark McDonagh winning at Cheltenham abaord Banbridge. Photograph by Mark

Clare jockey’s Cheltenham win crowns amazing week

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What an unbelievable time of it 20-year-old Cratloe jockey Mark McDonagh has had in the past week!

Tipped by many shrewd judges as a rider to keep an eye on, McDonagh certainly wrote his name in lights when bagging his first Cheltenham winner aboard Banbridge in the final race of the 2022 Festival, the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle, last Friday.

A glorious 96 hours for McDonagh, whose grandad, Michael, is a very successful trainer, began in Down Royal on St Patrick’s Day where his guided Roi Mage (13/2) to victory in the featured Bluegrass Stamm 30 Chase for Dublin trainer Patrick Griffin.

It was on to Prestbury Park then for the UL Business Degree student who took the mount on Joseph O’Brien’s 12/1 shot Banbridge in the final race of the four-day meeting.

The history books will show that McDonagh brought the Ronnie Bartlett-owned winner with a perfectly-timed effort when powering up the final hill to beat Cobblers Dream by a length-and-a-half.

Utoxetter on Saturday afternoon was McDonagh’s next port of call where he had a great spin when finishing second on Denis Hogan’s Young Dev (10/1) in the valuabl Midlands Grand National, run over e four-and-a-quarter-miles.

Back on Irish soil on Sunday, McDonagh rounded off a memorable few days when steering the JP McManus-owned 5/1 chance, Spades Are Trumps, to victory in the €50,000 Ulster National at Downpatrick for Meath trainer trainer Gavin Cromwell.

Reflecting on an unbelievable run an elated McDonagh told The Clare Champion this week, “It was a great week and I’d like to thank everyone for giving me the opportunities, without them It wouldn’t have been possible. All the winners were great, but the standout moment was winning in Cheltenham.

“I only found on when the declarations came out on Wednesday morning that I was riding the horse and I flew over on Friday morning. It was my first ever ride in Cheltenham, in fact it was my first ride in any UK racecourse and my first for Joseph O’Brien.

“Joseph has been very good to me. I’ve been on placement from UL with him since January and the experience I’m getting both in the office and in the yard is invaluable. He’s a brilliant trainer and sets very high standards.”

Winning a race at Cheltenham so early is his burgeoning career in the saddle clearly means a lot to the talented seven-pound claimer.

“There is not a single word I can use to describe it. There was a good bit of carnage in the race and quite a few loose horses flew past, but I managed to avoid all that.

“To be fair to Mr O’Brien and Mr Bartlett (Banbridge’s owner), they kept it very simple and told me to sit wherever he was comfortable and hold on to him for as long as I could.

“I’m delighted it all worked out in the end. It’s unreal to ride a winner at the Cheltenham Festival. I’ve heard people call things indescribable and now it makes sense.

“Walking down the chute in front of the packed Cheltenham stands on an Irish winner, the feeling is just brilliant. In GAA terms, it’s like winning an All-Ireland in Croke Park.

“It’s been such a whirlwind few days it takes a while for it to sink in. I’ve had the support of a lot of people, not least my family, and I’m just proud that I repaid their faith in me.”

Irish dominate Cheltenham

Cheltenham 2022 was a resounding success and, once again, the Irish dominated at the most high-profile jumps fixture of the year.

Pride of place must go to the incredible Rachel Blackmore. Just when one thought things could hardly get better for the Tipperary jockey, she goes and completes the Champion Hurdle/Gold Cup double in dramatic fashion.

Wondermare Honeysuckle confirmed her place in history when winning back-to-back Champion Hurdles in emphatic style on the opening day.

Unbeaten now in 15 starts, Henry De Bromhead’s star shows no signs of waning and it would be foolhardy even at this stage to bet against her completing the three-in-a-row in 2023.

Some 48 hours later, Ms Blackmore became the first female to partner a Gold Cup winner as she steered last season’s runner-up, A Plus Tard, to victory over reigning champion Minella Indo.

Again, this was another brilliant training performance by De Bromhead. To have the Gold Cup 1-2 in successive years is an incredible feat, and he really is one of the top trainers around at the moment.

Big local hope, Galvin, ran his usual gallant race. The slow enough early pace probably didn’t play to his strengths and, while he seemed to caught a bit flat-footed off the home turn, he ran on strongly under Davy Russell to finish a creditable fourth.

Elsewhere, the week belonged to Willie Mullins. Not for the first time, the Closutton genius dominated. Ten winners – would have been 11 only for the final-fence exit of runaway leader Galopin Des Champs in the Turners – is an incredible haul with his 1,518/1 five-timer on Gold Cup day the stuff of dreams. Six of his 10 wins were Grade 1s.

The final score in the annual Prestbury Cup competition between Ireland and Britain was 18-10, with the Irish completing a whitewash on the final day when winning all seven races.

Paul Townend was crowned top jockey with five winners, while Cheveley Park took the owners award with three winners.

Sadly for racing fans, the much-anticipated clash of Energumene and Shishkin in the Champion Chase never materialised. Shishkin pulled up early when floundering, while Chacan Pour Soi unseated Patrick Mullins leaving Townend’s mount come home an easy winner.

Tiger Roll gave his all in his bid to end his fantastic career on a winning note when just touched off by his stable companion Delta Work in the Wednesday’s Cross-Country Chase.

Most people were willing Gordon Elliott’s old warrior home as the two Gigginstown House runners settled down to scrap it out. In the end, Jack Kennedy aboard Delta Work just had the bit too much in the locker as he edged ahead to beat Davy Russell’s mount by three-parts of a length.

The victory of Flooring Porter in the Stayers’ Hurdle elicited one of the best celebrations of the week. Denied a chance to welcome back their hero when he won the 2021 version, his East Galway owners made up for that when Danny Mullins brought the now dual winner back to the coveted number-one berth.

Mullins excelled on Gavin Cromwell’s charge, making all in brilliant fashion to see off a class field in what was the ride of the week.

Another exciting performance was that of Constitution Hill in the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

Nicky Henderson’s runner turned this competitive event into a procession when bounding clear under Nico De Bounville for a 22-length success over well-fancied stable companion Jonbon.

He looks an exceptional novice and it’ll be interesting to see how he progresses from here.

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