Top 5 Moments of Cheltenham Festival 2014

Eastlake-Aintree-AP-McCoy-SL_3025804[1] The best week of the year is now over. It was as billed to be a surprising four days and as far a winners go it did not disappoint. I’m not one to be taken in by odds given by bookmakers but just glancing down at the winners just of the four premier races, with the exception of the Queen Mother champion chase, the prices alone can confirm that not many expected many of the results over the last week.

I was doing some reading on the social media sites on the Monday before kick off and someone had tweeted a picture of what they believed to be the main contenders of the most exciting Champion Hurdle in recent years. The picture showed Henderson’s My Tent or Yours, two time winner Hurricane Fly, Twiston Davies’ young the pretender the New One and the ill fated Our Conor. There was a comment underneath the picture from a user that asked: “Where is Jezki?” and the witty repose was: “Something people will be asking around 3.26pm tomorrow.” This puts a lot of weeks results in a nutshell. Surprise winners and therefore, I believe, exciting racing.

I have picked out my Top 5 favourite moments of the meeting.

5. Balthazar is king of the Cross Country:

This was undoubtedly one of the most impressive and popular performances of the week. As we have learnt from this festival especially it takes a great horse to come back to a festival let alone defend his crown. In the case of Balthazar King it wasn’t what he did, it was the manner in which he did it. Having lead most of the way through the twists and turns of Cheltenham’s famous cross country race, he was hard pressed by the fast finishing Any Currency but held on to beat him by a short head. Not only was this one of the most exciting finishes of the week it was a prime example of why Richard Johnson is the second most successful jockey in history. He has a way of hunting round, not panicking and let his horses approach a race naturally. Hopefully the National will be the next stop for this talented horse and if he does come round the Elbow in front it will be Johnsons first win in a race and you can’t help but think he deserves to win.

4. Jockeys, jockeys, jockeys

I wonder what the odds for Barry Geraghty having three winners at the Festival were? Pretty short I would imagine. Take Nicky Henderson out of that equation and I would think if there is a person out there who took that bet they are most likely sitting on a beach somewhere in the South Pacific having paid off the mortgage and all their children’s school fees. It was almost unbelievable. But what it exemplified was…Need someone for a big race? Barry’s your man. The rides he gave all three horses were exceptional. Especially on More of That. Coming up the hill Annie Power looked to be going the better of the two and but Geraghty’s strength in a finish is second to none. This week it also seemed he liked a nice spin round on a spare ride preferably a JP Mcmanus horse.

De Boinville vs AP?….De Boinville
We truly are in a Golden Age of jockeys. The list of top class riders is endless, AP McCoy head and shoulders above the rest? However young rider Nico de Boinville based at Nicky Henderson’s Lamborn yard is possibly most known for being the work rider for both Sprinter Sacre and Long Run. Now he will be most notable for riding his bosses sole winner of the 2014 Cheltenham Festival. It came in the Coral cup on Wednesday aboard the Dai Walters owned Whisper. This victory was sweet redemption for the young rider having been beaten a short head the day before but also because the man he beat into second was the magician in a finish, the man who many people believe has the capabilities to get a 15 year old donkey across the line in front. It was pure guts and determination and absolute joy to witness.

3. Nostalgia as Culloty is back in the winners enclosure.

It was nearly 10 years ago to the day that jockey Jim Culloty was in the winners enclosure at the festival, albeit in an entirely different outfit. Jockey aboard in all three of Best Mates Gold Cup runs, Jim Culloty must have found it hard to fight all sorts of emotions swirling around his head on Friday. Although Lord Windermere was possibly not the horse most people expected to see come into the enclosure with that rather apocalyptic music blasting from the rooftops, it was however a familiar and satisfying site to see Jim return to the very spot he had made his own for so many years.

He said after the race that his instructions to Davy Russell were to ride a patient race from the back, but half way round admitted to wanting to “sack the jockey” after he believed he had taken the instructions rather too far, as the horse lay right out the back for the best part of two and a half miles. It was the shock of the festival, but no one was more dumbfounded than the jockey himself. It goes to show that these animals can surprise anyone, even the pilot on board.

