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.

Monday, 1 October 2018

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2000

cheltenham gold cup 2000
The 2000 Cheltenham Gold Cup, sponsored by the Tote, featured 12 runners and, on unseasonably fast ground, was won in a time of 6 minutes 30.3 seconds, marginally faster than the previous record set by shock 100/1 winner Norton’s Coin in 1990.

Defending champion See More Business started 9/4 favourite to become the first horse since L’Escargot in 1971 to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup in consecutive years. Florida Pearl, third behind See More Business in 1999, and Looks Like Trouble, winner of the Royal & SunAlliance Chase the previous year, shared second favouritism at 9/2, just ahead of Gloria Victis, winner of the Feltham Novices’ Chase at Kempton the previous December, at 13/2.

In fact, it was the 6-year-old novice Gloria Victis, ridden by A.P. McCoy, who made most of the running, although at the third last fence he started to look a “sitting duck”, with his fellow markets leaders all poised to deliver their challenges. Tragically, Gloria Victis took a crashing fall at the second last, fatally injuring himself in the process, as Florida Pearl, ridden by Paul Carberry, quickened, albeit briefly, into the lead.

However, Looks Like Trouble, ridden by Richard Johnson, had continued to race prominently since surviving a monumental blunder just before halfway and jumped ahead at the final fence. Florida Pearl held every chance, but couldn’t match Looks Like Trouble for pace in the closing stages, eventually going down by 5 lengths. Strong Promise, ridden by Robert Thornton, stayed on well under pressure to finish third, just a neck behind, with See More Business only three-quarters of a length away in fourth.

Winning trainer Noel Chance, who was saddling his second Cheltenham Gold Cup winner after the victory of Mr Mulligan in 1997, said, “Today's win is great for the team at the yard;it is a team effort. I would never malign Mr Mulligan, but Looks Like Trouble can go on 'good to firm' ground, which is a major consideration at Cheltenham.”

Saturday, 1 September 2018

Cheltenham Festival 2017: Gordon Elliot Makes His Mark

For once, the Festival started poorly for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh, who were both winless after the first two days. However, four winners on Thursday, all trained by Mullins, were enough to give Ruby Walsh his fifth jockeys’ title in a row. Willie Mullins saddled two more winners on Friday, for a total of six, but was pipped at the post by Co. Meath trainer Gordon Elliot, who lifted his first leading trainer award. All in all, Irish-trained horses won 19 out of the 28 races run during the four days.

Notable winners during the week included Buveur D’air in the Champion Hurdle, Special Tiara in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, Fayonagh (Elliot) in the Champion Bumper, Nichols Canyon (Mullins) in the World Hurdle and Sizing John in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Labaik, who virtually refused to race in his last race before the Festival and his next race afterwards, set the tone for the week, quickening clear to win the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at odds of 25/1 for Gordon Elliot and Jack Kennedy. The 3/1 favourite, Melon, trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Ruby Walsh, could only finish second, in the first of several notable reverses during the week.