Can the Brits hold off an Irish greenwash? - by Cornelius Lysaght

Can the Brits hold off an Irish greenwash? - by Cornelius Lysaght

Hands up who remembers an Irish hurdler named Galmoy? 

It’s a bit ago now but Galmoy, part of the small string of shrewd businessman and trainer John Mulhern, played a notable part in the history of the Cheltenham Festival during the 1980s when successful two years running in the Stayers Hurdle, then staged immediately following the Champion Hurdle on the first afternoon of a three-day, Tuesday to Thursday fixture. 

It’s barely credible from this distance, three decades-plus on, but when Galmoy ridden by top jockey of the era Tommy Carmody defeated first Aonoch in 1987 and then Miss Nero twelve months later, he was the sole Irish-trained winner at those two Festivals. 

However his defeat when going for a hatrick at the rain-drenched meeting of 1989 was even more significant: that year – when Desert Orchid won the Gold Cup – there was not one single winner trained in Ireland. 

How dramatically things have changed. 


DESERT ORCHID in the 1989 Gold Cup

DESERT ORCHID in the 1989 Gold Cup

For a start Cheltenham has grown as an event practically beyond recognition becoming one of the major British sporting occasions of the calendar.

These days tens of thousands of visitors are attracted to that corner of the Cotswolds every March while millions more worldwide watch on, all generating vast betting turnover – it’s estimated around £100m – in the most frenetic week of the year for bookmakers.

And that popularity led in 2005 to the fixture being extended to four days with a total now of twenty eight races; talk of a fifth day continues but that plan seems to be on hold for the time being.

The most radical difference of all however is the fortunes of the Irish which have grown into complete domination in recent years, famously in 2021 when the home side was completely humiliated, claiming just five wins compared to twenty-three for the visitors, and although the British total was not quite so humbling last year – 10 to 18 – Ireland performed a ‘greenwash’ in each of the centrepiece races and every single prize on the final day.

Leading the way was Willie Mullins whose record ten winners made him leading trainer for the fourth year running, but not far behind was his compatriot Gordon Elliott, the pair the only ones to have held the Festival’s trainers’ title since Lambourn-based Nicky Henderson was successful in 2012.


The indomitable Willie Mullins

The indomitable Willie Mullins

Many heads have been scratched over exactly what caused the turnaround but the most obvious explanation is down to the so-called Celtic Tiger when the once down-at-heel Irish economy took off so spectacularly from the mid-1990s that a racing nation of regular sellers felt more easily able to resist when big British cheque books were waved at them after their promising young horse had won a point-to-point, bumper or maiden hurdle.

The talented trainers were there but often minus the quality material with which to work.

Wither Or Which, one of Mullins’ first Grade One-level horses, is given as an early case in point: he might have been sold overseas but for the owner being prepared to decline a flurry of fancy offers, and the reward came with success in the Festival Bumper of 1996 when none other than the man himself, Mr W.P. Mullins, was in the saddle for his one riding success at the meeting.

Horses like Wither Or Which staying at home gradually benefitted most stables but particularly those of Mullins and then, when they came along a little later, Elliott and Henry de Bromhead who have all made the mammoth task of managing vast operations into an artform.

And they now have such a firm grip on the pools of equine talent that some British owners who might previously have been backing Henderson, Paul Nicholls or Dan Skelton are keener than ever on Mullins, Elliott or de Bromhead – the Simon Munir / Isaac Souede combination is the latest obvious example. 

And that makes the jobs of the big-name British-based trainers harder still.

But all is not lost. This time Ireland may look strong in some of the novice races, plus the Cross Country, the Bumper, the Stayers, the Gold Cup and several handicaps, but the Champion Hurdle favourite Constitution Hill heads up what looks like a formidable team being prepared by Henderson and the vibes from Nicholls HQ about Hermes Allen (Ballymore) and Bravemansgame (Gold Cup) are packed with positivity, and actually plenty of the races have an open look to them. 

There’s no doubt it won’t be Galmoy again, but equally it shouldn’t be a repeat of 2021. Whatever you like, good luck. 


Paul Nicholls and Gold Cup contender BRAVEMANSGAME.

Paul Nicholls and Gold Cup contender BRAVEMANSGAME.