The Cheltenham Festival is dubbed “the greatest show on turf” and it duly delivered on its nickname in 2017 by serving up thrills aplenty for horse racing fans, punters, celebrities and royals alike. A memorable four days of high-quality racing culminated in success for Jessica Harrington and Robbie Power as Rock the World claimed the Grand Annual. It was their third victory of the week and they will look back fondly upon Cheltenham 2017, as will many trainers and jockeys that sealed a place in the history books. Who were the big winners and losers?
Legendary trainer steals the show
The 2017 meeting belonged to Harrington, who became only the third female trainer to win the Gold Cup in history. What made it all the more remarkable was that it came at her maiden attempt: she waited until the age of 70 to make her first entry into the most prestigious race in the calendar as she wanted to make sure her charge could seriously compete. A lifetime of hard work and perseverance paid off as Sizing John romped to victory. Harrington credited Power with the win after the jockey told her that Sizing John was crying out for a stamina test. He stepped up to the longer distance in style, overhauling Djakadam, the leading contender in the horse racing spreads, and winning by almost three lengths from Minella Rocco. The seven-year-old has now won all three of his races at three miles or more, a trifecta of Gold Cups, and is the one to watch going into the new season. Harrington and Power capped a magnificent festival when Rock the World seized the final race of the meeting, and they will be full of confidence going into next year’s contest.
Mullins and Walsh strike back
Willie Mullins had generated tremendous momentum going into Cheltenham 2017 by winning such key tests as the County Hurdle and the Albert Bartlett in the build-up to the Gold Cup, but could only watch as Djakadam blundered in the big race, finishing fourth. There was talk of a crisis for Mullins and Ruby Walsh after they failed to land a winner in the first two days of the festival. Even Douvan, who had so often beaten Sizing John over two miles, lost his unbeaten record as a broken pelvis saw him finish seventh in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. But Mullins and Walsh bounced back with aplomb by landing sensational four-timer on the Thursday: favourite Yorkhill took the JLT, Un De Sceaux romped to victory in the Ryanair Chase, Nichols’ Canyon took the Stayers’ Hurdle and Let’s Dance came in to make Walsh the first jockey to ride four winners in a single day at the Cheltenham festival. It was followed by the disappointment of Djakadam, but overall it was a strong meeting for Mullins, who saddled six winners, while Walsh took his fifth consecutive jockeys’ title.
Elation for Elliott
Gordon Elliott vanquished Mullins, his great rival, to be named the top trainer at the festival after landing a magnificent six winners of his own. They were neck and neck but with no runner in the Grand Annual, Elliott was crowned champion trainer with a race to spare. On the first day Elliott scored a treble when Tiger Roll came in, and he secured his sixth victory of the meeting when 12/1 shot Champagne Classic took the Martin Pipe. He will be in with a chance of winning the title again in 2018, but Mullins will be the one to beat and could be a good option for that market.
Irish assert their dominance
In the same month that Ireland’s rugby team ended England’s world record bid with a dramatic Six Nations victory at the Aviva Stadium, Ireland also asserted its dominance over Great Britain at Cheltenham. The Irish annihilated the British in the Bet Bright Cup, taking 19 winners out of 28 races to Britain’s nine. Sizing John’s victory was the centrepiece as the cup went across the Irish Sea, but the combined 12 winners from Mullins and Elliott sealed the deal. Britain won the title, formerly known as the Prestbury Cup, in 2015 and it finished all square in 2016, leading the British to go into 2017 as the favourites. But the Irish made a mockery of that by claiming an emphatic victory, and they are the frontrunners going into 2018.
Martin Green is an experienced horseracing correspondent and tipster.