St Patrick’s Thursday at The Cheltenham Festival 2018 included the Grade One Stayer’s Hurdle, as well as a substantial presence by Irish brewer Guinness!
There was a new note for the history books as Willie Mullins-trained Penhill became the first horse to win the G1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle and the G1 Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle following an impressive success under Paul Townend in the three-mile championship event.
The 12/1 shot – returning from an absence of 323 days – travelled sweetly throughout and after winging the final flight, he kept on tenaciously to master Jessica Harrington’s Supasundae (6/1) and score by two lengths. Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Wholestone (14/1) stayed on well to finish a further three lengths behind in third.
Mullins, registering his sixth winner of the week and his 60th success at The Festival overall, drawing him level with Nicky Henderson as The Festival’s winning-most trainer, said: “Penhill must have some engine. I could not believe it watching Paul come down the outside and I thought wow – if he fluffs the last then he could blow up and fall in a hole, but he met the last perfectly and then I thought Supasundae would out gallop him but he kept on powerfully. It is fantastic for Tony Bloom.
“A lot of credit has to go to Holly Conte who leads him up, rides him and does everything with him. She has virtually trained this horse herself I think. She minds him because he is fairly fragile. I will attribute this to Holly.
“I was hoping to get a run into him, but coming here without a prep race to win a championship race is a huge achievement to the horse.”
Winning owner Tony Bloom, who also owns Premier League football side Brighton and Hove Albion, commented: “To go there and win outside of novice company for the first time is unbelievable and it was brilliant ride by Paul.”
Jockey Paul Townend added: “It is an unbelievable training performance but it isn’t the first time he has done it. He is a genius.
“Penhill has a massive engine. You still think back to what he did as a novice hurdler in Galway when he was tailed off at the top of the hill and flew home. That is the sort of ability he has.”
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Photos by Rachel Groom assisted by Charlotte Greig.