All you need to know about the Craft Irish Whiskey Co. Plate at Cheltenham racecourse on Thursday 17 March.
Where and when can I watch it? 3.40pm on Thursday 17 March, live in stunning HD on Racing TV.
What Grade? Grade Three. What course? New course. What distance? 2m 5f (17 fences).
Prize-money: £80,000 Ages: 5yo+ Weights & Allowances: Handicap
Sponsor: Craft Irish Whiskey Co.
Lizzie Kelly guided Siruh Du Lac to victory in 2019
Key statistics and trends:
· The Shunter (rated 140) became the eighth winner in succession to be rated in the 140s. He was also the sixth successive novice or second-season chaser to win.
· Five favourites have won since 1999 - but three have triumphed in the last four years.
· The Pipe family have a tremendous record in the race; Martin won it four times between 1997 and 2002 and his son David has landed the prize three times since 2010.
· Only four horses have carried more than 11st to victory since the turn of the century.
· Siruh Du Lac (2019) and Empire Of Dirt (2016) are the only winners in the last decade to have previously won a Graded race. Last year's winner The Shunter enjoyed a remarkably versatile campaign and landed the Grade 3 Greatwood Hurdle earlier in the season.
· Only one five-year-old has won this race - Majadou (1999) for Martin Pipe and AP McCoy.
· 22 of the last 24 winners had previously won a race between 2m3f and 2m5f.
· Novices have won this race for four of the past five years – Road To Respect (2017), The Storyteller (2018), Simply the Betts (2020) and The Shunter (2021). Beforehand, novices were unsuccessful in this contest since 2005.
· Horses returning to this contest have often done well and there have been two dual winners in Elfast and The Tsarevich. Mr McGoldrick, Dublin Flyer, Smartie Express, King of the Lot and Fondmort were placed on more than one occasion. Palarshan, second in 2007, returned the following season to finish fifth.
The Craft Irish Whiskey Co., the most awarded new whiskey brand of 2021 and creator of the most expensive whiskey in the world, was announced as the new sponsor of the Festival Plate Handicap Chase on Day Three of The Festival in 2022.
The contest was once known as the Mildmay Of Flete Handicap Chase, in memory of the second Baron Mildmay of Flete, an amateur National Hunt jockey who rode three winners at the Cheltenham Festival.
The 2009 renewal was run as the Freddie Williams Festival Plate in remembrance of legendary bookmaker Freddie Williams, who passed away in 2008.
The first running, which resulted in a dead-heat between Slender and Canford, took place at Cheltenham in April, because the last two days of the 1951 Festival were abandoned due to a waterlogged course.
Red Rum, the only triple winner of the Grand National (1973, 1974 and 1977), finished fourth in the 1971 renewal.
2021 - The Shunter
The Shunter (9/4F) crowned a remarkable campaign with a ready success to land a £100,000 bonus and first Cheltenham Festival wins for trainer Emmet Mullins and jockey Jordan Gainford.
The Shunter had the choice of five races at the Cheltenham Festival as connections mulled which route to go down after victory in the Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso set up the bonus bid and victory here never looked in much doubt.
Always very prominently placed and taking a pull turning into the straight, getting in close to the final two fences masked his superiority but The Shunter still accelerated away after the last to beat Farclas (5/1) by three lengths with Top Notch (50/1) in third. Coole Cody (22/1) was fourth.
"It’s unbelievable, something you can’t describe and it’s a feeling I’ve never had before," said Gainford.
"I didn’t know I’d got the ride until declaration time so I owe my agent Gary Cribbin a lot."
Mullins said: "To go from a beginners’ chase at Punchestown in September, via the Greatwood and Kelso, it’s been an unbelievable journey."
2020 - Simply The Betts
A first win at the meeting for exultant trainer Harry Whittington as the well-backed 100-30 favourite Simply The Betts delivered.
His form had a glow after Imperial Aura's win in the Northern Trust Novices' Chase two days earloer and he was up with the leaders throughout.
Last year's winner Siruh Du Lac made most of the running but was under pressure when he came to grief at the second-last fence, leaving Happy Diva (20-1) and Simply The Betts to battle it out.
Whittington said: "It's about everyone else, I'm thrilled for them. We've had five goes this week and been getting closer and now we've got there."
2019 – Siruh Du Lac
Siruh Du Lac capped a fine season with a fine front-running performance under Lizzie Kelly to remain unbeaten over fences at the home of jumps racing.
Victorious on all three previous starts of the campaign, the rapid improver and gallant six-year-old produced a typical round of exhibition jumping to deny the classy Janika in second with Spiritofthegames back in third.
This was another career highlight for Kelly, the Grade One-winning rider who was following Rachael Blackmore and Bryony Frost into the winners enclosure at the 2019 Festival.
“By God, he jumped,” said the jockey. “Me and him work well together because I love that sort o heart on your sleeve type ride. It works for me and it works for him.
