CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL 2018
Day 4 – Friday 16 March
Picture of the Day
The Cheltenham Gold Cup (Grade 1):
The winner – Native River
trained by Colin Tizzard and ridden by Richard Johnson
I reported to the main hall for breakfast at 07:05.
Breakfast was full English again today; three rashers of bacon, scrambled egg, fried tomato, giant mushrooms, hash browns. Also two yoghurts and a croissant. Plus a pot of coffee, from which I made 2 cups. I got back to my room at 07:30.
My luggage was almost packed, and I did a final check before loading up my car ... although I later discovered I’d left my multi-point extension lead behind. That was quite a feat, as I recall checking that everything was switched off and unplugged! Having taken everything to my car, I headed to reception to settle up and check out. It had been my aim to leave Eynsham Hall at 08:20 but, in the event it was 08:40 when I set off.
Unfortunately the Woodstock Road remained closed following yesterday’s incident, so I had to continue along Jubilee Way before turning right at the traffic lights and heading along Oxford Hill. As a result I got caught in a long tail-back from the mini-roundabout; in fact the roundabout I would have had priority upon if I’d been able to travel via my planned route. There was so much traffic exiting upon the supposedly closed road that I was beginning to wonder if it was now open, as surely there couldn’t be that much ‘access only’ traffic ... but I will never know.
Like Wednesday, but unlike yesterday, the Burford Road was closed due to re-surfacing activities so I had to take a right-turn along the High Street, into Welch Way. This particular route, familiar from the day before last, took me out to mid-way along the A40 bypass. Later research tells me that there were three suitable opportunities to take a right-hand turn to return me to my intended route via Minster Lovell, but I continued along my recently discovered alternative route, following the road signage!
It actually took me until 09:30 to reach the roundabout at the top of Burford! That’s 50 minutes to travel approximately 11 miles. Evidently there are quicker routes than the one I tend to prefer, although slightly longer in distance! The remainder of my journey to Cheltenham went smoothly and I even had time to pop into Sainsburys on Priors Road to fill my petrol tank too, without feeling pressurised. There was a slight delay in Prestbury, because a coach driver had decided to pull up on double-yellow lines; he wasn’t even in the vehicle, as I saw him return to it!
Anyway, I parked up in the usual car park at 10:20. As I was fully-loaded, I backed into the space just in case the front wheels got stuck in the slightly ‘stickier’ area beside the grass bank. All week I’d been parked fairly close to the railway crossing, in the first two to four rows.
Having arrived at the north entrance slightly after opening-time, I didn’t have to stand around in a queue, waiting to go in. I headed to the ladies loo, bumping into EPDS Racing’s John Powell for a chat en route. I then headed down to the plaza area below the Parade Ring, where I sat on a bench for a while; I saw the currently sidelined Ian Popham, also Mattie Batchelor and even Alan King ... but no sign of Choc. It was just too difficult to find him, considering weight of numbers within the grounds; like searching for a needle in a haystack in fact. L
Having discovered on Wednesday the benefits of viewing from the upper ‘crescent’ of steppings overlooking the Winners’ Enclosure, I decided to set up my stall from this position again today. I’ve spent years at the course-side rails, and the previous Tuesday too, so it made a change to get a new perspective with my photographs. My initial choice having been prompted by the very cold easterly breeze and the worries about the underfoot going on the members’ lawn! Although exposed, the grandstands offer protection when standing on the upper steppings.
The first race of the day was the JCB Triumph Hurdle. The favourite was Apple’s Shakira, trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Barry Geraghty; price 6-5. However, she was out of luck and had to settle for 4th place.
One runner of interest for me, Redicean trained by Alan King and formerly owned by the Apple Tree Stud ... but he could manage only 6th place. Perhaps, if he comes out of this race okay, he might make an impression in the Grade 1 Anniversary Hurdle at Aintree; Alan’s horses are more suited by the Liverpool track these days.
The second race of the day was the County Hurdle. The event favourite was last year’s Fred Winter victor, Flying Tiger, trained by Nick Williams and ridden by Noel Fehily today; price 6-1.
Alan King had a runner in the race, William H Bonney ridden by Wayne Hutchinson.
The race was won by Mohaayed for Dan Skelton and future sister-in-law Bridget Andrews; brother Harry snogged the winning jockey having crossed the finishing line! Remiluc, who has been a model of consistency this term, finished as runner-up.
William H Bonney finished 12th. The race was marred by the death of the Willie Mullins-trained grey, Sandsend, who broke a leg approaching the final flight. The third fatality of the Festival.
The favourite for the Albert Bartlett race was Santini, trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Nico de Boinville; price 11-4.
