Last week’s Cheltenham Festival provided its usual blend of thrills and spills, with the drama not really letting up from first race to last. Talking Horses takes a look back at a fabulous four days of drama
It was not a good Festival for returning heroes, with Hurricane Fly, Big Buck’s and Bobs Worth all ceding their crowns. With Sprinter Sacre not fit enough to defend the Queen Mother Champion Chase, all four of the championship races welcomed a new face into the winners’ enclosure.
There has been a changing of the guard, and it is hard to see any of the former champions reclaiming their title. Big Buck’s was retired immediately after the World Hurdle, Hurricane Fly looks a spent force when posited against the new generation of Champion Hurdlers and it is hard to see Bobs Worth winning another Gold Cup unless the ground is really tacky.
Sprinter Sacre could potentially return to dethrone Sire De Grugy, but Nicky Henderson’s two miler clearly has ongoing heart issues and his best days are probably behind him.
A SUPERSTAR MARE
Not for the first time, Quevega was the exception to the rule. Willie Mullins’ remarkable hurdler claimed a record sixth Mares’ Hurdle, and while short-priced favourites were struggling all around her, she dug deep to overhaul stable mate Glen’s Melody to reward favourite backers on day one.
Once again, the Mares’ Hurdle was hardly the strongest race of the Festival, but it would be wrong to decry the extent of Quevega’s achievements. She truly is a one off.
HARDLY A VINTAGE GOLD CUP
Friday’s Gold Cup produced a sensational climax, but in years to come, it is unlikely to be remembered as a vintage renewal of what should be the classiest race of the year.
Lord Windermere, On His Own and The Giant Bolster filled the places with ratings of 152, 161 and 160, and it is hard to imagine them finishing within ten lengths of some previous winners.
Bobs Worth and Silviniaco Conti hit the wall spectacularly after jumping the last, and while Lord Windermere picked up superbly after looking in trouble halfway round, he will surely be vulnerable to what looks a decent crop of novice chasers in 12 months time.
It seems far too early to be recommending ante-post gambles for the 2015 Festival, but JLT first Taquin Du Seuil (25-1) and RSA winner O’Faolains Boy (20-1) both look strong Gold Cup candidates.
MULLINS’ FUTURE LOOKS BRIGHT
Two of the best performances of the week were produced by novice hurdlers trained by Willie Mullins, and had Briar Hill not fallen in the Albert Bartlett on Friday, the Irish champion trainer might well have completed a clean sweep of the Grade One novice hurdles.
Vautour’s win in the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle featured an exemplary display of jumping, and he is clearly a horse with a massive future. He looks a Champion Hurdle candidate, although Mullins’ obvious desire to take him jumping means next year’s Arkle could be at his mercy.
Faugheen hurdled nothing like as well as his stable mate, yet he was still on the bridle coming into the home straight of the Neptune, even though he clattered three of the last four flights. His engine is remarkable, and he should also make a top-notch chaser if his jumping improves.
THE TOAST OF THE NORTH
With Ferdy Murphy and Howard Johnson no longer sending horses to the Festival, the northern battalions are less powerful than they used to be.
However, while it might be increasingly difficult for northern trainers to attract the biggest-spending owners, they continue to land some telling blows.
Tim Easterby’s surprise 33-1 Fred Winter success with Hawk High was especially notable given that the trainer tends to succeed with flat horses, while Malcolm Jefferson was exceedingly unfortunate not to claim the Rewards4Racing Novices’ Chase, the closing race on day one, when Attaglance’s second place behind Present View was not overturned despite interference from the winner in the final furlong.
POINTERS TO THE FUTURE
There were a number of winners to keep on the right side of in the future, with the hugely impressive More Of That surely capable of emulating Barracuda, Inglis Drever and Big Buck’s by winning multiple World Hurdles.
The New One might well have won the Champion Hurdle had he not been impeded by Our Connor’s fall, and given that he will only be seven next March, he should be even better next season. Champagne Fever will be a chasing force for years to come, even though he couldn’t get up in the Arkle.
More immediately, a couple of likely Grand National runners ran pleasing trials. Teaforthree finished eighth in the Gold Cup and looks a worthy ante-post Aintree favourite at odds of 12-1. Pineau De Re is currently 50-1 for the National, but the way in which he flashed home to claim third in the Pertemps Final was hugely eye-catching. If he makes the cut next month, he’ll be worth backing each-way.
THE HARDEST MEN IN SPORT
It takes a special kind of courage to be a jumps jockey, and 12 months after JP McNamara was paralysed after a horrific fall from Galaxy Rock, the perils of National Hunt racing were clear to see once more.
Tony McCoy could barely walk after his mount was brought down in Wednesday’s final hurdle race, yet he returned to the course on Thursday morning to grimace through the pain and guide Taquin Du Seuil to victory.
Ruby Walsh rode three winners over the week, but his Festival ended prematurely when he broke his arm in a fall from Abbyssial in the Triumph Hurdle. An hour or so later, and Daryl Jacob was nursing three broken bones after Port Melon reared on his way to the start of the GMT Novices’ Hurdle. Jumps racing is not for the faint-hearted.
RECESSION, WHAT RECESSION?
The Festival was more popular than ever, with a record-breaking crowd packing onto the course on the Tuesday and Friday’s Gold Cup card sold out months in advance.
Millions were won and lost over the course of the four days, with the bookmakers coming out on top, largely thanks to 22 of the 27 favourites being beaten.
It was a long day if you didn’t have at least one winner, with pints of Guinness priced at £4.70. So while drowning your sorrows might have been an attractive option, it was hardly a cheap one.