Thursday 21 December 2023

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.

Sunday 15 October 2023

Mick Fitzgerald

 

Nowadays, Mick Fitzgerald is best known as a television presenter on ITV Racing but, in his younger days, was one of the most successful National Hunt jockeys of his generation. Before being forced into retirement after sustaining neck and knee damage in a fall from L'Ami in the 2008 Grand National, Fitzgerald rode 1,295 winners, including 14 at the Cheltenham Festival.

Fitzgerald was leading jockey at the Cheltenham Festival twice. On the first occasion, in 1999, he achieved a notable double on Call Equiname and See More Business, both trained by Paul Nicholls, in the Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Cheltenham Gold Cup, respectively. That year, he also won the Triumph Hurdle on Katarino and the now-defunct Cathcart Challenge Cup on Stormyfairweather, both for Nicky Henderson. On the second, in 2000, he won the Arkle Challenge Trophy on Tiutchev, the Festival Trophy on Marlborough, the Stayers' Hurdle on Bacchanal and the Cathcart Challenge Cup on Stormyfairweather again; all four winners were trained by Nicky Henderson.


Remarkably, despite a 15-year association with Nicky Henderson – who is, nowadays, the leading trainer in the history of the Champion Hurdle, with eight wins – Fiztgerald never won the two-mile hurdling championship. In fact, in twelve attempts, two third places, on Blue Royal in 2000 and Afsoun in 2007, were the best he could muster.

Wednesday 19 July 2023

The Fellow

Trained by Fran├žois Doumen in Pau, southwestern France and ridden, for much of his career, by Polish-born jockey Adam Kondrat, The Fellow won the King George VI Chase at Kempton in 1991 and 1992. However, as far as the Cheltenham Festival is concerned, he is probably best remembered for winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup, at the fourth time of asking, in 1994. That said, anyone who backed him in the previous three renewals has good reason to remember that his defeats were attributable, at least according to some observers, to his jockey.







The Fellow made his first appearance in the 'Blue Riband' event in 1991, as a six-year-old, when has was sent off a largely unconsidered 28/1 outsider. However, despite Kondrat taking a wide route for the whole way and a bad mistake at the fifteenth fence, The Fellow was the only horse to make a race of it with eventual winner Garrison Savannah. Indeed, The Fellow 'sprinted' up the run-in, making up the better part of three lengths, but was denied by a short head.




On the back of that performance, and his subsequent win in the King George VI Chase, The Fellow was sent off 7/2 second favourite for his second attempt at the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1992. Kondrat rode a not entirely dissimilar race and, after a ding-dong battle with eventual winner and third, Cool Dawn and Docklands Express, on the run-in, The Fellow was headed in the final strides and denied by a short head for the second year running.




In 1993, The Fellow was sent off a heavily-backed 5/4 favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, but could manage only fourth, beaten 9½ lengths, behind Jodami, having been outpaced from the top of the hill. He was back again, as a nine-year-old, in 1994, by which time it seemed his time had passed. However, sporting blinkers and ridden closer to the pace than had previously been the case, The Fellow was always travelling and jumping well and kept on strongly in the closing stages to beat Jodami by 1½ lengths and, finally, reward his connections' perseverance.

Wednesday 5 April 2023

Dawn Run Mares' Novices' Hurdle


The Dawn Run Mares' Novices' Hurdle is a Grade 2 hurdle race run over 2 miles and 179 yards at Cheltenham in March. As the name suggests, the race is restricted to young female horses aged four years and upwards who, prior to the start of the current season, have not won a race over hurdles. The titular Dawn Run was an extraordinary racemare, who remains the only horse in history to have won both the Champion Hurdle and the Cheltenham Gold Cup.


Currently scheduled for the third day of the four-day Cheltenham Festival, the race is a recent addition to the programme, having been inaugurated as recently as 2016. Since its inception, it has been run under various titles, for sponsorship purposes, most recently as the Ryanair Mares' Novices' Hurdle.


It would be fair to say that Willie Mullins, the leading trainer in the history of the Cheltenham Festival, has 'farmed' the Dawn Run Mares' Novices' Hurdle in its short history. In fact, Mullins won the first five of the seven renewals so far, with Limini (2016), Let's Dance (2017), Laurina (2018), Eglantine du Seuil (2019) and Concertista (2020). The 2023 renewal is scheduled for Thursday, March 16, but at this still early stage, Mullins' five-year-old mare Ashroe Diamond – who opened her account over hurdles at the first time of asking at Navan in November, 2022 – heads the ante-post betting market at 9/1.


