Friday 21 December 2018

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!