Sunday, 9 June 2019

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2009

cheltenham gold cup 2009
The 2009 Cheltenham Gold Cup, sponsored by Totesport, featured 16 runners, but was billed as a rematch between stable companions Denman and Kauto, who had finished first and second in the race in 2008. On that occasion, Denman had fared better of the pair, staying on well in the closing stages to win by 7 lengths. However, after surgery for an irregular heartbeat the following September and a heavy defeat, at odds-on, on his reappearance at Kempton in February, “The Tank”, as he was affectionately known, was sent off 7/1 second favourite, despite being defending champion. Kauto Star, ridden, as usual, by Ruby Walsh started 7/4 favourite.

In race dominated by the market leaders, Paul Nicholls’ apparent third string Neptune Collonges led his stable companions Kauto Star and Denman coming down the hill for the final time, but was quickly joined, and passed, at the third last. From the home turn, at least for a stride or two, it appeared that the long-awaited rematch might develop, but it soon became clear that Kauto Star was travelling, by far, the better of the pair.

The favourite held a 5-length advantage jumping the second last and went further clear in the closing stage, eventually winning impressively by 13 lengths, the widest winning margin for 24 years. Although outpaced by the winner, Denman stayed on strongly to finish second under Sam Thomas, with Exotic Dancer, trained by Jonjo O’Neill and ridden by A.P. McCoy, 2½ further back in third place.

Having previously won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2007, Kauto Star became the first horse in history to regain his crown. Winning trainer Paul Nicholls was ebullient in his praise of Kauto Star, saying, “He’s fit, he’s fresh, he was never going to get beat today.” Winning jockey Ruby Walsh was no less delighted, saying, “He’s the greatest horse I’ve ever ridden. Two miles, three miles, now two Gold Cups. He’s magic, he's a wonder horse.” 

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2008

cheltenham gold cup 2008
The 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup, sponsored by Totesport, featured twelve runners, three of which were trained by Paul Nicholls, and a lopsided market, in which bookmakers offered 16/1 bar the first three in the betting at the off.

The race was billed, quite rightly, as a match between the defending champion, Kauto Star, and stable companion, Denman, hitherto unbeaten over fences and a 10-length winner of Royal & SunAlliance Chase at the Cheltenham Festival the previous year. In fact, 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup was arguably the most anticipated since Arkle met “The Big Horse” Mill House for the first time in the 1964 renewal.

Kauto Star, ridden by Ruby Walsh, understandably started favourite at 10/11, with Denman, ridden by Sam Thomas, second favourite at 9/4 but, having tracked his other stable companion, Neptune Collonges – a largely unconsidered 25/1 chance – for most of the way, it was Denman who took the race by the scruff of the neck heading out on the second circuit.

Jumping economically, Denman gradually wound up the pace and, coming down the hill for the final time, opened up a lead of three or four lengths over his nearest pursuer, Neptune Collonges, with Kauto Star toiling back in third. By the second last, Denman was 10 lengths in front. Kauto Star ran on gamely in the closing stages to snatch second place from Neptune Collonges by a short head, but he could never make any real impression on the winner and was eventually beaten 7 lengths.

Winning trainer Paul Nicholls said, “Denman was awesome. He jumped and galloped and put Kauto on the back foot really,” adding, “Your first win in a race is always the best and I’ll never forget See More Business winning in 1999, but it doesn’t get any better than saddling the one-two-three in the Gold Cup.” Winning jockey Sam Thomas was less verbose, saying simply, “I don’t know what to say. I’m lost for words again. What a horse.”

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

A Blast From the Past!

queen mother at the races

Horse racing stalwarts Queen Mother and the Queen in the paddock at The Cheltenham Festival way back in 1957!

Saturday, 16 March 2019

Here Come The Girls - Female Jockey's Cheltenham Success!

In the previous post we were waxing lyrical about the bevy of female talent at the Cheltenham Festival, with praise being heaped on the 2018 performances (a record breaking four wins for female jockeys) and hopes for 2019. Could Rachael Blackmore,  Lizzie Kelly  and co show that they can more than mix it with the men?

Well, for those living under a rock I'm happy to announce that female jockeys once again shone at the Cheltenham Festival this year. On day one Rachael Blackmore was off to a winning start in the 4.50pm Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase aboard A Plus Tard, trained by Henry De Bromhead. 