2. Sire de Grughy doing it for the family..

If there was a horse coming into the week with everything to prove, I believe unfairly, it was the Gary Moore trained Sire de Grugy. This horse had done everything right this season and with the absence of Sprinter Sacre in the 2 mile Champion Chase he deserved to go off favourite. Although the morning of the race he was about as weak as second hand teabag. There were horses who had to find a lot more than this horse, like Captain Conan who were vying for favouritism.

Coming up to the last fence in the Queen Mother there were, I’m sure, plenty of people hanging their heads in shame for ever doubting this progressive chaser when he hopped over the last fence and surged up the hill in front. It was an amazing win for Gary Moore, a trainer who does not get enough credit for the horses his produces for the big days and the way he has handled this horse is nothing short of genius. He has never been afraid to run him, to take on the big guns and always had absolute faith in the horse. It is something we should all admire him for.

1. Quevega.

There are not enough adjectives in the English dictionary to explain the enormity of what this mare has achieved. Her win at the Festival this year was her sixth triumph. To get a horse back for any race at the festival is a feat that not many can ever match, but to get a horse back six times and win all six of them is something I don’t believe will ever be matched again. Coming down the hill although Ruby was looking comfortable, there were also a host of horses which were looking as comfortable and for a second I was naive enough to think that the Queen’s crown was slowly slipping away.

But in usual style she stalked through the field and came up the hill, which incidentally she believes is flat, and produced her normal dominant performance that we as racegoers have rather begun to take for granted.

It is a true testament to Willie Mullins and his incredible team that she has kept her fit and healthy for this long and on Tuesday the heroine became a legend. It truly was the performance of a lifetime, something that will most likely never be repeated.

Away from the good stuff….

Although the week was one of exceptional sporting excellence, one must also not forget that our entertainment can come at a high price. There was a moment on Friday that exemplified no more clearly that elation can often come hand in hand with despair.

Daryl Jacob had been having, by his own and boss Paul Nicholls standards an average week, with no winners. To him Lac Fontana’s win in on the Friday must have had him breathing a heavy sigh of relief. But within 30 minutes of this he was being stretched off the course and on his way to hospital after a freak accident saw him thrown off his horse on the way down to the start.

It is the moments like this we must remember that not everything is about the money we may have lost on the horse. But that everyday these men and women out their health on the line for the benefit of the sport they love so much and sometimes this is repaid in the most unkind of ways.

    Top 5 Cheltenham Festival Highlights 2013

    What a week it was.

    Although I’m still in sulk that I didn’t get to go racing, I did however manage to watch most of the big races mostly thanks, and to an extent the patience, of my classmates who let me put the races up on the big screen while we trying to pump out an 18 page publication about news in Islington. They had to put up with my grumpy demeanour when it dawned on me on Tuesday night, with a feature still unfinished, that a trip to the festival was looking highly unlikely.

    Even though I wasn’t there I thought I would give my Top 5 Festival Highlights:

    The New One5. The New One: That was an incredible performance and is an example of when class and heart just collide. The way he found more and more when he reached the hill was just so impressive. There was a funny moment in an interview after the race when trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies admitted to his son Sam that he almost missed the race because he was in the bathroom. You would not be alone if you had missed the final furlongs because this horse just shot out of nowhere, up the hill and into the abyss. I cannot wait to see this horse next season, you can only imagine he will come back bigger and stronger.

    4. Hurricane Fly: What a moment. There is a reason that when horses tend to lose their crown they very rarely get it back. It is hard. But Hurricane Fly did this with such ease it was just an absolute joy to watch. Rock on Ruby did himself and his connections proud. Now people can stop going on about how last year was fluke because after that run it can safely be assumed that it was no such thing.

