CHELTENHAM REVIEW Days 1 & 2
CHELTENHAM REVIEW Days 1 & 2
All year round racing fans are building up to the Cheltenham Festival but in the blink of an eye it’s all finished. There was plenty of speculation in the build up to this year’s event with the worry of Coronavirus cancelling the whole week but fortunately racing got the green light and we were treated to another fantastic week of top quality action.
We kickstarted the week with a thrilling finish in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in which Nicky Henderson’s (who trained three of the first five home) Shiskin got the better of Abracadabras by a head with the winners stablemate Chantry House a distant third. The pair jumped the last together and had a right battle up the hill with Nico de Boinville’s mount just managing to get to the front inside the final 100 yards.
Next up was the Arkle, a race won by the likes of Un De Sceaux, Douvan and Altior in recent years, and it was a former C&D winner Put The Kettle On who claimed the honours this year to open Ireland’s account on the week. Despite being rated the second lowest in the field she took advantage of her mares allowance and was given a good positive ride by Aiden Coleman, who made it 2/2 on the six-year old. Fakir D’oudairies was a respectable second but connections of Brewin’upastorm may be left wondering what could have been as he unseated Richard Johnson four out before the riderless horse came flying up the hill, I think he would have gone close.
The first handicap of the week, the Ultima, went the way of The Conditional for local-trainer David Bridgwater, which gave him his first ever festival winner and only his fifth at the course. He’d won at the course in the Showcase meeting back in October before running a big race in the Ladbroke Trophy at Newbury and added to that previous win with a neck victory over the rallying Kildisart. There was a third consecutive place at the festival for Discorama who ran on well from the back with the top-weight Vinndication putting up a bold show back in fourth.
The feature race on the opening day provided the most impressive winner and gave Nicky Henderson a double as his mare Epatante showed her rivals a clean pair of heels as she quickened away impressively from them after the last in the Champion Hurdle, Sharjah was home in second with Darver Star weakening up the hill in third. It wasn’t the greatest renewal of the race but you’d have to think that this horse would have served it up to some of the best over the years, a really talented horse.
Along with Epatante, two of the best mares around at the minute Benie Des Dieux and Honeysuckle locked horns in the Mares Hurdle and it was no surprise to see them dominate the race. The former had been well-backed in the build-up to the race and actually went off as an odds-on favourite (4/6F) with all major online bookmakers but she couldn’t back that up as Honeysuckle was a half-a-length winner, making it her fourth Grade 1 success for Henry de Bromhead, the second trainer to land a double on the day. They both can be expected to win more graded races between them going forward.
Imperial Aura was a good winner of the National Trust Novices’ Handicap Chase, he jumped well throughout and on the turn for home there was only one winner despite idling in the final stages of the race where he probably was getting lonely in front, whilst the final race of the day went the way of the ten-year old Ravenhill to give two-time leading trainer Gordon Elliot his first winner of the week. Jamie Codd was on board and yet again he produced a fine hold-up ride to give himself a third win in the race having won on Le Breuil last year and Cause Of Causes back in 2015. The consistent Lord Du Mesnil gave it a proper go from the front in the stamina sapping test and looked as though he might just outstay them but the winner found that little bit more inside the final furlong.
One of the talking horses of the week Envoi Allen was an impressive winner of the Ballymore Hurdle, connections were contemplating going down the Supreme route and I think he’d have won that too if he lined up there as he has plenty of speed, but he showed his stamina is there as well as he lengthened away from The Big Getaway and Easywork. It’ll be interesting to see where he goes next season, he’s a big horse and will make a great chaser so the Arkle is a strong possibility but he’d also be a short-price for the Champion Hurdle on the back of his performances this season.
Arguably the finish of the week came in the RSA Chase where for the world it looked as though Minella Indo and Allaho were going to be the first two home and the former had just edged ahead but from out the clouds came the flying Champ under Barry Geraghty to steal the race. He again wasn’t as fluent as the others in the jumping department but clearly has some engine and if Nicky Henderson can sort out those mistakes then he’d be a serious contender for the Gold Cup next year.
That winner was the first of four on the day for owner JP McManus (seven on the week). He won the Coral Cup with Dame Du Compagnie, who after an appeal by his trainer Nicky Henderson, was dropped 2lb having been raised that amount without even running. He looked a well-handicapped horse because of that and never really looked in any danger throughout the race, he won nicely. His other two winners came in the Cross-Country Chase with Easyland, who followed up a C&D win back in December by absolutely thrashing the dual winner of the race and fans favourite Tiger Roll who had no answer to the French-trained winner before Aramax stayed on strongly to win the Boodles Juvenile Hurdle.
Having been advertised as the race of the week in the months leading up to the festival, we unfortunately didn’t get to see what would have been a fantastic Queen Mother Champion Chase with the withdrawals of both Altior and Chacun Pour Soi. That left Defi De Seuil a very short-priced favourite and what looked like a penalty kick but that was not the case, he never really got going and it was Paul Nicholls’ Politologue who claimed the £225,000 pot. He was given a brilliant front-running attacking ride by Harry Skelton (his first ride in the race), he jumped so well and had the other four at it from a way out, a deserved win having played second fiddle to Altior 12 months ago.
Willie Mullins claimed his tenth success in the Champion Bumper with Ferny Hollow beating his stablemate Appreciate It in the colours of Cheveley Park Stud, who won the race last year with Envoi Allen. Paul Townend gave the five-year old a very patient ride having sat him right out the back for the majority of the race before scything through the field and quickening well up the hill. It’s a race that the Irish tend to dominate and they had the first three home this time round.