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Cheltenham Has Edge Over Ascot, Breeders Cup – Cheveley Director

Picture: Cheveley Park’s Richard Thompson (right) congratulates Rachael Blackmore after A Plus Tard’s devastating display in the Gold Cup of 2022 (Picture: Grossick Racing)


Exclusive interview with Cheveley Park Stud director Richard Thompson: Cheltenham Festival has edge over Royal Ascot and Breeders Cup and ‘class act’ Willie Mullins attracted me to Ireland

Speaking exclusively to BoyleSports, who offer the latest Cheltenham Festival odds, 2022 Gold Cup winning owner Richard Thompson has revealed his love of Cheltenham compared to flat racing’s biggest meetings.

Thompson has runners with both Willie Mullins and Henry De Bromhead next week and outlined what separates them from their English counterparts ahead of what is expected to be a dominant Cheltenham for Irish trainers.

Why is it so special being an owner at Cheltenham?

RT: “It’s grown and grown over the years, it’s got the magic dust. It’s such a big build-up and such a great atmosphere.”

“In life, and at the top level of sport there are a few events which are like that and Cheltenham is one of them. It’s just so special, so when you actually have a horse running there or you win a race, then you really understand just how special it is.

“Everything they say about Cheltenham, in terms of the experience as an owner, is fact.”

How does it compare to having a winner at the Breeders’ Cup?

RT: “We’ve won a couple of Breeders’ Cups, including with Inspiral last November, which was fantastic.

“It’s a close call, actually, because the Breeders’ Cup is similar to Cheltenham in terms of being the end of the year in a series of championship races, and it’s a two-day festival.

“I still think that Cheltenham is more special, it’s four days with the Gold Cup at the end. We were lucky enough to win the Gold Cup with A Plus Tard, and that was obviously fantastic as well.”

How do you sell the National Hunt compared to the Flat?

RT: “With Cheltenham, and National Hunt racing in general, there is a lot more passion than Flat racing.

“There’s a lot more camaraderie, and there’s obviously horses who stay in training for a few years and then get fan clubs. That’s something you don’t get in Flat racing.

“You haven’t got that same atmosphere, and at Royal Ascot, even though I love it, Cheltenham has the edge because of the passion of the people involved. Ascot is a bit more corporate, a bit more stilted in terms of peoples’ reactions when they win.

“Whereas, at Cheltenham, when people win, they really win.”

Should the Cheltenham Festival take place across five days or four?

RT: “I think four days is the maximum from my perspective, I would probably say that even Goodwood should be four days and Royal Ascot should be five days.

“The festivals are what it’s all about these days, with the big races where everyone flocks to the big meetings. I think that Cheltenham, Royal Ascot and Goodwood are the golden goose, so to speak.

“You can over-egg it in terms of the number of races, but it looks as though it has gone a bit too far, probably.”

Is it still about the championship races for you at Cheltenham?

RT: “For us, it’s definitely about the championship races and trying to buy horses with Grade 1 potential. We were much more focused on the Championship races, absolutely.

“Even though A Plus Tard did win a novice handicap in 2019 before going on to win the Gold Cup in 2022.”

Having won the Gold Cup and Grand National, what other races would you like to add?

RT: “The Supreme Novices Hurdle next week (with Tullyhill) next week! The Arkle (with Quilixios) as well.

“The King George at Kempton is another one, this season we had Allaho as the favourite, who finished third but it was a fantastic race.

“However, once you’ve won the Gold Cup – that’s the Holy Grail of National Hunt racing.”

How do the likes of Willie Mullins in Ireland acquire the best horses, what made you choose him?

RT: “We’ve had a lot of horses training in the UK on the Flat, and I sat next to Willie Mullins one day at a function. I seemed to get on well with him, and then we went from there. I think he knows what he’s doing!

“It wasn’t really a conscious decision about Ireland or England, it was more about that lunch, chatting away and then it went down that road.

“We’ve had a lot of horses over the years in England over the Flat, so it was just a bit of a change for us. There were people who said to us ‘you’ll never get any winners because you’re not Irish’.

“It was a bit of an off-the-cuff thing – all the good decisions come off those left-field situations and things that happen by coincidence.”

How are the Irish so dominant, what makes them different to deal with as an owner?

RT: “If you deal with someone like Willie Mullins or Henry De Bromhead, they are class acts as individuals, there’s no doubt about that.

“You can speak to them, listen to them and they’re very engaging. They are extremely likeable to deal with as well, those two I’ve got to know quite well and anyone else would feel the same.”

Can you see Middle Eastern investment in the National Hunt any time soon?

RT: “I can’t see the Middle East getting involved in the National Hunt any time soon, because it’s a whole different ball-game.

“Whereas, the flat is a global thing with pedigrees in terms of international racing. With the UK, Ireland and France, the National Hunt is a completely different environment.

“I can see other wealthy people getting involved, and more syndicates, but not the Middle East from my perspective.”