    3. Solwhit: Although the festival was without one of its biggest stars for the first time in many years and it was sad. Of course the absence of Big Buck’s left a big whole and it was a disappointment not to see him there. But Solwhit’s win was a true crowd pleaser. It was fantastic to watch a horse that maybe had been on the outskirts of greatness his whole career and not quite made it there, until this moment. It was amazing for him and everyone connected with the horse. People will forever go on about how Big Buck’s wasn’t there and he would have won if he had been. Perhaps this is true, but at the end of the day when all is said and done you can only beat what is put in front of you. Solwhit deserved this win and I’m glad he got it.

    Also we should not forget the run by another horse that has been a pillar of consistency right through his career. Celestial Halo’s run is one that make’s you realise why people love this game. Coming a close second in a champion hurdle and a second in a world hurdle is some feat that should not be forgotten.

    2. Quevega: This was a highlight not just for the festival but racing in general. This was an unbelievable achievement and I bet there was not a dry eye in the house and there shouldn’t have been. Winning five times at the Cheltenham Festival is the hardest thing. We should stand up and salute this mare who oozes class and ability. Well done and hopefully see her next year for number six.

    1. This is hard and a tie was necessary. When you watch these two horses there should be an emotion that seeps through your body: “Wow, aren’t they both immense.” But no it’s jealousy because the same man, the Cheltenham specialist who enjoyed his 50th Cheltenham winner this season, trains them both. Nicky Henderson must think himself the luckiest man in the world not just racing to have horses like Bobs Worth and Sprinter Sacre in his yard at the same time. Some people wait a lifetime for a horse even half as good as these two to come along and Henderson has them both now. What are the chances?
    Bobs Worth
    Although they are both brilliant what makes them capture the imagination the most is they are completely different. You have Sprinter Sacre the “James Bond” as Nicky puts it and Bobs Worth the “Head Boy” maybe not so cool, maybe doesn’t get as many girls but is good at everything- The Overachiever.

    Bobs Worth’s Gold cup was incredible. Again like the New One it was an example of the collision of heart and class to make up one perfect animal. The hill only seems to help him and he keeps going and going it was truly amazing. I don’t doubt this will not be his only Gold Cup- there will be more for sure. Fairytales can come true, Barry Geraghty had “Bob” as youngster and then seven years later won the Gold Cup on him. It’s a story Hollywood would be proud of.

    And what more can you say about Sprinter Sacre? Here is a horse that just does everything with such immense ease. His jumping is out of this world and he goes from A to B with speed and agility. We are lucky to have had Frankel last season and now we have him. We are truly in a Golden Era of horse racing.

    This year was the best, until a dark cloud was cast over Prestbury Park on Thursday when Amateur jockey JT McNamara was taken to hospital with serious spinal damage.

    I know this might seem strange but it as at times like this you see racing the for what it really is, a community where people look out for one another. All people could think about on Friday was not whether their horse was going to come up the hill in front, it was whether their friend was going to be OK. I say friend because this is what all these boys are to each other. Friends. Yes on the track they are competitors but when all is said and done they look out for each other.

    AP, Barry’s and JP McManus’ interviews after their races were not ones of elation, but of compassion and perspective. It was truly emotional and heart warming.

      Top 10 Things to do At Cheltenham Festival

      Top 10 ways to spend your time at the Greatest show on Turf
      cheltenham-festival Ladies Day
      I am sadly only going to one day of the festival this year. I normally do all four if I can. Unfortunately this year and last my turn out has been less than satisfactory.

      Last year I only went to the Gold Cup because I had the small problem of a hefty 15,000-word dissertation to contend with. This year I am on a masters and I’m not sure taking four days off for horse racing will really cut it. Which is a shame

      But in my absence I thought I would give you lucky people who have the privilege to attend the best sporting event of the calendar some pointers of how best to spend your time.

      1. Make sure you pay a visit to the pre-parade ring. There is nothing better than seeing the trainers final prep before the big race in the saddling enclosure. You catch a glimpse of the some weird and wonderful routines each trainer has. But also to see the horses before they come out in front of the big crowds it can really give you some good inspiration in terms of betting.