I had a runner of interest in this race, Talkischeap trained by Alan King and ridden by Wayne Hutchinson.
The race was won by Kilbricken Storm, trained by Colin Tizzard and ridden by Harry Cobden; the jockey’s first Cheltenham Festival winner. The horse certainly wasn’t a ‘looker’ ... the trainer said his charge’s tail had fallen off shortly after he’d arrived at the yard and, as a result, the owner asked for a discount on the purchase price! But handsome is as handsome does as they say.
Talkischeap was pulled up soon after the last; the ground was dire and all chance of monetary reward had been lost by that stage.
It was now time for the feature race of the day … and the Festival, the Cheltenham Gold Cup. There was a pre-race parade ahead of the event.
The favourite was Might Bite trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Nico de Boinville; price 4-1.
My runner of interest was Native River, trained by Colin Tizzard and ridden by Richard Johnson; he’s been one of my favourites ever since I saw him run in a hurdle race at the track in January 2015!
And the race was won by ... Native River. Wooo whooo, the best result I can image ... for the Tizzards, the jockey and the horse too. It was the Champion Jockey’s second Gold Cup; his first being Looks Like Trouble in 2000, trained by his now father-in-law Noel Chance. Looks Like Trouble is still with us; in fact he’s one of the Johnson’s family pets, along with the more recently retired Menorah! Evidently it was only Richard’s 7th ride in the race!
The next race was the Foxhunter for Amateur Riders and today’s favourite was Burning Ambition, trained by P M Power and ridden by Mr Jamie Codd. I like Grand Vision, the beautiful almost white veteran, trained by Colin Tizzard; he loves to jump and race.
The race was won by last year’s victor, Pacha Du Polder, trained by Paul Nicholls and ridden by Miss Harriet Tucker; the rider was having only her second ride under rules. She also dislocated her shoulder on the run-in so was limited as to the amount of assistance she could offer with her whip; but she didn’t need it. When interviewed, she explained that it’s a fairly common occurrence with her shoulder and she can just pop it back in again!!!
The favourite for the next event was Flawless Escape, trained by Gordon Elliott and ridden by Jonathan Moore; price 13-2.
I had two runners of interest in this race, Coeur De Lion trained by Alan King and ridden by Kevin Dowling; also the mare Brillare Momento for trainer Martin Keighley and jockey Harry Stock.
The race was won by Blow By Blow, trained by Gordon Elliott and ridden by Donagh Meyler; a clean sweep for the Irish in this one. L
Anyway, the favourite for the final race of the Festival was North Hill Harvey, trained by Dan Skelton and ridden by brother Harry; price 7-1.
Alan King’s final chance of a 2018 Festival winner rested with the flashy chestnut Valdez, who had made his reappearance from injury at Newbury in February following over three years off the track.
It always seems to be a manic charge to gain the final triumph of the Festival each year and it was last year’s favourite, Le Prezien, trained by Paul Nicholls and ridden by Barry Geraghty who claimed this year’s race.
Valdez unseated at the third fence, he jinked to his right and lost Wayne in the process. Valdez always jumps to his right ... but his jockey was caught out on this occasion; in fact Valdez was the first horse past the post, but rider-less!
The race was marred by the death of three further horses – the favourite North Hill Harvey who fell three out, with jockey concussed; the Henry Oliver-trained Dresden who fell at the second and brought down Bouvreuil, plus the Henry de Bromhead-trained Some Plan who came down at the last. I think Valdez jumping across him distracted the latter, so it was very unfortunate.
The race is exciting and should remain as one of the events ... but not as the final race, because speed kills when coupled with the desperate urge to claim the final victory of that year’s Festival. Raya Star died as a result of a fall in this race, back in 2014.
RUK discussed this issue on 18 March; Lee Mottershead said he’d interviewed an unnamed jockey who said he rode in this event with dread; enough said.
For the second year running, the GB team were seriously outgunned in the Betbright Prestbury Cup ... although we got two more winners than last year; however, there was no Irish opposition in the Ultima on day one!!!
Gigginstown-owned horses won far too many races. It’s not good for the sport, in Ireland or at the Cheltenham Festival. Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins trained over half of the winners, with 8 and 7 winners respectively ... again detrimental to the sport as a whole. Fortunately owners JP McManus and Simon Munir/Isaac Souede help many trainers in the GB/Ireland and even in France, which is the right thing to do for the sport.
The GB trainers who shone were Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls and Colin Tizzard with two winners apiece; these three are our big guns at present. The other GB winning trainers were Tom George, who had a number of placed horses too, so much to celebrate for the future, Nick Williams, Mick Channon, Warren Greatrex and Dan Skelton.
