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.

Monday, 16 December 2019

Cheltenham Festival Tips: What are the Best Ante-Post Bets?

The 2019/20 National Hunt season is well underway and several exciting contenders have already emerged for the biggest prizes at the Cheltenham Festival in March. The Gold Cup, the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the Champion Hurdle and the Stayers’ Hurdle are all up for grabs at the most important and prestigious meeting of the year. All roads now point to Cheltenham and these are the top ante-post selections:

Lostintranslation for the Gold Cup

Colin Tizzard’s seven-year-old superstar has displayed superb form this season and he has stormed to the top of the ante post betting for the biggest race of the year.

Lostintranslation was second to Defi Du Seuil at the JLT Novices’ Chase in March, and he has been on an upward curve ever since. He blitzed a strong field to win the Grade 1 Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree in April, and he was impressive in winning a Listed chase on his seasonal reappearance.

That saw Lostintranslation installed as joint favourite along with defending champion Bristol De Mai at the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November. It was difficult to separate as they went over the last, but Lostintranslation found another gear on the home straight and earned a one-and-a-half length victory. Everything now points to a Gold Cup trip, but first he must tackle the second leg of the Triple Crown of Jumps Racing: the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day. He is the second favourite, after only the impressive Cyrname, but he looks dangerous in that field and he should be a serious Gold Cup contender.

He has only lost to Defi Du Seuil in his last seven, but he beat that horse twice previously, and Tizzard is feeling confident. “Lostintranslation has come out of Haydock beautifully, he is a big strong horse in the peak of his powers at the moment and I couldn’t be happier with him,” said the trainer. “He has got everything going for him, he is a beautiful young horse. He has now moved into Cue Card’s box which tells a story of where we think he is. He has still got to do it, he still hasn't won a king George and he still has not won a Gold Cup. It is still all in front of him.”

Altior for the Champion Chase

Altior could aim for a third straight victory in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham in March. Nicky Henderson’s magnificent chaser became the punters’ darling by storming to victory in 2018 and easily defending his crown earlier this year. Victory at the Grade 1 Celebration Chase in April extended his long unbeaten record over fences, and suggested that his invincibility would continue.

Yet Henderson then took the bold decision of stepping Altior up in trip and heading down the King George route. That meant a visit to Ascot to contest the Christy Chase over 2m 5f 8y last month, where he came up against a bang in form Cyrname. That is the distance Cyrname specialises in, and it showed. He did not let Altior assume his usual position at the front of the field, and he then ran on well to secure a strong victory, with the 1/3 favourite more than two lengths back.

The result leaves Henderson at a crossroads with Altior. He could continue down this path and hope that Altior begins to build up his stamina, adapt to the longer trip and seize major honours. Alternatively, he could return to the distance that Altior was so successful over and see if he still has the pace to dominate his rivals. He has already said “bring on round two” against Cyrname, but if he struggles at Kempton on Boxing Day – where Cyrname, Lostintranslation and 2018 winner Clan Des Obeaux are all ahead of him in the betting – then Henderson could change tack. Altior was a huge, odds-on favourite for the Champion Chase in 2019, but he is now as long as 7/2 for the 2020 renewal, which could provide plenty of value for punters.

Cyrname for the Ryanair Chase

Paul Nicholls’ Cyrname has been in devastating form throughout 2019. The seven-year-old moved ahead of Altior in the official rankings with a stunning triumph in the Grade 1 Ascot Chase in February and that announced him as a serious contender for glory this season. Punters were giddy with excitement about the prospect of him locking horns with Altior – it was likened to the epic duels between Kauto Star and Denman – but Cyrname was far stronger in the Christy Chase. It will be fascinating to see how he gets on away from Ascot, but his potential looks huge.

It will also be interesting to see where he fits in at the Cheltenham Festival. He has been cut from 33/1 to just 12/1 with some bookmakers for the Gold Cup, but the Ryanair Chase seems like a far more suitable contest for Cyrname. Defi Du Seuil is the favourite in the Cheltenham Ante Post odds, with Min and Chacun Pour Soi and even Douvan in the mix, but Cyrname might be an interesting option at 10/1.

