Thursday, 16 June 2022

Pat Taaffe

 

Patrick 'Pat' Taaffe, who died at the age of 62 in 1992, after undergoing a heart transplant the previous year, will always be remembered as the man who rode Arkle, arguably the greatest steeplechaser of all time. At the Cheltenham Festival, Taaffe and Arkle won the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase in 1963, followed by the Cheltenham Gold Cup three years running, in 1964, 1965 and 1966. However, while Arkle was, undoubtedly, brilliant, his reputation owed much to the prodigious talent of his regular partner.


Despite standing 6' 2" tall, Taaffe was a consummate horseman, blessed with an innate ability to present a horse at a steeplechase fence. All told, he rode 25 winners at the Cheltenham Festival – all

bar two over the larger obstacles – and remains the fourth most successful jockey of all time, behind Ruby Walsh, Barry Geraghty and Tony McCoy.


Arkle aside, Taaffe also won the RSA Insurance Novices' Chase on Coneyburrow in 1953, Solfen in 1960, Grallagh Cnoc in 1961 and Proud Tarquin in 1970 and the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Fort Leney in 1968; he remains the leading jockey in the history of both races, with five and four wins, respectively. Alongside Barry Geraghty, Taaffe also remains joint leading jockey in the history of the Queen Mother Champion Chase, or the National Hunt Two-Mile Champion Chase, as the race was known until 1980. He recorded back-to-back victories on Fortia in 1960 and 1961, followed by Ben Stack in 1964, Flyingbolt in 1966 amd Straight Fort in 1970. Over the smaller obstacles at the Festival, Taaffe won a division of the Gloucestershire Hurdle, now the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, twice, on Stroller in 1954 and Flyingbolt in 1964.





Tuesday, 17 May 2022

Nicky Henderson



Nicky Henderson: “It's getting a bit ridiculous, really.”

Nicholas John ‘Nicky’ Henderson is the most successful trainer in the history of the Cheltenham Festival with 51 victories, including the Champion Hurdle (three times), the World Hurdle (twice) and the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Having ridden 75 winners as an amateur jockey, Henderson began his training career as assistant to the legendary Fred Winter at Uplands, Lambourn in 1974, before taking out a training licence at nearby Windsor House four years later.

Henderson recorded his first win at the Cheltenham Festival in 1985, when the fragile See You Then powered clear on the run-in to win the Champion Hurdle. See You Then was to win the Champion Hurdle again in 1986, and in 1987, joining Hatton’s Grace, Sir Ken and Persian War as the fourth horse to win the race three years running. Following a move to Seven Barrows, just north of Lambourn, in 1992, Henderson has continued to churn out Cheltenham Festival winners year after year.

Now 63, he has won all eleven of the Grade 1 races staged over the four days and has won the Irish Independent Leading Trainer Award no fewer than nine times. On the second day of the Cheltenham Festival in 2012 he saddled four winners, Finian’s Rainbow in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, Simonsig in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle, Bobs Worth in the RSA Chase and Une Artiste in the Fred Winter Juvenile Novices’ Handicap Hurdle at cumulative odds of 3,381/1. A record seven winners, in total, that year took him clear of another National Hunt legend, Fulke Winner, as the most successful trainer of all time at the Cheltenham Festival.

The following year, he sent out another four Cheltenham Festival winners and, although just denied by Willie Mullins in his quest for his tenth Irish Independent Leading Trainer Award, he had the satisfaction of becoming the first trainer to saddle 50 winners at the Festival, courtesy of Bobs Worth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Prior to the 2014 Cheltenham Festival, Henderson acknowledged that his team was weakened by the absence of Sprinter Sacre, whom he described as ‘missing 10%’ after being pulled up at Kempton over Christmas amid fears of an irregular heartbeat, Simonsig, out for the season after developing a splint on his near fore, and Long Run, who ran in the Grand National instead. Nevertheless, he still saddled a total of fifteen runners who came home in the first six, including Whisper, the winner of the hugely competitive Coral Cup on the second day.

Former Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Long Run may not be quite the force of old but, no doubt Nicky Henderson will be doing everything in his power to make sure that Sprinter Sacre and Simonsig are 100% for their return next season. Established stars, such as Bobs Worth, My Tent Or Yours and Whisper, to name but a few, should ensure that Henderson remains a force to be reckoned with at the Cheltenham Festival but, as ever, he’s unlikely to rush them or any of his other horses. His patient training methods mean that many of his charges peak late in the season, in March or April, which is definitely a contributory factor in his success at the Cheltenham Festival.

