Belfast Telegraph

Monday 29 December 2014

Cheltenham: Ulster horse gallops to surprise win

You may never have heard of Flaxen Flare, but its name is now on the lips of thousands of race-goers after it stormed to a shock win at Cheltenham.

The champion animal, owned by Pat Sloan from Templepatrick, was a surprise 25/1 winner in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.

The thrilling win sparked ecstatic scenes not just among its owners, but among punters who took a bet on such long odds.

Mrs Sloan and husband Joe – a leading businessman – are well known in Ulster equestrian circles, with daughter Joanne Sloan-Allen an international showjumper.

The family were at a packed Cheltenham yesterday among a crowd of over 50,000 to watch Flaxen Flare cross the finish line after leading a pack of 24. The win came a day after another victory for Northern Ireland when Hurricane Fly made history by claiming the Champion Hurdle a second time.

An emotional Mrs Sloan said it had been well worth the wait for a Cheltenham Festival winner.

"We have waited so long for a winner here – it's absolutely superb! This is what life is all about," she said.

Daughter Joanne added: "We have had winners elsewhere but Cheltenham is the holy grail.

"Flaxen Flare is a gorgeous horse. It was an incredible feeling when he jumped the last and raced to the line."

Flaxen Flare is trained in Meath by Gordon Elliott – the horse was ridden by Davy Condon.

Mr Sloan is chairman of the SHS Group, which owns 11 companies in Britain and Ireland. Established in 1975, it has a turnover of more than £400m.

But festival heartbreak continued for AP McCoy.

The usually prolific Antrim jockey, closing in on his 18th successive Champion Jockey title, has yet to win after 13 races on the opening two days of the event.

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