Friday, 4 January 2019

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2004

cheltenham gold cup 2004
The 2004 Cheltenham Gold Cup, sponsored by Totesport, featured 10 runners, but was a one-sided contest, betting-wise, with Best Mate, trained by Henrietta Knight and ridden by Jim Culloty, sent off 8/11 favourite to become the first horse since Arkle, in 1966, to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup three times.

French raider First Gold, trained by Francois Doumen and ridden by his son, Thierry, took the field along at a strong pace on rain-softened ground and put in an exhibition round of jumping until making a mistake at the tricky fourth last fence. Best Mate, who’d always been travelling comfortably in fourth or fifth place, moved closer to the leader at the fence after the water jump on the second circuit and was one of four in serious contention heading down the hill for the final time.

However, on the home turn, Best Mate was held in, on the inside, by Harbour Pilot, ridden by Paul Carberry and had to be pulled wide to make his challenge at the second last. However, to a crescendo of roars from the packed enclosures at a delirious Prestbury Park, Best Mate took the lead between the last two and was driven out up the hill to win by half a length. Sir Rembrandt, ridden by Andrew Thornton, finished well to take second ahead of Harbour Pilot, who finished 1¼ lengths further behind in third. Long-time leader First Gold weakened from the last to finish fifth, beaten 13½ lengths by the winner.

Best Mate became just the fourth horse, after Golden Miller, Cottage Rake and, of course, Arkle, to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup three times. Henrietta Knight said, after his historic victory, “Today is today. We're looking forward, not back. Arkle was a great horse; Best Mate is a great horse. Let’s leave it like that.”

Friday, 21 December 2018

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2003

cheltenham gold cup 2003
The 2003 Cheltenham Gold Cup, sponsored by the Tote, featured 15 runners and was a vintage renewal, with the crème de la crème of steeplechasing talent from northern Europe in opposition. Nevertheless, defending champion Best Mate, was sent off hot favourite, at 13/8, to become the first horse for 32 years to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup twice.

Held up in the early stages, Best Mate was always travelling well within himself and latched onto the heels of the leaders heading out on the second circuit. At the top of the hill, he moved smoothly into contention, with jockey Jim Culloty looking confident as stable companion Chives made the best of his way home. Approaching the third last fence it became obvious that Best Mate was cantering and, turning for home, he was left with only Valley Henry, who was under strong pressure, for company. Best Mate was 5 lengths clear jumping the second last and came right away in the closing stages to win easily by 10 lengths. Two Irish-trained horses, Truckers Tavern, ridden by Davy Russell, and Harbour Pilot, ridden by Paul Carberry, stayed on well to finish second and third, respectively, but neither held any earthly chance of winning.

Winning owner Jim Lewis was visibly moved afterwards, saying, “I’ve got a heartbeat going so fast I could beat eggs! History has been made and I cannot believe it.”

Winning trainer Henrietta Knight, too, was overwhelmed by the reception afforded the 8-year-old by the huge Cheltenham crowd. She said, “"The reception was pretty good, wasn’t it? I was here when Dawn Run won [in 1986] and never thought I would witness this.He cantered in – he’s the country's horse.”

Winning jockey Jim Culloty was a little more matter-of-fact, saying, “He is a better horse than last year, but he didn’t settle as well as he can. It was a more difficult race than last year,” although he also admitted, “Never in my wildest dreams could I imagine as a young lad that I would sit atop such a great horse.”

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Cheltenham Festival vs The Grand National - Festival thoughts

Royal Ascot of course has its fans, but in terms of the big races and festivals I find that the two that really stir interest in both serious and casual punters are the Cheltenham Festival and the Grand National. They both clearly capture the attention of the betting public, and bookmakers are the first to look to attract their custom with a series of betting offers and perks to persuade them to opt for their particular offering. It's certainly a good time to latch onto free bets, sign up bonuses and other more race specific incentives. Every little helps and racing it often a matter of fine margins, so anything in  your favour is a potential asset!

