Monday 20 November 2017

Cheltenham Festival 2005: Three Become Four

The National Hunt Festival at Cheltenham had been a three-day spectacle since 1923 but, in 2005, was extended from three to four days. Four new races – namely, the Fred Winter Juvenile Novices' Handicap Hurdle, the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase, the Festival Trophy, or Ryanair Chase and the Spa Novices’ Hurdle, or Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle – were added to the programme, along with an additional £500,000 in prize money.

The first Cheltenham Gold Cup to be run on a Friday was won by Kicking King, trained by Tom Taafe and ridden by Barry Geraghty, in front of a sell-out crowd of 50,000 spectators. Hardy Eustace completed a double in the Smurfit Champion Hurdle and Moscow Flyer made amends for his fall the previous year by winning the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Missed That, in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper, was one of two winners for Ruby Walsh and Inglis Drever, in the renamed Ladbrokes World Hurdle, was one of three for Graham Lee.

Lee also won the Letherby & Christopher Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on Arcalis and the Royal & Sun Alliance Novices’ Hurdle on No Refuge to claim the leading jockey title for himself and the leading trainer title for his boss, Howard Johnson.

Thursday 2 November 2017

Cheltenham Festival 2004: Time for Rupert

With all due respect to Paul Webber’s charge, Time For Rupert, who ran in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, the RSA Chase and the Cheltenham Gold Cup in his time, the titular Rupert, in this case, is Rupert ‘Ruby’ Walsh. In his second full season as stable jockey to Paul Nicholls – who was to become leading trainer at the Cheltenham Festival for the second time – Walsh announced his arrival on the Festival stage by winning the Queen Mother Champion Chase on Azetyuiop, the Grand Annual Chase on St. Pirran and the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle on Sporazene. Three winners were enough to make the Irishman top jockey for the first time.

Elsewhere, Hardy Eustace sprang a surprise in the Smurfit Champion Hurdle, seeing off the reigning champion Rooster Booster by 5 lengths. The ill-fated Total Enjoyment was a ready winner of the Weatherbys Champion Bumper and Iris’s Gift reversed the previous year’s form with Baracouda when winning the Bonusprint Stayers’ Hurdle, but the Festival is probably best remembered for Best Mate, who made history by becoming the first horse since the legendary Arkle to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup three years running.