Mullins' dominance aside, recent trends suggest that punters might do well to concentrate on mares aged five or six years, officially rated 136 or higher, who have run at least twice and, preferably, won at least once, during the current season. Likely candidates could include Ahorsewithnoname, who finished a close second last year, but remains a novice over hurdles, and Luccia, who has yet to jump a hurdle in public, but could hardly have been more impressive when winning a Listed 'bumper' at Sandown by 17 lengths last March.


Wednesday 8 February 2023

Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase


The Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase is a Grade 1 steeplechase run over 3 miles and 80 yards on the Old Course at Cheltenham in March. Open to horses aged five years and upwards, it is one of three Grade 1 novice steeplechases run at the Cheltenham Festival – the others being the Arkle Challenge Trophy and the Turners Novices' Chase – and the most prestigious novice steeplechase of the season in the staying division.


Inaugurated, as the Broadway Novices' Chase, in 1946, the race has been run under various titles, including the Totalisator Champion Novices' Chase and the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase, for sponsorship purposes since 1964. Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable was announced as the new sponsor in 2021, having previously sponsored the Festival Plate, a Grade 3 handicap steeplechase run over 2 miles 4 furlongs and 127 yards on the New Course at Cheltenham, since 2015.


The Brown Advisory Novices' Chase is often described, justifiably, as the novices' equivalent of the Cheltenham Gold Cup and its roll of honour reads like a 'Who's Who' of staying steeplechasers since World War II. The likes of Mandarin, Arkle, Ten Up, Master Smudge, Garrison Savannah, Looks Like Trouble, Denman, Bobs Worth and Lord Windermere all returned to the Cheltenham Festival to win the 'Blue Riband' event, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, in subsequent years.


Somewhat ironically, Willie Mullins, who did not win the Cheltenham Gold Cup until 2019, having previously saddled the runner-up six times, is the leading trainer in the history of the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase. Mullins has already enjoyed success with Florida Pearl (1998), Rule Supreme (2004), Cooldine (2009), Don Poli (2015) and Monkfish (2021) and looks to hold a very strong hand once again in 2023, if the ante-post betting market is to be believed. Obviously, the 2023 renewal of the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase – scheduled for 2.10pm on Wednesday, March 15 – is several months away, but The Nice Guy, a ready 5-length winner of the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle in 2022, sets a very high standard.

Thursday 5 January 2023

Turners Novices' Chase

 


The Turners Novices' Chase is a Grade 1 novices' steeplechase run over 2 miles, 3 furlongs and 168 yards on the New Course at Cheltenham in March. Open to horses aged five years and upwards, the race is currently scheduled as the first race on the third day of the Cheltenham Festival. It is, in fact, one of three Grade 1 novices' steeplechases staged at the Festival, but the only one run on the New Course, which places more emphasis on stamina than the Old Course.


The Turners Novices Chase is officially registered as the Golden Miller Novices' Chase but, since its inception, in 2011, has been run under several different titles for sponsorship purposes. Originally known as the Jewson Novices' Chase, the race was elevated from Grade 2 to Grade 1 status in 2014, at which point it was renamed the JLT Novices Chase to reflect the new sponsors,

Jardine Lloyd Thompson (JLT). Marsh & McLennan acquired JLT in 2019, resulting in another name change, to the Marsh Novices' Chase, the following year. Turners took over sponsorship in 2022.


The intermediate distance of the Turners Novices' Chase is ideal for novices' who lack the speed required for the Arkle Challenge Trophy, over 2 miles, and/or the stamina required for the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase, over 3 miles. In its relatively short history, Willie Mullins has won the race four times, courtesy of Sir Des Champs (2012), Vautour (2015), Black Hercules (2016) and Yorkhill (2017) and is the leading trainer in its history.


Willie Mullins also has plenty of live contenders for the 2023 renewal, including the current ante-post favourite, Sir Gerhard, Appreciate It and El Fabiolo. It will be interesting to see how the pecking order in the division develops by the time 1.30pm on Thursday, March 17 rolls around.