CHELTENHAM, England (Reuters) - Don Cossack, the 9-4 favorite ridden by Bryan Cooper and trained by Gordon Elliott, won the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Fridayas Irish punters celebrated and bookmakers took another pounding.
Willie Mullins-trained Djakadam, with Ruby Walsh in the saddle, finished second and stablemate Don Poli was third in an Irish sweep of the most prestigious race in the English jump racing season.
The heavily-fancied Cue Card, ridden by Paddy Brennan, provided more drama with a nasty fall three jumps from the finish while challenging for the lead. The horse and rider appeared unhurt.
Don Cossack, owned by the jubilant Ryanair boss Michael O‘Leary, had failed twice before at Cheltenham but ended up a strong winner four and a half lengths clear of Djakadam, who was also second last year.
“Fair play to Gordon, he stuck by me...he had him right for today. He never missed a beat,” the emotional Cooper, who could have been riding Don Poli but made the right choice, told Channel 4 television.
Elliott, who added a Gold Cup to the Grand National won with Silver Birch in 2007, also shed tears of joy.
“I’ve never been so nervous in my life,” said the stunned trainer. “I really can’t believe it...I‘m shell-shocked.”
There was disappointment for Mullins, now a six-times runner up in the Gold Cup, and Walsh, who had chalked up his 50th festival winner on Thursday but failed to land the big one.
“What do we have to do? Hopefully we’ll be back again next year. I will never complain about second, although hopefully one year we’ll break our duck,” Mullins told BBC radio.
While the bookmakers cursed another winning favorite, with Ladbroke’s saying in a press release that they could not get out fast enough after “the most expensive week here that we can remember”, punters had plenty to cheer.
So too did double Olympic cycling champion Victoria Pendleton after finishing fifth on Pacha du Polder in the Foxhunter Chase won by another female jockey Nina Carberry.
“I think it’s probably one of the greatest achievements of my life,” said Pendleton, who started out a year ago as a complete novice.
“She rode superbly. You saw her confidence increase. She was weaving and scything through the field. That was unbelievable. Walt Disney stuff,” former National Hunt jockey Luke Harvey told the BBC.
“To get round at Cheltenham only 12 months after getting on a horse for a first time is amazing.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ed Osmond