Well folks, that's that for another year. There's been up's, down's, smiles & frowns. Judging by the general consensus, from a financial point of view, it's been a difficult one. That doesn't take away from the success of the festival & a wonderful four days, spectating the biggest talents in jump racing. The infamous Cheltenham roar signalled the start of an action packed week that lay ahead. It was a real thriller to get things started, & a race I had been particularly looking forward to, the Supreme Novices' Hurdle. Willie Mullins arguably led the Irish invasion with a force to be reckoned with. Classy novices such as Wicklow Brave, Vatour, Annie Power & Faugheen. Not to mention Cheltenham veteran, Quevega & Champion hurdler, Hurricane Fly. It wasn't going to be easy, up against the likes of Big Buck's, The New One, My Tent Or Yours trained by Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls & Nigel Twiston-Davies for the home team.
Mullins & Ruby got off to a flyer, opening the meeting with an impressive front leading run from Vatour. I thought we would have seen more from Wicklow, but he never really got the chance to get through the gears. Irving also didn't show the same form as last time out. The feature race of the day boasted an incredible array of talent. Hurricane Fly lined up to smash the stats & further cement his name in racing history. Lots of noise had been made of Henderson's My Tent Or Yours, McCoy booked for the ride would have fans of the champ confident in their gamble. Owner J P McManus couldn't grumble as he watched two of his horses chase each other home. The winner coming from Barry Geraghty & Jezki. McCoy having the option over the two McManus beasts was left kicking himself, an unfortunate trend that would be prominent for McCoy this festival. Unfortunately it wasn't smiles all round as Our Conor, who ran prominent & set a fast pace from the get go, fell at the third out. The fall was fatal. Many of your hearts will have been won over by the talents of Our Conor from last year's festival when he won the JCB Triumph Hurdle, winning by an impressive 15 lengths. He will be missed sorely by many. RIP Our Conor.
There was a Ruby Walsh, Willie Mullins pattern emerging as the duo opened the second day with a winner for Ireland again. This time with the wonderfully talented, Faugheen. His jumping can be questionable at times, but his ability to recover & finish strong is indubitable. Next up was the RSA chase. Doubts surrounded the favourite Ballycasey, after a fall during schooling. Your guess is as good as mine as to whether Ballycasey's confidence was knocked , but you can't take anything away from the heart of O'Faolains boy, who battled right to the line to beat Smad Place by a head to take the prize money home for Rebecca Curtis. Another win for the home team & marked the second of the festival for Barry Geraghty. Morning assembly ran & stayed well to claim a place. It will be interesting to see where he goes next for Pat Fahy. Many were quick to dismiss Sire De Grugy's chances of getting up the hill in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. With a bit of festival zest & workman like style, Sire De Grugy powered up the hill to silence doubters & delight trainer Gary Moore & connections. Sire De Grugy was only one of two favourites to prevail on day two. Bryan Cooper took a bad fall on Clarcam in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle. Cooper suffered compound fracture in his leg bringing his festival hopes to an abrupt end, missing his gold cup ride, Last Instalment. Josh Hamer suffered a broken collarbone when brought down on Akdam (RIP). Another fatality for the negative side of the festival.
On Thursday Ireland were trailing with respect to winners. The opener was champion jockey, A P McCoy's time to deliver. His winner coming from his partnership with Jonjo O'Neill. Sending out Taquin Du Seuil. Jonjo had a rather successful festival sending out 3 winners finishing behind Willie Mullins for most trained winners. The feature of the day was the world hurdle. 11 year old big bucks was favourite to retain his title in the anti post markets, until some Willie Mullins fire was injected into the race in the form of highly talented mare, Annie Power. Immediately declared favourite with a mares allowance, looked like she was going to get the job done. The 15/8 price was quickly thrashed into 11/8 which she went off at. Mullins trained, Ruby booked, no doubt many punters "banker" of the weekend. Even though never winning at that distance, punters were confident. Whether it was the trip, Ruby, "following the wrong horse" or just beaten by the better horse on the day, it wasn't to be. Barry Geraghty & Jonjo teamed up to take the title on More Of That. A real gutsy performance, battled Annie Power up the hill to claim victory for great Britain. At Fishers Cross finished up behind the battling pair & is starting to get back to the form we saw last season.
Money was flying in on Friday morning for the likes of Irish Royal Hussar & Calipto respectively & the market suggested it was going to be between these two. Just like almost every race of the festival, the market was wrong. Paul Nicholls' Calipto travelled well & might just have got there had the stirrup not broke, forcing Daryl Jacob to ride rodeo to get Calipto over the line, in a respectable fourth place considering the circumstances. None the less, an impressive ride by Davey Russell on Tiger Roll as he powered up the hill to land the prize money for his former boss. Tiger roll was impressive in only his third race, second behind Guitar Pete (who came 3rd in the race) last time out when Cooper had lost the whip & still managed to get him up there. Henderson trained, Kentucky Hyden notched up another second, who's form (last five starts) reads 1-2-2-2-2. frustrating for Henderson no doubt. Ruby Walsh rode Abbyssial & led the field until the second out where he took a bad fall and was trampled by those behind him. Ruby got up & it was immediately apparent it was bad. Later it was revealed a compound fracture of the right arm would rule him out for the remainder of the festival & for the rest of the season. After Daryl Jacob claimed his first victory in the Vincent O'Brien County Handicap aboard Lac Fontana, his festival was only getting started when a freak accident occurred on his next ride. Jacob was riding Port Melon to the starting line when the horse seemed to get spooked & bucked Jacob (narrowly missing the crowd & taking out a C4 camera man) tossing him onto the concrete. An uncomfortable hush filled the stadium as the screens were assembled around Jacob for ten minutes as proceedings were on hold, as the young jockey was treated before being stretchered away in an ambulance to the sound of applause from the crowds. A broken knee, elbow & arm was the extent of the damage & another jockey added to injury list.
The sun was holding out in time for the gold cup to be run. Again on paper it seemed to be between a few. Bobs Worth was popular for obvious reasons. Similarly for Silviniaco Conti when going well before falling in the Betfair Chase. There were numerous jockey changes due to the manic day. Geraghty was travelling well on Big Buck's but perhaps wasn't jumping as fluently as some would like. Similarly, Silviniaco Conti travelled well and seemed to have every chance throughout the race. Lord Windermere was niggled along at the back of the field from early on & was at the back for the majority of the race. On the final turn from home a quartet led by Silviniaco Conti, followed closely by Bob's Worth, On His Own, Lyreen Legend, With The Giant Bolster, TeaForThree, Triolo D'alene & Lord Windermere all staying on close behind. It really was open with claims being made for all respectively. Over the last Bob's worth veered quite violently to the right & Geraghty had to straighten him up, losing some momentum. In the final strides of the race, Lord Windermere, Own His Own & The Giant Bolster were the three with most momentum as the line came, a real thrilling finish saw Davey Russell take his second of the day to win the Gold Cup on 20/1 shot, Lord Windermere. There was a stewards inquiry as claims were made that Davey Russell interfered with On His Own, denying him a straight run in. Punters were piecing together ripped up slips as the verdict came in. Unchanged. I hope everyone has enjoyed this year's festival and have worked out some pieces of the puzzle for next season as new stars begin to emerge.
By Ciaran Judge