Day two saw Bryony Frost bathe in glory, as the well backed Frodon ,stormed to victory in the 14:50 Ryanair Chase. In the process Frost, 23, made history in front of the 70,000 strong crowd by becoming the first female jockey to win a Grade 1 race at the Cheltenham Festival. So excited by her win was Frost, that she initially didn't even realise or recall that it was a Grade 1 race.

"He has wings and he is the most incredible battler. He travelled, and by God he jumps," said the elated jockey

Lizzie Kelly soon after made it a winning trio in The Plate on the Nick Williams trained Siruh Du Lac at 9/2. Could it get any better for our girls?

The answer is a resounding yes, as on the final day of Cheltenham Rachael Blackmore once again showed that she is not to be taken lightly. Blackmore struck the perfect balance on a keen Minella Indo, hitting the front early and holding on to claim victory on the 50-1 Shot in the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle (yes another Grade 1 win, joining Bryony Frost!).  

So a record equalling four wins in total - matching last years record breaking total. What a way to round off a fabulous 2019 Cheltenham Festival for female jockeys!

Monday, 11 March 2019

Leaps & Bounds: Cheltenham Festival Leading Jockeys

In the past decade at the Cheltenham Festival, while the Irish Independent Leading Trainer Award has been presented to just four men, the Holland Cooper Leading Jockey Award has been presented to just three, Ruby Walsh, Barry Geraghty and, most recently, Davy Russell.

Thanks in large part to long, fruitful associations with Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins – multiple champion trainers on their respective sides of the Irish Sea – Ruby Walsh is, far and away, the most successful jockey in the history of the Cheltenham Festival. Coincidentally, Walsh has ridden 58 winners, exactly the same number as Geraghty (36) and Russell (22) put together, which may account for the fact that he has won the Holland Cooper Leading Jockey Award eight times in the last ten years – and eleven times in all – whereas Geraghty and Russell have won it just once apiece.

Nevertheless, just over two decades ago, on the eve of the Cheltenham Festival in 1998, none of these leading jockeys had ridden a single winner at the so-called ‘Olympics of Horse Racing’, so it’s interesting to know how, and when, they began their quest for stardom.

Unsurprisingly, Ruby Walsh was the first to open his account at the Festival, when still an 18-year-old amateur, in 1998. That said, ‘Mr. R. Walsh’, as he was known to racegoers at the time, was reigning Irish amateur champion and rewarded the faith shown in him by Willie Mullins by guiding the five-year-old Alexander Banquet to a 2½-length victory of the favourite, Joe Mac, in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper.

Barry Geraghty broke his duck at the Cheltenham Festival, at the age of 23, in 2002, partnering Moscow Flyer – who would later be rated alongside Burrough Hill Lad and Long Run in the top ten steeplechasers of the Timeform era – to a ready, 4-length win over the favourite, Seebald, in the Arkle Challenge Trophy. Now the fourth most successful jockey in the history of British National Hunt racing, and retained by powerful owner J.P. McManus, he still has time to increase his winning tally at the Festival.

Davy Russell, at the age of 39, is roughly the same age as Walsh and Geraghty, but was a relative latecomer to Festival success, partnering his first winner, Native Jack, in the Cross Country Chase in 2006. Even so, he has enjoyed a steady stream of winners – at least one at every Cheltenham Festival – ever since, including winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Lord Windermere in 2014. In fact, Russell enjoyed his best Cheltenham Festival ever, numerically, with four winners, including Balko Des Flos in the Ryanair Chase to win the Holland Cooper Leading Jockey Award  for the first time.

With International Women's Day just gone, let's not forget the contributions of female jockeys to the Cheltenham Festival. Nina Carberry rode her first winner at the Cheltenham Festival, Dabiroun, in the Fred Winter Juvenile Novices’ Handicap Hurdle in 2005 and subsequently rode six more winners to become the most successful female jockey in the history of the Festival. Historically female jockey participation at Cheltenham has been a rarity especially when compared to the Grand National. That's changing though, with a record breaking four wins for female jockeys at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival including Lizzie Kelly on Coo Star Sivola in the Ultima Handicap Chase.

Kelly will be back on the same horse in the 2019 Festival, in addition to two other rides. Other female jockeys such as Rachael Blackmore and Bryony Frost will feature too to the potential for another bumper year for the ladies is high!