Cheltenham Festival returns with crowds, cheers and a tragedy

After a Covid-reduced event last year, the equine event is back

Jockey Rachael Blackmore holds the trophy after winning the Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy on Honeysuckle. PA

Horse racing’s world-famous Cheltenham Festival returned to normality on Tuesday with crowds and cheers but also a tragedy as one horse died.

Honeysuckle and jockey Rachael Blackmore got the reception they so richly deserved following an imperious defence of the Unibet Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Earlier in the day, Constitution Hill won the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in the festival’s opening race.

The novice’s hurdle race and the day was tinged with sadness after Shallwehaveonemore suffered what proved to be a fatal injury after falling at the final flight.

Last year, the festival was held but in the middle of ever-changing lockdown orders there were few spectators. This year, the celebration was back in the festival.

“It’s incredible. The reception we got the whole way down the straight. This is such a special place and we missed the crowds last year. To have them back this year is just unbelievable,” said jockey Blackmore.

In truth, the bedlam began long before the dynamic duo crossed the line, with the packed enclosures struggling to contain their enthusiasm when Blackmore moved sweetly into a winning position.

There was a brief lowering of the volume as former champion Epatante threatened to make a race of it on the run to the final flight.

What followed were scenes of unabashed jubilation from the huge majority of those on track.

“I wish I had the English vocabulary to explain how it felt coming back in. All the way down the chute, the reception we got – I was absolutely buzzing,” Blackmore said.

“Last year was fantastic and we were delighted to be here, but Cheltenham is about the people and they really didn’t let us down.”

The festival ends on Friday with the Gold Cup, one of the most famous races in the sport in Britain.

Updated: March 15, 2022, 11:36 PM