Monday, 27 January 2020

Cheltenham Festival 2019


Two of the showpiece events, the Champion Hurdle and the Cheltenham Gold Cup, proved anti-climactic, at least as far as the market leaders were concerned, but the Cheltenham Festival in 2019 still produced four days of exhilarating racing. Indeed, Espoir D’Allen may have been sent off at 16/1 against the likes of Buveur D’Air, Apple’s Jade and Laurina in the Champion Hurdle, but recorded an authoritative, 15-length win and looked every inch a top-class hurdler. He was one of five winners during the week for leading owner John P. McManus.

Similarly, in the ‘Blue Riband’ event, Al Boum Photo was only third choice of four entries from Willie Mullins’ Co. Carlow stable, but the seven-year-old fared by far the best of the quartet, travelling sweetly under jockey Paul Townend and staying on strongly from the final fence to beat Anibale Fly by 2½ lengths. The 12/1 chance was a first Cheltenham Gold Cup winner for Mullins, who had saddled the runner-up on six previous occasions and later admitted that he had ‘probably resigned’ himself to never winning the race.

Elsewhere, it was ‘business as usual’ for Altior, who won the Queen Mother Champion Chase for the second year running and, in so doing, equalled the record of 18 consecutive victories. That said, on officially ‘soft’ going, the 4/11 chance had to work a little harder than usual under Nico De Boinville – leading jockey of the week with four winners – knuckling down well in the closing stages to beat Politologue by 1¾ lengths after being narrowly headed at the final fence. The remaining ‘championship’ race, the Stayers’ Hurdle, fell to a new champion, Paisley Park, who justified favouritism to cap a brilliant, unbeaten season for trainer Emma Lavelle and owner Andrew Gemmell.

Other headline-makers at Prestbury Park included Frodon and Bryony Frost, who became the first female jockey to record a Grade One victory at the Cheltenham Festival when partnering Paul Nicholls’ seven-year-old to a game, 1¼-length win in the Ryanair Chase. Bryony Frost was joined in the winners’ enclosure by Rachael Blackmore (twice) and Lizzie Kelly, as female jockeys collectively recorded four wins at the Festival for the second year running.