Thursday, 16 April 2020

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2018

cheltenham gold cup 2018
The 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup, sponsored by Timico, featured 15 runners, but quickly developed into a memorable match between Native River and Might Bite, with none of their rivals ever landing a serious blow. On soft going, Native River, ridden by champion jockey Richard Johnson, made virtually all the running, but was pressed throughout by Might Bite, ridden by Nico De Boinville, and it was only after jumping the final fence that the former took a definite advantage, staying on strongly to win by 4½ lengths.

Indeed, on the run to the home turn, the King George VI Chase winner Might Bite looked to be travelling the better of the pair and took a narrow advantage between the last two fences. However, the 2016 Welsh National winner Native River wasn’t to be denied, regaining the advantage at the last fence and striding purposefully away from the obstacle to put the result beyond doubt. Anibale Fly, a 33/1 outsider trained by Tony Martin and ridden by Barry Geraghty, finished third, a further 4 lengths away.

Victory on the 5/1 third favourite gave Richard Johnson his second Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, after Looks Like Trouble in 2000, but he later fell foul of the stewards for using his whip above the permitted level in the closing stages. He was fined £6,550, commensurate with the winning prize money of £369,821 and banned for seven days.

Conversely, defeat for the 4/1 favourite prevented Nicky Henderson from completing a unique Champion Hurdle-Champion Chase-Gold Cup treble at a single Cheltenham Festival. Henderson, though, was philosophical in defeat, saying, “A great race and he has done nothing wrong. We were taking on a horse who absolutely loves this [going] and unfortunately we don’t.”

The second favourite, Our Duke, trained by Jessica Harrington and ridden by Robbie Power, proved a major disappointment, being pulled up four fences from home after a couple of mistakes at halfway, while none of Willie Mullins’ four runners made much of an impact. The outsider of his quartet, Djakadam, fared best, finishing fifth, beaten 20½ lengths, while Killultagh Vic, Bachasson and Total Recall all failed to complete the course.

Saturday, 7 March 2020

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2017

cheltenham gold cup 2017
The 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup, sponsored by Timico, featured 13 runners, headed by 3/1 favourite, Djakadam, who had previously finished runner-up behind Don Cossack in 2016 and Coneygree in 2015. Indeed, having travelled well for most of the way, Djakadam looked as if he might break Willie Mullins’ Gold Cup “hoodoo”, but made a mistake at the second last, having just taken the lead, and eventually finished fourth, beaten

Victory went to Sizing John, a 7-year-old owned by Alan Potts, trained by Jessica Harrington and ridden by Robbie Power. Potts said afterwards, "It’s unreal, it’s my dream and it’s come true. It’s our first runner in the race, the jockey’s first ride and Jessie's first runner.”

Earlier in his career, for Henry De Bromhead and Jessica Harrington, Sizing John had been campaigned at distances short of 3 miles. He actually finished second behind Douvan, trained by Willie Mullins, seven times over hurdles and fences at, or around, 2 miles. However, he won on his first attempt over 3 miles plus, beating Empire Of Dirt in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown in February, 2017, and dispelled any lingering stamina doubts with a stylish performance at Cheltenham.

Aided by the departure of 9/2 third favourite, Cue Card, at the third last fence, Sizing John took up the running between the last two fences and quickly established a 3-length lead, which he held, more or less, until the winning post. Minella Rocco finished strongly to snatch second place from 7/2 second favourite Native River, by a head, but the 18/1 chance was still 2¾ lengths behind Sizing John crossing the line and never looked like catching the winner.

The winning time, of 6 minutes 36.10 seconds, was 0.90 seconds faster than the standard time for 3 miles 2½ furlongs on the New Course at Cheltenham, which bore testament to the unseasonably fast – officially “good” – ground. Unfortunately, Lizzie Kelly, the first female jockey to ride in the Cheltenham Gold Cup for 33 years, was unseated at the second fence when her mount, Tea For Two, blundered badly.

