2023 Review of the Year: Irish continued dominance of jump racing’s biggest prizes

Mullins top trainer once again as Townend bags jockey’s title

Jockey Paul Townend and Galopin Des Champs make their way back in after winning the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase.
Jockey Paul Townend and Galopin Des Champs make their way back in after winning the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase in March

The Irish domination of the Gold Cup continued at Cheltenham in 2023 as Willie Mullins landed jump racing’s biggest prize for the third time in five years.

Mullins had a lengthy enough wait for his first victory in the blue riband contest before Al Boum Photo made the breakthrough in 2019 and followed up the next year.

Galopin Des Champs had been the leading contender for the race all season after a brilliant novice campaign and he didn't disappoint on the day.

Paul Townend had to weave his way through the field on the Timos gelding but he stamped his authority on proceedings late on as he strode away up the hill to register a wide margin victory.

Like so often in the past though that performance left a bit of a mark with the seven-year-old turned over at Punchestown subsequently and beaten again at short odds on his seasonal debut last month.

There were doubters as he lined up in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas but he bounced back to his brilliant best with an imperious performance.

Townend rode his mount more prominently in the three-miler and he clearly enjoyed himself as he powered away over the last fence for a staggering 23-length win over young pretender Gerri Colombe.

Willie Mullins with his Gold Cup favourite Galopin Des Champs
Willie Mullins was the top trainer at Cheltenham, saddling five winners at the festival and he also landed a remarkable 17th trainer's title in 2023

Not surprisingly Mullins was the leading trainer at Cheltenham again last season with five victories on the board this time.

Other highlights of the week for Closutton included brilliant performances by El Fabiolo in the Arkle and Impaire Et Passe in the Ballymore Novices Hurdle.

Energumene proved heads and shoulders above his rivals in the Champion Chase as he doubled up in the top two-mile race.

Unfortunately it won't be a hat-trick for the classy French-bred, who is on the sidelines this season with a leg injury.

Mullins also had the standout star in the juvenile division with grey filly Lossiemouth taking the Triumph Hurdle in fine style.

Henry de Bromhead enjoyed another memorable festival with legendary mare Honeysuckle enjoying the perfect send-off in the Mares Hurdle.

There were emotional scenes in the winners' enclosure as one the great racehorses of recent years pulled it out of the bag one last time to charge up the hill and secure a remarkable 13th Grade 1 win.

De Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore also struck with Envoi Allen in the Ryanair Chase as the Cheveley Park-owned gelding came good on the big stage again.

Paul Townend hugs Energumene after their Betway Champion Chase victory
Paul Townend hugs Energumene after their Betway Champion Chase victory at the Cheltenham Festival

Gordon Elliott finished second to old rival Mullins once again with three winners on the board at the biggest meeting of the year.

Sire Du Berlais was the highlight for the Cullentra handler as the Poliglote gelding sprang a 33/1 shock in the Stayers Hurdle.

He showed that was no fluke when following up in top level company at Aintree the following month.

It was another tale of Irish dominance at Cheltenham with 18 winners carrying back in the tricolour.

The meeting had started with a commanding performance by Marine Nationale in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle as Barry Connell's charge lowered the colours of Facile Vega.

Veteran trainer John Kiely was another to hit the headlines when A Dream To Share ran out a classy winner of the Champion Bumper.

It was a massive success for young amateur John Gleeson, who retained the ride on the Muhaarar gelding after his family sold the horse to JP McManus.

Despite having to play second fiddle to the Irish on the numbers board the English did have something to cheer about with the victory of Constitution Hill in the Champion Hurdle.

Nicky Henderson continues to be a major force in top races and in the Blue Bresil gelding he has the brightest talent in the national hunt game at the moment.

Sent to post a 4/11 shot in the two-miler he treated his rivals with contempt, quickening away before the last to score by nine lengths.

Barring injury it's hard to imagine the six-year-old not being able to follow up again next March.

Derek Fox celebrates on Corach Rambler after winning the Randox Grand National Handicap Chase  at Aintree Picture: PA
Derek Fox celebrates on Corach Rambler after winning the Randox Grand National Handicap Chase at Aintree Picture: PA

Corach Rambler became only the third Scottish trained winner of the Grand National in April when repelling the Irish battalion that filled the six spots behind him.

Lucinda Russell had saddled One For Arthur to win the world's most famous race in 2017 and Sligo pilot Derek Fox was again the man in the plate as the pair landed their second win at Aintree.

There were few surprises when the champions were crowned at the season-ending Punchestown festival.

Willie Mullins' dominance grows year-on-year and he landed a remarkable 17th trainer's title.

Stable jockey Paul Townend has slipped seamlessly into the job vacated by Ruby Walsh a few years ago and bagged his sixth title.

There was a clean sweep for the yard with Patrick Mullins claiming the amateur crown for a 15th time and Jody Townend taking the champion lady amateur title.

Mullins is traditionally slow to get going at the start of the season but the battalion was in full flow during the Christmas period again, highlighted by the victory of Galopin Des Champs.

Other standout performances included Grade 1 victories for Dinoblue, Gaelic Warrior and State Man.

Hewick ridden by Gavin Sheehan (right) wins Ladbrokes King George VI Chase on day one of the Ladbrokes Christmas Festival at Kempton Park (John Walton/PA)

The story of the Christmas period though was the unlikely success of Hewick in a dramatic finish to the King George at Kempton.

Shark Hanlon's charge looked to have no chance when labouring in fifth turning for home in the three-miler but the race complexion changed completely two from home.

Shishkin looked to have matters in control going to the penultimate fence only to stumble on landing and unseat Nico de Boinville.

Allaho took over with Bravemansgame coming to challenge but Gavin Sheehan conjured a stunning late burst form Hewick as he swooped on the run-in to record a famous victory.

The Gold Cup is now the target for the €800 horse and there will be some wild scenes at Prestbury Park in March if he can pull off the impossible once again.