Both of these prestigious events draw in huge numbers both on course and off, with the Grand National watched by 600 millions people worldwide (8 million of them in the UK), and Cheltenham drawing in around 3.5 million viewers across the four days - and 1.6 million alone last year for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. On course numbers are equally impressive, with the Grand National attendance at 35,000 for the first day and 150,000 over the three days in total. Cheltenham's four day festival had a total attendance of 262,637 last year and an impressive 70,684 race goers on Gold Cup day. This points to a unique 'you've got to be there' feel to Cheltenham (as indicated by the 'Cheltenham Roar' the crowd let out at the start of the first Cheltenham Festival race), whereas I'd say that the Grand National is more something that grips the nation and indeed the world via their TV screens.

The two events are of course quite different animals. While the Grand National festival is spread over three days, a huge amount of interest is directed towards the Grand National itself, and for good reason. The race began in the 1830s and is steeped in tradition, presenting many unmissable moments over the decades and propelling horses, jockeys and trainers alike into the horse racing hall of fame. The Grand National is an unrivalled event in the world of sport. The Cheltenham festival on the other hand perhaps has more of an even spread of high quality racing, with races such as the Festival Trophy, Queen Mother Champion Chase and World Hurdle making each and every day a captivating experience. The Gold Cup is the one to watch and the centrepiece of the final day, and really is a major accolade for whoever win.

Handily separated by a little over half a month the Grand National benefits from the momentum set by the feast of racing that is Cheltenham (not as though the Grand National needs any help in drawing an audience!) so in a way the two fit hand in glove and give racing fans a good couple of months where they know that they can expect a series of high class and competitive races on their screens.

Fun Facts:

Golden Miller is the only horse to complete the Grand National and Cheltenham Gold Cup double. Since this feat in the 1930's, only Garrison Savannah has come close, but as the saying goes 'close but no cigar!

Fred Winter has won the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand National (and Champion Hurdle!) as both a trainer and jockey!

Monday, 12 November 2018

Cheltenham Festival 2002

cheltenham gold cup 2002
The 2002 Cheltenham Gold Cup, sponsored by the Tote, featured 18 runners – the biggest field since Silver Buck beat 21 rivals in 1982 – and was the first to be run for two years, after an outbreak of foot-and-mouth required the abandonment of the Cheltenham Festival in 2001.

The defending champion, Looks Like Trouble, ridden by Richard Johnson, was sent off 9/2 favourite, ahead of Bacchanal, ridden by Mick Fitzgerald, at 6/1 and Best Mate, ridden by Jim Culloty, at 7/1 in an open betting heat.

Looks Like Trouble and 1999 winner, See More Business showed their rivals the way until the third last fence, at which point See More Business took a definite advantage. Paul Nicholls’ 12-year-old was challenged by Commanche Court, ridden by Ruby Walsh, on the home turn, but Best Mate – who’d travelled well into the race coming down the hill – took over, narrowly, on the run to the last fence and ran on well up the hill to win by 1¾ lengths. Commanche Court could make no impression close home, but finished second, with the veteran See More Business a gallant third, a further 8 lengths away.

Best Mate was attempting 3 miles 2½ furlongs for the first time, but winning trainer Henrietta Knight said afterwards, “I always knew that he’d stay. My only doubt was that it was a year too soon, that we were asking too much too early, but he’s answered every question today.”

Winning jockey Jim Culloty was equally delighted, saying of Best Mate, “He’s got the engine. I was always cruising. I got squeezed a little bit as Joe’s [See More Business, ridden by Joe Tizzard] came across me, but I wasn’t panicking because I didn’t want to get there too soon anyway.

Monday, 15 October 2018

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2001

cheltenham gold cup 2001

As much as I'd like to write about the Cheltenham Gold Cup 2001, that could prove difficult as it didn't happen, due to falling within the foot and mouth disease exclusion zone. The boundary of an infected area reached a mile from the course and so the Festival was called off. It's the first time since World War 2 that the Cheltenham Gold Cup didn't take place.