The Real Thing

CHELTENHAM, UK–On Wednesday morning, the front page of Jour de Galop referred to how Constitution Hill (GB) and Honeysuckle (GB) had restored the smiles of English National Hunt breeders, but the French breeders were smiling again by the end of the day, especially thanks to Energumene (Fr) (Denham Red {FR}), winner of the G1 Queen Mother Champion Chase for the second year running. 

The 9-year-old, one of four winners so far for Willie Mullins at the Cheltenham Festival, was joined by fellow French-breds Impaire Et Passe (Fr) (Diamond Boy {Fr}), Delta Work (Fr) (Network {Ger}), and Maskada (Fr) (Masked Marvel {GB}) on the roll of honour for the day, with Delta Work not only notching back-to-back wins in the Glenfarclas Cross-Country Chase but also following the example set by his younger half-brother Jazzy Matty (Fr) (Doctor Dino {Fr}), who won the G3 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle on Tuesday. 

It’s remarkable for one broodmare even to be represented by two Cheltenham Festival winners in different years, but two at the same meeting is quite something, and puts the 18-year-old Robbe (Fr) (Video Rock {Fr}) in rarefied territory. Owned and bred by the Magnien family, who are based at Saint-Gratien-Savigny, not far from Haras de Cercy where Delta Work’s sire stood, Robbe was winless in her three hurdle starts but she has more than made up for that in her second career. Delta Work, who is also a five-time Grade 1 winner in Ireland, and Jazzy Matty are just two of the mare’s five black-type performers, which include the latter’s full-brother Inneston (Fr), runner-up in Saturday’s G3 EBF National Hunt Novices’ Hurdle Final at Sandown.

Similar plaudits should be handed to the Gleeson family’s homebred Galileo (Ire) mare Hikari (Ire). Her offspring now include last summer’s G3 Irish St Leger Trial winner Raise You (Ire) (Lope De Vega {Ire}) and, in the gloaming of Wednesday evening, her 5-year-old A Dream To Share (Ire), by the former top sprinter Muhaarar (GB), added more National Hunt black type to the page when landing the G1 Weatherbys Champion Bumper for 85-year-old trainer John Kiely.

Following the gelding’s victory at the Dublin Racing Festival, JP McManus swooped to add him to his Cheltenham squad. A Dream To Share, who is unbeaten in four bumpers, was thus running for the first time in the famous green-and-gold hoops instead of in the colours of Claire Gleeson, who bred him with her husband Brian under their Brucetown Farms banner. The deal was struck, and the Gleesons’ son John kept the ride, with the 18-year-old schoolboy remaining cool under pressure as more experienced jockeys were scrimmaging for the line, and managing to sneak up the rail for a close call of a first Festival victory on his first ride at Cheltenham.

“The horse was named by my wife Claire,” said Brian Gleeson. “Everything good in life is worth sharing and we always thought that this horse was good, so on Christmas Day Claire said she would call this horse A Dream To Share, trained by John Kiely. And the dream was to win at the Cheltenham Festival.”

He added, “Everyone loves John Kiely. This man is 86 in May and he’s had second- and third-place finishes at Cheltenham and now he’s had a winner with JP McManus. It’s JP’s 70th Festival winner and John Gleeson’s first. It’s fairytale stuff.”

One can only guess at the figures involved in the private transaction that secured A Dream To Share but it is now commonplace for top National Hunt horses to change hands for Book 1 prices. So when you see a big, glorious gelding who was bought by his trainer as a store for €21,000 storming up the hill for home, the heart warms a little. 

So it was in the case of The Real Whacker (Ire) (Mahler {Ire}), who held on by just a short-head to win the G1 Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase, having made all of the running under Sam Twiston-Davies. His bold bid brought about the most uproarious reception on a day which would always have been hard pressed to match Tuesday’s magical atmosphere. The Real Whacker’s victory was a welcome Festival first for trainer Paddy Neville, who bought him as an untested 3-year-old at Goffs and moved him across the Irish Sea with him to restart his training career in Yorkshire in 2021. Neville’s move to Ann Duffield’s stable has been a fruitful one, with the likeable giant that is The Real Whacker now the star of a small team that has yielded eight wins from 40 outings this season.

“I made the move [to England] because I couldn’t get any owners in Ireland, just couldn’t get them. Hopefully it will work away here,” said Neville, whose 7-year-old held off the well-backed favourite Gerri Colombe (Fr) (Saddler Maker {Ire}), a representative of Gordon Elliott’s stable, which is certainly not short of owners.

“We’ll mind him for next year and come back for the Gold Cup, hopefully. We were thinking about it this year, but we’ve probably made the right decision for the horse. He’d only run six times before today, so we’ve given him that bit of experience and we’ll come back next year.”

It can still be done as it once was: selecting an unbroken horse and bringing him on through the ranks instead of swooping for the readymade article. And with his old friend Davey Dunn from his home town of Askeaton, Co Limerick, and co-owners Rebecca Dennis and Alan Duffus, Neville has now pulled off the biggest result of his career on the most important stage.

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