"I wanted to have control of the race and wanted to use his jumping, which was quite phenomenal.”
2018 - The Storyteller
The Storyteller continued an incredible day for Davy Russell and Gordon Elliott when coming with a late run to snatch victory.
It was a third winner of the afternoon for jockey and trainer - but it was only in the last few strides the well-backed 5-1 favourite broke the heart of the brave Splash Of Ginge.
Nigel Twiston-Davies' admirable 10-year-old was always to the fore and landed in front over the last, but The Storyteller was relentless and despite taking a wayward course, was straightened up by Russell to score by a length and three-quarters.
Elliott said: "Davy gave the horse a peach. He was my nap of the meeting last year in the Martin Pipe, but he went wrong so it's brilliant."
2017 - Road To Respect:
Road To Respect had been seen more of an RSA contender by his trainer Noel Meade when he was a novice but the decision to drop back to the intermediate trip and into a handicap was rewarded magnificently. The six-year-old powered to an impressive six-length success to provide Meade with his first chase success at the Cheltenham Festival.
The gelding was probably a touch fortunate to still be in the race having overjumped the first fence but from that point onwards it was plain sailing and he was not for catching after hitting the front before the second last. The winning trainer said:
“I actually wanted to run him in the RSA Novices’ Chase, but Gigginstown had something else for that and this race made sense, given the way the handicapper assessed him.
“The ground was a big help to me. We’ve always thought of him as a very nice horse. On his second chase run, in the Grade One Drinmore Novices’ Chase at Fairyhouse, he was very disappointing – he was only third or fourth, and I thought he might win. He came here and was clearly well-handicapped!”
Road To Respect has since gone on to prove he is a graded performer, winning two Grade One contests and a Grade Three event in just four subsequent starts.
2016 - Empire Of Dirt:
Empire Of Dirt had never run at Prestbury Park prior to the 2016 Festival but he proved an instant hit, running out an easy four-length winner despite having been hiked up 9lb for his Leopardstown success earlier that year.
The fast-improving nine-year-old was severely hampered at the third fence but the strong pace helped, and Bryan Cooper’s mount travelled powerfully into contention before hitting the front two out. The Irish Jockey said:
“It has been a frustrating Festival so far, but the horses have been running well and they have just been coming up against some really good horses.
“If you look back through his form, he is a classy horse with very good form and better ground helped him as well. He travelled really well, and Colm Murphy always kept the faith and said he was a lovely horse. He felt there was big day in him, so it was good we got a bit of luck.”
It was a dominant display from a horse firmly on the rise, confirmed by his three-quarter length second to Sizing John in the following season’s Irish Gold Cup.
2015 - Darna:
Darna became trainer Kim Bailey’s first Festival winner since Betty’s Boy took the Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase in 1999, and his fourth in all, when he caused a 33-1 shock in 2015.
Bailey reflected afterwards: “It’s great. The Martins (Julie and David) have had horses with me for a long time and we paid a lot of money for this horse – for us anyway, we paid £120,000 for him.”
Darna’s one-and-a-quarter length success provided jockey David Bass with his first Cheltenham Festival winner.
A delighted Bass said: “I’ve been coming here for six years and have had some decent chances on horses trained by Nicky Henderson, but it’s not happened until now.
“It’s a hard place to get on the right one and to finally do it is a relief – and a brilliant feeling.”
2014 - Ballynagour:
David Pipe quickly worked out that Ballynagour was a horse who was best fresh and the French-bred eight-year-old was wrapped up in cotton wool after his flop in the Paddy Power Gold Cup earlier that season.
Dropped 3lb for that, he burst back to life, running out one of the easiest winners of this race in its history, with Tom Scudamore only needing to push his mount out to score by an emphatic eight lengths. Pipe was quick to praise his staff afterwards. He said:
“It’s great for everyone involved and all back at the yard – I would have loved to have seen them in the office after we’ve had the two winners today!”
“He’s not been the easiest horse to train as he’s had a couple of niggles. He bleeds on occasions, so we don’t do very much with him. We give him an easy life and don’t race him too often.”
It was the sort of performance that marked the horse down as a potential Grade One performer, but he proved a tough horse to get right and his only subsequently success came in a Grade Two hurdle race at Auteuil.
2013 - Carrickboy:
Venetia Williams has a good recent record in this race and the Herefordshire-based trainer pulled off one of her greatest Cheltenham Festival coups when unconsidered 50-1 chance Carrickboy achieved what so few horses have been able to in Cheltenham Festival handicaps, leading from start to finish.
The trainer confirmed they were tactics that had been discussed beforehand, saying: "If you went for a handicap like this and he was behind a wall of horses he'd just curl up, so his only chance here was to be right up in the front rank.
“Liam [Treadwell] has done a great job and he quite possibly enjoyed the better ground, as he led them a merry dance."
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