Paisley Park for the Stayers’ Hurdle

The legendary Paisley Park extended his winning streak to six races when he triumphed in the Grade 2 Long Distance Hurdle over 3m 52y at Newbury in November. His victory in the 2019 Stayers’ Hurdle was the stuff of fairy-tales. The hurdler nearly died two years previously from a serious illness, but he went on to give trainer Emma Lavelle and jockey Aidan Coleman their first top-level Grade One wins after years of trying.

What really captured the public’s imagination was the excitement, determination and wry humour of owner Andrew Gemmell, who was born blind. He could not watch the race, but he was clearly exhilarated as he absorbed the action, and the victory brought tears to the eyes of many viewers. Paisley Park continues to improve and he will surely be back for another crack at the Stayers’ Hurdle in 2020. It will be difficult for anyone to stop him triumphing again.

Tiger Roll for the Cross Country Chase

Another returning hero will be Tiger Roll, who is bidding for a third consecutive Cross Country Chase win. He is probably the most famous horse in Britain right now, having won back-to-back Grand Nationals and moved alongside Red Rum in the pantheon of all-time greats. Owner Michael O’Leary famous described him as “a little rat of a thing”, but Tiger Roll has the heart of a lion and the stamina of an antelope.

The big story in 2020 will be his attempt to secure an unprecedented third straight victory, but first he is highly likely to head to Cheltenham for another Cross Country challenge.

He jumps really well, his stamina is superb and he never seems flustered, so another win for the little legend certainly looks on the cards. “He will go back to Cheltenham for the Cross Country race and then we'll go for the Randox Health Grand National,” said trainer Gordon Elliott, much to the delight of jumps racing fans. He is the favourite for the Cross Country and he should be able to pull off another famous victory.

Saturday, 7 December 2019

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2015

cheltenham gold cup 2015
The 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup, sponsored by Betfred, featured 16 runners and had the distinction of being the first to be won by a novice since Captain Christy in 1974. The novice in question, on this occasion, was Coneygree, an 8-year-old gelding bred by the late John Oaksey and trained by his son-in-law Mark Bradstock at Lettcombe Bassett, near Wantage, Oxfordshire.

Prior to running in the Gold Cup, Coneygree had returned from a 671-day break to win all three starts over fences, including the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, making all and jumping well on each occasion. Toying with the idea of running Coneygree in the “Blue Riband” event, Bradstock said, “Touching wood, he is a very good jumper. He’s only had three runs [in steeplechases], but looks like he knows what he's doing, and he's not won over fences here [at Cheltenham] but has won twice over hurdles.”

Silviniaco Conti, trained by Paul Nicholls and ridden by Ruby Walsh, was sent off 3/1 favourite to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup at the third time of asking. Nicholls’ charge had fallen at the third last when travelling well in 2013 and finished fourth, beaten 1¾ lengths, behind Lord Windermere in 2014, having only been headed in the final hundred yards or so. The Dom Alco gelding had 7lb and upwards in hand of his rivals on official figures, but otherwise the Gold Cup had a distinctly open look to it. Coneygree and Many Clouds were sent off joint second favourites at 7/1, with Holywell and Road To Riches joint third favourites at 8/1, and 10/1 bar.

In any event, regular jockey Nico De Boinville soon had Coneygree in his customary position at the head of affairs and, although drifting right up the famous Cheltenham hill, never really looked like being beaten. He stayed on very gamely in the closing stages to beat Djakadam by 1½ lengths with Road To Riches a further 2 lengths away in third. Bradstock said afterwards, “I’m numb, it’s wonderful. It won’t sink in for a while, but it’s great.”

As a footnote, perennial champion jockey A.P. McCoy, riding in his last Cheltenham Gold Cup, finished ninth on Carlingford Lough.