      2. Watch the Cross-Country race from the middle of the course. There is nothing more exhilarating than watching the chaotic events of the cross-country race unfold before your very eyes. If you go to the centre of the course to enjoy this spectacle you can get so close that you may even have splatterings of mud on you when you return to the centre. There is even a bookie over there in case you want a cheeky bet.

      3. Watch the Gold Cup from the lawn. There is no better place in terms of atmosphere. But a warning…before you have a rant about a horse that may have lost you a packet have a look round first. Often many of the trainers watch from the lawn so it’s likely you will be rubbing shoulders with racing royalty.

      guinness800_2426186[1]4. Spend some time in the fun areas of the course. Go and spend your winnings in the Guinness Village. The Guinness might be overpriced but it still tastes just as good. The Arkle bar is a good place to quench your thirst and the good news is you’re only a stones throw away from the winning post.

      5. Have a wonder round the Hall of Fame. This is a great museum right on your doorstep. Wonder through the halls where you are surrounded by colours of former Gold Cup winners right from Red Splash in 1924 taking you all the way up to Synchronised in 2012. This is great place to pass the time if the weather is bad, but also if you just have a free moment.

      6. Have your picture taken with the various statues dotted around the course. You have a plethora of greats from old and new. Have a picture snapped with the great Golden Miller or the beautiful mare Dawn Run.

      7. Have a bet on a horse just because you like the name. I went to the festival one year with a group of friends who did not know a huge amount about racing. One friend placed a bet on Bertie’s Dream at 33-1 and came away 80 quid better off.

      8. Go to the Best Mate statue. Every year there is a band around the 3 times Gold cup winner Best Mate’s statue. They normally have a poem read out about his wins. It’s a nice way to spend some time while waiting around for the next race.

      9. Hit the shops. This is a good way to spend time waiting at the end of the day if you hate traffic jams. Wonder aimlessly through the shopping district. But men are warned if they take along their wives or girlfriends, it’s unlikely you will leave with the day’s winnings!

      10. Finally…Make sure you do enjoy every race of the meeting whether they be Grade One’s, Handicaps or Amateur races because it truly is the Greatest show on Turf….

        Taking the good with the bad racing news round up

        This week has not been the best for racing; with the news that Frankie Dettori the “face” of the sport has had his licence suspended for being tested positive in France. It appears there are some questions that need to be answered.

        Frankie is the biggest name and undoubtedly the most recognised figure in racing, he is the BBC man, someone that even the random punter who knows nothing about the sport would be able to name. His fame has transcended far beyond the boundaries of racing and into restaurants, adverts and quiz shows. I’ve even had the odd occasion when someone has asked me: “Is Frankie riding in this?” and I have to say trying with all my strength not to sound overly patronising: “No, this is the Grand National jumps aren’t really Frankie’s thing.”

        Who knows what will happen to the great man. A lengthy ban? I don’t know. But one thing is for certain he will now remain ever so slightly tainted, which is a real shame for the sport and the man.

        On to the positives because there are some thank God!

        I was lucky enough to go to Cheltenham last weekend for the Paddy Power it really got the heart rate up and the juices flowing.

        Al Ferof’s romp in the Paddy Power came as no surprise. I really thought it was a no brainer. With the ground the way it was, slowly slowly deteriorating he seemed the most viable option. As for Grand Crus; again not showing his best at Cheltenham running an almost identical race as he did at the festival, he disappointed again. The explosive performance we were all anticipating was just not to be. But supporters of the lovely gray should not despair; in my opinion you will see a very different horse come Boxing Day at Kempton, a track he has shown he clearly enjoys.
        The new crop of novice chasers really gave us something to roar about. Pipe’s Dynaste was simply unstoppable and Henderson’s Captain Conan was sublime. Both were absolutely foot perfect, they will be two seriously exciting novices for this season and certainly two horses to keep an eye out for.