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2016

cheltenham gold cup 2016
The 2016 Cheltenham Gold Cup, sponsored by Timico, featured just nine runners, but was nonetheless a dramatic contest, in which the market leaders came to the fore. The race was won by then 9-year-old Don Cossack, owned by Gigginstown House Stud, trained by Gordon Elliot in Co. Meath and ridden by Bryan Cooper. In fact, the 9/4 favourite led home an Irish 1-2-3, with the second, Djakadam, and the third, Don Poli, trained by Willie Mullins in Co. Carlow.

Leading domestic fancy Cue Card, who was chasing a £1 million bonus after previously winning the Betfair Chase at Haydock and the King George VI Chase at Kempton, was sent off 5/2 second favourite, but crashed out of the race at the third last fence when travelling well within himself. Whether he would have won or not is debatable, but his departure left the way clear for Don Cossack and the 2015 runner-up Djakadam to fight out the finish.

Don Cossack took the lead at the third last fence and, with Djakadam failing to jump the second last with any real fluency, had the race in safe keeping from the last, staying on well up the hill to win by 4½ lengths. Don Poli, also owned by Gigginstown House Stud, stayed on from well off the pace to finish third, a further 10 lengths away, but never posed a threat to the front pair at any stage.

Don Cossack, who pulled off a shoe in mid-race, was a first Cheltenham Gold Cup winner for trainer Gordon Elliot, but an eighth Festival success overall. Elliot said, “I’ve never been so nervous in my life. I’m just so happy for all of us, all the staff in the yard, my mother and father. It means so much to me to win a Gold Cup. It was something special.”

Sadly, Don Cossack was sidelined with a tendon injury the following April and never raced again. Announcing his retirement in January, 2017, Elliot said, “He’s a horse of a lifetime and he owes us nothing. I said all season that if he had any sort of setback at all we would not abuse him and retire him straight away.”

Monday, 27 January 2020

Cheltenham Festival 2019

Two of the showpiece events, the Champion Hurdle and the Cheltenham Gold Cup, proved anti-climactic, at least as far as the market leaders were concerned, but the Cheltenham Festival in 2019 still produced four days of exhilarating racing. Indeed, Espoir D’Allen may have been sent off at 16/1 against the likes of Buveur D’Air, Apple’s Jade and Laurina in the Champion Hurdle, but recorded an authoritative, 15-length win and looked every inch a top-class hurdler. He was one of five winners during the week for leading owner John P. McManus.

Similarly, in the ‘Blue Riband’ event, Al Boum Photo was only third choice of four entries from Willie Mullins’ Co. Carlow stable, but the seven-year-old fared by far the best of the quartet, travelling sweetly under jockey Paul Townend and staying on strongly from the final fence to beat Anibale Fly by 2½ lengths. The 12/1 chance was a first Cheltenham Gold Cup winner for Mullins, who had saddled the runner-up on six previous occasions and later admitted that he had ‘probably resigned’ himself to never winning the race.

Elsewhere, it was ‘business as usual’ for Altior, who won the Queen Mother Champion Chase for the second year running and, in so doing, equalled the record of 18 consecutive victories. That said, on officially ‘soft’ going, the 4/11 chance had to work a little harder than usual under Nico De Boinville – leading jockey of the week with four winners – knuckling down well in the closing stages to beat Politologue by 1¾ lengths after being narrowly headed at the final fence. The remaining ‘championship’ race, the Stayers’ Hurdle, fell to a new champion, Paisley Park, who justified favouritism to cap a brilliant, unbeaten season for trainer Emma Lavelle and owner Andrew Gemmell.

Other headline-makers at Prestbury Park included Frodon and Bryony Frost, who became the first female jockey to record a Grade One victory at the Cheltenham Festival when partnering Paul Nicholls’ seven-year-old to a game, 1¼-length win in the Ryanair Chase. Bryony Frost was joined in the winners’ enclosure by Rachael Blackmore (twice) and Lizzie Kelly, as female jockeys collectively recorded four wins at the Festival for the second year running.