There were emotional scenes in the Cheltenham winners’ enclosure on New Year’s Day after Stormy Ireland secured a poignant success to provide connections with what they described as a “special” moment in the Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle (2m 4.5f).
Victory for the Motivator mare in the Grade Two contest was a particularly moving moment for joint-owner David Greenway with the success coming just over two months after the death of his brother, and former jockey, Tom Greenway, who passed away in October.
Although winning rider Danny Mullins came in for plenty of praise for his ride aboard the Willie Mullins-trained eight year old, Greenway believes that she also had the added assistance of his late brother looking down.
Locked together with favourite Brewin’Upastorm, who fell at the last, the 4-1 chance galloped on relentlessly to defeat the returning McFabulous by two and a half lengths.
Greenway said: “That’s why I was a bit teary coming in as I’m sure Tom helped her come over the line.
“He died at the end of October and it is still quite raw. This is special though as days like these don’t come along often. We will enjoy today.
“The man on board deserved to take all the plaudits as he is magic on her. He and her get on so well together.”
Stormy Ireland’s success also provided Closutton handler Mullins with his first win in the contest, however had there been more suitable options back home her appearance may not have materialised according to Greenway.
He said “She surprised us how well she won at Fairyhouse and we could then not go to Punchestown.
“She was stuck for options. Winning a Grade One was fantastic but it stopped us plotting many races in Ireland so we were forced to go for the Hatton’s Grace. It was probably a bit above our station and she was a bit gassy first time.
“We were looking for another race but we could not find anything, so then we thought we would take our chance here. It was a bit of a bold move and like Willie said this morning he doesn’t target this race much but it was the obvious one to come for.
“Luckily the other horse has got up okay and I don’t know who would have come out on top of that battle but we would have been second at worse and we would have been delighted with that as well. We are thrilled.
“I think a lot of that (turning her form around) is down to a lot of the work Paul Nicholls did strengthening her on his hill gallop. Willie got her back and he knows her better than anyone.”
All roads will now lead back to The Festival in March and a second outing in the Grade One Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle, which she finished fifth in back in 2020.
Greenway added: “She will go to the Mares Hurdle now. I don’t think there is a standout mare in it this year.
“She deserves to take her chance and if they let us have a nice lead in front we will take that.”
The win completed what has been a seven days to savour for winning rider Mullins, who secured Grade One glory aboard Stormy Ireland’s stablemate Tornado Flyer in the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.
Mullins, who was scoring aboard Stormy Ireland for the fifth time said: “It has been a great Christmas period. These big days are what it is all about.
“I enjoy riding winners week in week out but to have the pressure put on your shoulders and to be able to deliver it is my job as I’m a jockey and I’m supposed to get it right on the day.
“Things didn’t work out here (when Stormy Ireland was trained by Paul Nicholls) but that can happen to some horses. She is back in good old nick and I’m delighted to have a good association with her.
“Thankfully, Paul (Townend) was heading to Tramore to partner Al Boum Photo today so it opened the door for me to come here and I’m delighted to be riding her.”
Despite the race being denied the grandstand finish it looked set to deliver, Mullins believes his mount was starting to get the better of what promised to be an entertaining battle.
He added: “She is good. She is a right tough little mare. She is not the biggest in the world but she has got a huge heart. She has got very intelligent how she races now.
“She likes to burn at the front end early in her race. Today she listened very well to me down the back.
“Plenty of the lads were wise to her and they didn’t want to let her off. I was able to build the race up as I saw fit.
“Thankfully Aidan and Brewin’Upastorm got up okay afterwards. Maybe it was 50/50 down to the last.
“My gut feeling was that I was beginning to get on top but the last furlong at Cheltenham you never know.”
“Most of the credit has to go to the owners for putting them with best trainers and the staff are doing the job all day.
“It has been good for me but I’m just a small cog in the wheel.”
As for Brewin’Upastorm his trainer Olly Murphy reported him to be “absolutely fine” following his last flight fall.
Murphy said: “He was about to go and win his race. Nobody is going to argue that but he ended up on the ground at the last. That's jump racing and you've got to jump to win.
“Well done to the winner. My horse is okay and so is Aidan (Coleman), which is the most important thing. He seems absolutely fine and was walking around.
“There's no reason for it. Aidan had loads of horse left. Just one of those things. He's done that here before and he's a good jumper."
Poetic Music is now unbeaten in three starts as she recorded a first success at Listed level in the concluding Pony Club "Junior" National Hunt Flat Race (1m 6f).
The Fergal O’Brien-trained 7-2 Favourite still had plenty to do entering the final furlong as long-time leader Iliade Allen looked to have built up an unassailable lead. However the four year old Poet’s Voice filly stayed on resolutely under Paddy Brennan to get up and score by a length and a half, adding to her previous victories at Newbury and Market Rasen.