Irish eyes were smiling at a unique Cheltenham Festival

Jockey Jack Kennedy celebrates winning the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase on Minella Indo ahead

Jockey Jack Kennedy celebrates winning the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase on Minella Indo ahead of A Plus Tard and Rachael Blackmore (right) during day four of the Cheltenham Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse. Picture date: Friday March 19, 2021. - Credit: PA

After all of the build up, the strangest of all Cheltenham Festivals passed us by in a flash.  
It was a surreal experience for those regular South West racegoers who pack the train down from Cornwall to Cheltenham every day of the Festival.  
Perhaps we were one of the reasons ITV racing were able to report record viewing figures of 1.5 million for Tuesday's Champion Hurdle. 
These figures do not incorporate the Emerald Isle, but these too are likely to have been at a record high with the 40,000 plus who normally travel over forced to watch it at home. It is estimated that these individuals inject over £25m into the Gloucestershire economy every year.  
There is no doubt the economy back home will have had a major boost, as Ireland had comfortably its best year in recent history with 23 winners to the home team’s 5. There are already countless unofficial enquiries and debates taking place about why that was the case, but these will not trouble the Irish racegoers who are renowned for celebrating hard. 
Our local personalities were almost lost in that tide. Bryony Frost and Frodon were extremely competitive for the vast majority of the Cheltenham Gold Cup and neither could have done more.  
Although jumping thrillingly and brilliantly, Frodon just couldn't stay with the best of Ireland over the last half mile but still finished second best of the British contingency in coming home a valiant fifth. 
Similarly, Ashburton's Chris Honour could not have asked for a braver run from his Grumpy Charley, who finished sixth behind another of the Festival's Irish stars, Appreciate It, in the opening Sky Bet Supreme Novices Hurdle. There will be other less challenging opportunities for the stable star.  
The context of this Irish dominance is shown by the fact that neither of the South West's three powerhouses, Paul Nicholls, Philip Hobbs nor David Pipe, trained a winner between them. A racing historian would need to go a long way back to find out when that last happened.  
There was good news though for those looking ahead to the summer racing in Newton Abbot. It was announced on Monday that every owner would get two tickets to watch their horse run after March 29, and from May 17 some crowds would be allowed back racing as part of the scheduled relaxation of the lockdown rules should the conditions of the Pandemic continue to improve.   
This means that four of Newton Abbot’s 19 meetings will be restricted to owners and their guests, but hopefully Chief Executive Pat Masterton and his team can look forward to a busy summer overall. 
This will be music to the ears of local trainer Jimmy Frost whose fascinating life story you will be able to read more of on these pages from next week. Jimmy will tell us his story from being a young man growing up on Dartmoor and enjoying Torbay, and about his fantastic career right through until today. Keep an eye on these columns in the weeks ahead.