Ballinode was an Irish racehorse who won the 1925 Cheltenham Gold Cup. She was the first mare and the first Irish-trained horse to win the race and was known as ‘The Sligo Mare’, writes Noel Coogan


Just four mares have won the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Ballinode was the first female horse to triumph in the blue ribbon of steeplechasing. That success by the Irish-trained jumper came in only the second running of the race in 1925.

Red Splash, trained by Fred Withington in England, and ridden by Dick Rees, was the first winner of the Gold Cup, earning a first prize of £685 for connections. The Grand National at Aintree was a more prestigious race in those years while the National Hunt Chase, run during the three-day Cheltenham festival, was worth over £1,000.

Ballinode, owned by Christopher Bentley from Sligo, and named after his home village, was trained by Frank Morgan at the Curragh and earned a reputation by winning several races at Irish tracks during the early years of his career.

A fast jumper prone to occasional errors, the horse gained the popular nickname of ‘the Sligo mare’ and became a favourite with followers of the sport. A chestnut, foaled in 1916, she was one of the few horses of any consequence sired by Machokas. The dam was Celia, a half-sister of Ascot Gold Cup winner Love Wisely.

Ballinode’s first visit to the Cheltenham festival was in 1924 when taking second place in the National Hunt Chase. A few weeks later she finished eighth in the Aintree Grand National and the following autumn a notable victory was achieved in the Grand Sefton Chase over the same Liverpool course.

A few weeks before the 1925 Cheltenham Gold Cup, Ballinode won a warm up race at Nottingham. For the big feature on Wednesday, March 11 the mare was partnered by English jockey Ted Leader, who was British national hunt champion once and triumphed in a few other big races including the Aintree National.

Just four runners faced the start for the 1925 Gold Cup and the mare went off at odds of 3-1 with Alcazar starting as the 8-13 favourite. The field was completed by 1924 runner-up Conjuror and Patsey. Ballinode ran in second place behind the favourite for most of the race and the pair pulled clear of the other two.

The Irish horse took the lead at the second last fence and went on for a decisive five lengths victory with Patsey a distance back in third place. It was an historic victory for Ireland, a triumph which would not be repeated in the race for another 41 years.

Eighteen days after the Gold Cup victory, Ballinode had another crack at the Aintree Grand National but failed to complete the course. Her owner, Christopher Bentley, who resided at Kevinsfort House outside Sligo town, was described as ‘a bit of a party animal’ and ‘being wasteful with money’.

The big house had a few different owners over the years and the property was repossessed in 1929. The Bentleys emigrated but returned some years later. Christopher died in 1952 at the age of 80.

There were not nearly as many Irish-trained runners at the Cheltenham festival then as in modern times. The next triumph in the Gold Cup did not arrive until 1946 when Prince Regent was sent over by Tom Dreaper to take the big prize and since then the total of wins in the three miles, two furlongs championship test has risen to 23.

That total was spread out between 19 horses with three of them taking the honours more than once. Cottage Rake won three times from 1948 to ’50 before the immortal Arkle enjoyed a treble success between 1964 and ’66 and L’Escargot was a Gold Cup hero in 1970 and ’71 before going on to triumph in the Grand National at Aintree in 1975.

Two of the other three Cheltenham Gold Cup winning mares were trained in Ireland. In 1958 Kerstin, ridden by Stan Hayhurst, was an English victor and in 1972 the Francis Flood-handled Glencaraig Lady took the honours with Frank Berry doing the steering.
There was a famous Gold Cup in 1986 when the very popular mare Dawn Run scored in emotional victory for trainer Paddy Mullins and jockey Jonjo O’Neill. The horse had won the Champion Hurdle two years earlier and became the first, and only to date, animal to win both races.

While Ballinode would not be rated among the best winners of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the horse was both the first winning mare and the first Irish-trained victor of the famous race which takes place on March 17 this year. ÷