For all the headlines surrounding the biggest names in the Gold Cup, it was Minella Indo that came in under the radar to land the crowning moment of trainer Henry de Bromhead’s magnificent Cheltenham Festival. Victory came quick and sweet for the eight-year-old, consigning his heavily fancied stablemate A Plus Tard to second place, and the two-time and reigning Gold Cup champion Al Boum Photo to third.
It was a race of high drama, but Minella Indo was among the frontrunners from the off, and Jack Kennedy rode him with supreme authority, unfazed by the tall order of going up against the big guns of national hunt racing.
Along with Frodon ridden by Bryony Frost, Minella Indo set the pace as the race reached boiling point, but where Frodon failed to show the staying power required to match Al Boum Photo and A Plus Tard on the home straight, De Bromhead’s gelding seemed to find another gear, the kind of supreme staying performance that transcends the horse racing odds and form guides.
A faller at Leopardstown in December, beaten at the same racecourse in February – Minella Indo upset the apple cart to claim glory on the biggest stage of all. For rider Kennedy, who has overcome countless injuries throughout his career, it was the fourth win of a terrific Festival, and the emotion was plain to see after victory had been assured.
“I can’t believe it,” he tearfully told ITV Racing. “This is what I’ve dreamt of since I was a child. I’m just so grateful to Henry, and Michael and Barry Maloney, for giving me the opportunity to ride him. I can’t thank them enough and I’ll owe them forever. This is what I live for. I’m delighted.
“I was there very soon on [Minella Indo]. I didn’t want to disappoint him, he carried me into it so I didn’t want to take him back. I landed over the last and he pricked his ears, he was pulling up but it wasn’t out of tiredness. And when he heard Rachael coming back at him, he took off again. It’s unbelievable stuff.”
In a Festival that has been dominated by De Bromhead, it was fitting that Minella Indo should land the showpiece prize of this famous old meeting. The Irish have dominated this year’s Festival, and De Bromhead’s terrific stable has been a major part of that. The Gold Cup triumph ensures that the trainer has become the first to land the winner in the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and the Gold Cup in the same Festival.
Much analysis after the race will focus on Al Boum Photo, who failed to join the likes of Arkle and Best Mate in the list of horses that have won the Gold Cup on three successive occasions. By his supremely high standards, it’s been a disappointing Festival for Willie Mullins, and Al Boum Photo’s third-place finish was another let-down for last year’s top trainer.
Similarly, there was bitter disappointment for Nicky Henderson, as both Champ and Santini were pulled up in the early stages of the race. Champ, winner of the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase at last year’s Festival, looked unsure of his footing from the very start, struggling with every jump and cutting a pale shadow of the horse that stormed to victory 12 months ago. It was a similar story for last year’s Gold Cup runner-up Santini, who made a critical error midway through the race, and that was enough for jockey Aidan Coleman to call it a day.
Elsewhere on Gold Cup Day, there was further glory for leading jockey Rachael Blackmore, who triumphed in the Triumph Hurdle on board De Bromhead-trained Quilixios. There was also victory for 33/1 shot Belfast Banter, trained by Peter Fahey and ridden by Kevin Sexton, in the County Hurdle, while Gavin Cromwell-trained Vanillier triumphed in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, with Mark Walsh in the saddle.
But Gold Cup Day 2021 is all about one young man. The fact that Kennedy is not Minella Indo’s usual rider – Blackmore herself usually takes the reins – makes the victory all the more impressive for a young jockey who has had to overcome plenty to get to this point. Through all the dark days of injury woe, the dream of winning the Gold Cup undoubtedly carried Kennedy through. Now he has his moment in the sun.