        This weekend we see the much-anticipated re-appearance of the 2011 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, Long Run, in the Betfred Chase at Haydock. However this will sadly be run without it’s most successful graduate, Kauto Star, having won it last year at the ripe old age of 13. It will be sad not to see line-up, however Paul Nicholls and Clive Smith certainly made the right decision to retire the old boy in good health and after an amazing season. It is a very rare thing to retire a horse in perfect health a season after winning 2 Grade One’s. It’s pretty unbelievable.

        So without his arch rival can Long Run deliver the goods on Saturday? With Imperial Commander now out with injury it is looking like Long Run should win, although the ground could be a worry, not to mention a classy horse in Silvinaco Conti. But if all goes to plan Henderson’s Gold Cup hopeful should canter home in front.

        The racing is top notch on Saturday, with the return of some pretty exciting horses. With the likes of Oscar Whisky, Champion Court, Finian’s Rainbow, Captain Chris, Raya Star the list goes on and on. 

        You would be seriously foolish to miss it!

          Good Bye 2012 Flat Season Review Hello Jump Preview

          It is with red eyes and sore throats we wave goodbye to the flat and we can safely say: it was better than any one could have hoped. With Australian fillies, a triple crown hopeful and a monster. It certainly exceeded all expectations.
          We must take a moment to congratulate the team at Henry Cecil’s with the phenomenal way they have dealt with the superstar. Being at Goodwood for perhaps his easiest victory, however it was not winning the race that made it so special it was events after I began to see why this horse had captured the imaginations and hearts of a nation. He was paraded in front of the stands and around the paddock for every Tom, Dick and Harry, and in a sense every person took a little bit of Frankel home that day. For a horse of such apparent unearthly qualities he truly is the nation’s favourite.
          So what now?? Can the jumps season possibly come close to that? At the moment it feels rather like Coldplay’s support act is about to take the stage.
          But, there are whispers of excitement about one horse in particular as the new season- proper approaches, one horse which last season just left everyone begging for more: Sprinter Sacre. Can he become the new Frankel and reconnect a nation with the jumps after the National saga of last year?
          Having recently watched the re-run of the last years Arkle… WOW. If you are feeling a little sad to see the flat saunter off into the distance for the year, ONE piece of advice watch the Arkle. It will well and truly re-affirm your faith that there might just be something very special in store.
          It would be cruel and very untrue to pretend that it will only be about one horse with others like: Fingal Bay, Long Run, Sanctuaire, Weird Al, Simonsig, Sir de Champs, Sizing Europe the list can go on and on and the the horse I am itching to see get back on the track is Rock on Ruby. Now with rookie trainer Harry Fry although it was no secret that he played a major role in the training of this horse last season, it will be interesting to see how he fairs after the “shock” victory in the Champion Hurdle last year.
          To add another dimension to what could be an epic season, this year we may even see a change at the top of the trainers tree, with Henderson looking very dangerous to take the title he came so close to usurping last year…
          In boxing throwing punches regularly can grind an opponent down and seal victory, but so often it is the one huge blow that you don’t see coming that wins the fight.
          One thing we learnt last season: Nicholls is never beaten until that final bell. Henderson was placing hard punches, 7 winners at the Cheltenham festival and 6 at Aintree. Going into the last round at Liverpool it seemed that Henderson had dealt the final punch. Although in this match-up no one saw the last one coming. As a racing world eagerly watched the big screen at Liverpool to see confirmation the grey Neptune Collonges had become the first Paul Nicholls trained horse to win the national it was that final blow in what had become a thrilling trainers title. That was it, the punch that I suspect neither Henderson nor anyone saw coming.
          The general consensus on the trainer’s title this year is that it is Nicky Henderson’s to lose. Looking at the horses he so much strength in depth and at present appears to hold all the trump cards. But in the unpredictability of the sport anything can happen…so do not despair and bring on the Support Act, it’s going to be a corker, enjoy!