Tuesday, 22 February 2022

Katchit

 

The winner of just one of is 14 starts for Mick Channon, and two more for Alan King, on the Flat as a two- and three-year-old, Katchit proved something of a revelation when sent over hurdles at the start of the 2006/07 National Hunt season. Ridden by Robert 'Chocolate' Thornton, as he was in all bar two of his 24 hurdles starts, Katchit opened his account at the first time of asking, winning a juvenile novices' hurdle at Market Rasen by 9 lengths eased down. Indeed, over the next two seasons, he would win ten of his 13 starts, including twice at the Cheltenham Festival, finish second twice and third once.


Fresh from a 1¾-length victory over previous Grade One winner Good Bye Simon in the Finesse Juvenile Hurdle the previous January, Katchit was sent off 11/2 second-favourite for a competitive, 23-runner renewal of the Triumph Hurdle, over the same course and distance, on his first appearance at the Cheltenham Festival in 2007. Competitive on paper, that is, because Katchit drew clear in the closing stages for an impressive, 9-length victory.


The following season he returned to the Cheltenham Festival, attempting to become the first Triumph Hurdle winner since Kribensis, in 1990, to win the Champion Hurdle. After suffering defeats by Harchibald and Osana, both of whom reopposed, earlier in the season, Katchit was sent off at 10/1 joint-fifth choice of the market behind 2/1 favourite Sizing Europe. However, with the market leader suffering an injury in-running, on 4lb better terms, Katchit managed to reverse earlier International Hurdle form with Osana to the tune of 9 lengths, to win, all out, by a length. In so doing, he became the first five-year-old to win the Champion Hurdle since See You Then in 1985.

Tuesday, 15 February 2022

L'Escargot

 

To the public at large, L'Escargot is probably best remembered for his exploits in the Grand National, in which he finished third in 1973, second in 1974 and won, by 15 lengths, in 1975, thereby thwarting an unprecedented hat-trick by Red Rum. However, earlier in his career, L'Escargot was a three-time Cheltenham Festival winner, winning the second division of the Gloucestershire Hurdle, now the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, in 1968 and recording back-to-back victories in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1970 and 1971. Aside from Golden Miller, who won both races in 1934, he remains the only horse to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand National.


Owned by Raymond Guest, US Ambassador to Ireland between 1965 and 1968, and trained by Dan Moore in Fairyhouse, Co. Meath, started second favourite for the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in 1969, finishing sixth to Persian War, before being sent over fences. The following year, for his first attempt at the Cheltenham Gold Cup, L'Escargot was sent off an unconsidered 33/1 outsider, behind hot favourite Kinloch Brae, who carried the yellow and black colours of Anne Grosvenor, Duchess of Westminster, made famous by Arkle. However, the market leader fell at the third-last fence and L'Escargot outstayed French Tan in the closing stages to win by a length-and-a-half.


L'Escargot returned, as defending champion, in 1971 and, in a substandard renewal of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, had little difficulty in beating the novice Leapfrog and The Dikler by 10 lengths and 15 lengths. He tried, and failed, to add a third Cheltenham Gold Cup to his winning tally in 1972 and 1973, finishing fourth on both occasions.

Wednesday, 5 January 2022

Goshen

So far, Goshen has made just one appearance at the Cheltenham Festival, where he was sent off heavily-backed 5/2 favourite for the Triumph Hurdle in 2020 after wide-margin wins, all at long odds-on, at Fontwell, Sandown and Ascot. Indeed, the four-year-old gelding appeared set for another when approaching the final flight in the Triumph Hurdle with a commanding, 10-length lead. However, he failed to pick up when asked to do so by jockey Jamie Moore and made what, under different circumstances, might have been just an awkward, untidy mistake. Worse was to follow, though; on landing, his off-back and off-fore legs became tangled together, albeit momentarily, and his back legs skidded, unbalancing Moore sufficiently to send him crashing to the Prestbury Park turf.


Despite that heartbreaking defeat, Goshen still finished his first season over hurdles with a Timeform Annual Rating of 161p – identical to Epatante, winner of the Champion Hurdle – and is currently quoted as 8/1 co-second favourite for 2021 renewal of the two-mile hurdling championship. Goshen ran twice on the Flat in 2020, at Haydock in September and Goodwood in October, and was beaten favourite on both occasions. He missed intended engagements at Wincanton and Ascot in November, as the result of unsuitable going and an unsatisfactory scope, but was reported 'absolutely fine' by trainer Gary Moore. All being well, Goshen could start his 2020/21 hurdling campaign in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle in late November or, failing that, in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham the following month.