It is over! Yes, Cheltenham is over, indeed. We have to wait another (loooong) twelve month until it is alive again. But see it this way: If Cheltenham would be on every week, it wouldn’t be as special as it is. And boy, was this last week special, wasn’t it?! It had it all: Memorable triumphs, dramatic finishes, outstanding horses, magical rides and real Championship races. Relieve the action again – as it happened…..
Day 1 – Tuesday: All about the roar of the crowd – it’s the opening day of the Festival! Four Grade 1’s on the card, probably the finest day of racing the whole year. The big story of course was the potential Willie Mullins four-timer which would have resulted in a major loss for bookmakers. This wasn’t a long-shot. In fact it looked very likely to happen when Annie Power approached the last obstacle in the Mares’ Hurdle.
Punters and bookies alike were holding their breath. Annie was clear and just needed a decent jump to win. But as we know now, she crashed! She got seemingly confused by the shadows and jumped them instead the real obstacle. A fall literally at the last hurdle, saved the bookies millions, and cost punters dearly.
Earlier that day, Douvan opened the Festival with an authoritative triumph in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. Un De Sceaux followed with an impressive success in the Arkle. Faugheen landed Tuesdays feature, the Champion Hurdle – living up to all the hype surrounding him. It was a clean sweep for the Irish and Willie Mullins, as not only did he train the winner, but also the runner-up Arctic Fire and of course world-record breaking Hurricane Fly, who finished a gallant third! The New One in contrast wasn’t quick enough. Jezki not good enough.
Day 2 – Wednesday: The readily improving Windsor Park provided renowned flat trainer Dermot Weld with a Cheltenham win in the Neptune Novice’s Hurdle. Davy Russell with a brilliant front-running ride. Don Poli, thought to be one of the bankers of the meeting, obliged duly in the RSA Chase and was rapidly installed as favourite for next years Gold Cup.
The Champion Chase was all about Sire De Grugy and Sprinter Sacre – even or maybe because both didn’t run to their formerly best and were beaten a long way. Sprinter Sacre in particular looked a finished horse and retirement is looming. Sire De Grugy’s legs weren’t quite quick enough and the form horse Dodging Bullets landed the odds.
Day 3 – Thursday: What can you say…. Vautour on a different planet! He demolished classy opposition in the JLT and proved all doubters wrong. His jumping was spot on, maybe the best round of jumping around the testing Cheltenham course we’ve seen in a long time. Gold Cup next year for him.
A winner for AP McCoy is a winner for racing. A perfectly judged front-running ride on long-shot Uxizandre meant McCoy wouldn’t end his Festival career without a winner. It was emotional for anyone involved and just what was needed. A long-shot also got up in the World Hurdle. Cole Harden made all from the front too. Clearly improved since a wind operation, he fend off the challenge from favourite Saphir Du Rheu.
Day 4 – Friday: Gold Cup Day, and it’s all about the big race, indeed! Paul Nicholls’ Silviniaco Conti was the favourite – he had the form in the book thanks to his impressive King George triumph. But his failures at recent Festivals made him look vulnerable. Willie Mullins saddled progressive stayer Djakadam; former Galway Plate and Lexus Chase winner Road To Riches was another Irish runner with fine chances. Hennessy winner Many Clouds and novice Coneygree were well fancied UK rivals.
The race itself turned into a procession of jumping and determination. They said novices can’t win the Gold Cup. Well, they can! Connections of Coneygree were bold in making the decision to let him take his chance in the biggest race of the Festival – and that proved to be the right one. The rapidly improving novice made all from the front. He out-jumped his more experienced rivals and he galloped relentlessly, having more than half of the field on the stretch a long way before the finish. Jumping the last with his ears pricked, this Coneygree was jumping for fun and out-battled the few rivals which were still with him on the legendary Cheltenham hill toward the finish line.
A simply sensational performance. But credit to Road To Riches as well, who was never to far off Coneygree and stuck well to the task. He finished a very creditable 3rd while Djakadam stayed on in second. Silviniaco Conti was beaten when the leading pack turned for home, five runners had to be pulled up, including last years winner Lord Windermere. That shows how ferocious the pace was, set by Coneygree.
Number of the week: 13 – A draw between England and Ireland. Thirteen winners apiece. Though Willie Mullins was responsible for the majority of the Irish winners. He could celebrate a record eight times in the winners circle.
Ride Of the week: Davy Russell on Rivage D’or in the Cross Country Chase – A super confident ride and perfectly judged by the former Irish Champion jockey on the 16-1 outsider. Russell sat quietly on his mount, making up ground gradually, patiently waiting to ask Rivage D’or for everything when it really mattered. Not many can ride Cheltenham better than Russell.
Betting: If you would have followed all bets on this blog throughout the Festival week, you would be a whopping 132pts in the green! To give this figure some context: If one point of your betting bank would be €10, you’d have made €1320.00 this week with my selections. Not too shabby for a week’s work in the office! Highlights were of course Martello Tower on Friday, who got up at 14/1 SP in a dramatic finish. As well as Rivage D’or in the Cross Country, which was tipped at 20/1.
Future Outlook: What a massive Gold Cup we could have on our hands next year. Vautour and Don Poli looked both very special and are heading the ante-post market already, with Coneygree expected to try and defend his crown. Throw in Djakadam and Road To Riches who could both still improve a bit, and we have a race for the ages!
Willie Mullins was the utterly dominating force during the week and quotes of 20/1 are out for him to take all four major races at the Festvial next year – that’s the Champion Hurdle, Queen Mother Champion Chase, World Hurdle and the Gold Cup. I’ve seen worse long-shots to be honest!