Banbridge Captures G1 William Hill Champion Chase 

April 30, 2024

J.J. Slevin accepts congrats on his win with Banbridge. (Breandán Ó hUallacháin photo)

Trained Joseph O’Brien, former Breeders’ Cup-winning jockey

By Breandán Ó hUallacháin

Banbridge (6/1) won the Grade 1 William Hill Champion Chase at Punchestown, Co Kildare, this afternoon, the opening day highlight of the Irish National Hunt Festival.

Trained by former Breeders’ Cup-winning jockey and trainer, Joseph O’Brien, and ridden by his cousin, J.J. Slevin, the eight-year-old gelded son of Doyen carried the colours of Scottish owner, Ronnie Bartlett, to success.

Entering the home stretch in the two-mile championship, the Queen Mother Champion Chase winner at Cheltenham in March, Captain Guinness (6/1), took the lead under Rachael Blackmore and looked to be heading for another Grade 1 win.

Slevin, however, came on the stands’ side and little by little he coaxed his mount into contention, before making a final lunge for the winning line in the shadows of the post, getting the decision by a neck. Blackmore, on the Henry de Bromhead-handled Captain Guinness had to settle for second, while Dinoblue (11/10 favourite), for champion trainer Willie Mullins was a further length and three-quarters back in third in the colours of top owner J.P. McManus. 

The narrow victory was another major success for Joseph O’Brien, who has previously tasted success at the major jumps festivals with wins such as Edwulf in the Irish Gold Cup (2018), Le Richebourg in the Racing Post Novice Chase (2018), and Home By The Lee in the Christmas Hurdle (2022), as well as major flat wins in Australia (Melbourne Cup 2017 and 2020; Cox Plate in 2021) and the USA (Iridessa in 2019 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf and State Of Rest in 2021 Saratoga Derby Invitational Stakes.

Team Banbridge walking to collect their trophy. (Breandán Ó hUallacháin photo)
Team Banbridge walking to collect their trophy. (Breandán Ó hUallacháin photo)

“He was trained to perfection,” stated the successful owner, Ronnie Bartlett. “Two or three [fences] out, we were thinking, maybe go for a place here, but he showed some turn of foot over the last – it was fantastuiuc. To win by a head, I’d say is diappointing for the owner of the other horse [Declan Landy, owner of the runner-up Captain Guinness] but it’s good to have a winner.”

Speaking to the media in the winners’ enclosure post-race, the winning handler Joseph O’Brien said:

“He has been a fantastic horse but I suppose Ronnie’s patience through the autumn, when the ground wasn’t right, and Ronnie said until the ground is right, and then it is we’ll have him there for the big day. Ronnie’s patience in the autumn is what has really won the race for us today. This was only his third run on this preparation. I’m so delighted to win a gig race with him. For the horse and for Ronnie and all the connections and it was a fantastic ride from J.J.. He saved it all until the back of the last.”

Joseph O’Brien, son of leading flat trainer, Aidan O’Brien, continued: 

“I was in doubt for most of the way. I was even in doubt when they crossed the line – I really wasn’t sure [he had won]. 

When you look at the results all his good runs are on better ground and when it gets soft, for whatever resaon he doesn’t performa as well. Ronnie always says if the conditions are not right, just wait. We were ready to run three or four times throughout the autumn but we had to wait and wait, so we really and trully were coming here with a fresh horse. We went to Cheltenham and took the chance but it didn’t work out but we freshened him up to come here and  so I’m delighted to win the big race for him and for Ronnie.”

Banbridge's connections celebrate the win. (Breandán Ó hUallacháin photo)
Banbridge’s connections celebrate the win. (Breandán Ó hUallacháin photo)

When asked about potential future races for Banbridge, O’Brien, while non-committal, stated:

“He has plenty of options, We’ll see what Ronnie wants to do. Today was the target os the season so we’ll see what everyone would like to do and take it from there.”

The Irish National Hunt Festival at Punchestown continues from Tuesday to Saturday inclusive.

Wednesday’s feature race, the Punchestown Gold Cup, is the highlight of the five-day Festival.

An amazing article on an amazing horse who broke the heart of horse racing…

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