The lady jockeys shone – with Lizzie Kelly, Katie Walsh, Bridget Andrews and amateur Harriet Tucker beating the boys.
And Ruby Walsh admitted that he continued to attend the Festival, despite being on the injury sidelines ... evidently a 4x4 was sent to collect him from his digs each day! He’s sponsored by RUK, so did he still appear as a pundit too?
Paul Townend was able to take advantage of Ruby’s mishap, and rode his first Cheltenham Festival Grade 1 winner – Penhill in the Stayers’ Hurdle.
Here are this year’s statistics:
With Ruby Walsh injured since early on day two, Davy Russell claimed his first Leading Jockey title this year.
This is fascinating ... James Willoughby’s statistical assessment of the state of British and Irish racing following this year’s Cheltenham Festival, using figures from the previous 12 months.
I headed to the ladies’ loo for a comfort break ahead of beginning my journey home to Hertfordshire.
I began my journey home at around 18:45; it took me until 19:15 to reach the gateway on Southam Lane due to queuing vehicles. I waited until the final opportunity to cross into the right-hand lane too; for London-bound traffic only. Fortunately the traffic lights were still in operation, and I had enough impetus to get up the two slopes – onto Old Road and Southam Road shortly afterwards too.
This year, there was no queuing traffic through Prestbury on any of the four days; or at least not when I’d driven through! I headed out via Harp Hill and Greenway Lane ... I wonder if authorities will ever be able to afford to resurface this route or many other roads for that matter! Although, having said that, the two traffic calming chicanes have been re-tarmaced quite recently. I left the Six Ways junction at 19:30.
My driving glasses, which I wear over the top of my vision glasses, seemed to help me a lot this year, even the intermittent rain didn’t faze me as it sometimes does after dark.
Having been staying near Witney for the duration of the Festival, I was hopeful that I’d be okay driving home on Friday night. However, this year, I still ‘hit the wall’ at Beaconsfield and spent a little too much time yawning – not recommended when driving on the M40 and M25. I did make fairly good time despite this, and arrived home at 21:35; although this was 20 minutes later than last year.
Tickets for the 2019 Cheltenham Festival went on sale on 19 March 2018; I wonder when the first ticket ‘price hike’ will take place; it was earlier than usual last year.
Next up is the Aintree Festival … and I’m looking forward to meeting up with my friend Sandra for the three days of fabulous racing on Merseyside. It’s far more relaxed than Cheltenham and, hopefully, the Irish-based trainers will be concentrating on the Punchestown Festival at the end of next month, rather than Aintree!
With the weather like it is ... it snowed again over the weekend of 17/18 March ... I’m wondering if the Lambourn Open Day will be able to take place on Good Friday; it was cancelled on one recent occasion because the car parks were unusable. Camel racing is scheduled for 2018 and I’d love to see that; also to see Altior, Terrefort and Jamie Snowden’s yard. Although there is a yard visit to Jamie’s scheduled for Easter Saturday, so I do have a contingency plan as I can park in the tarmac-surfaced cricket ground car park for that. Pride of Pemberley is currently resting, away from the yard, but it’s always a pleasure to see Jamie!!!
Having snowed two weeks previously, the yard visit to Graeme McPherson’s had been postponed until Saturday 17 March. I could have stayed over but, in hindsight, was glad I got home before the bad weather arrived!
Also, does watching one’s favourite sport have a slight painkilling effect? I experienced barely an ache from my pelvis all Festival ... just a few nerve-type twinges on Tuesday, but that’s all. And that’s despite standing for hours on end and walking a little faster than I ought on occasion too. However, since arriving home and sitting at my laptop whilst updating my blogs, the dull nauseous ache has returned. L
As I write, I don’t currently have a copy of Wednesday’s racing action, because the Skybox failed to record, but I’m hopeful that will be remedied by RUK on Good Friday! There’s full coverage of Tuesday and Thursday, and highlights for Friday which I recorded very late evening when I got home; Friday’s auto-record had failed too.
In view of my pelvis pain issues, which seem to be aggravated by sitting at my laptop for long spells, I’m considering the option this year not to write full race notes ... for any of the races won by the Irish horses ... so that will leave 11 to do, instead of 28! Logically it makes sense and rules out disappointments!
So that’s four on Monday – the Supreme, the Ultima, the Champion and the Novices’ Handicap Chase. I was gutted for the cute Jeremiah McGrath in the latter, having lost out to Brian Hughes; just like at Aintree last year. Although on the plus side, it was good to see Mick Channon claim a Festival winner; if you’ve read Mick junior’s book you’ll know Mick senior is crazy!!!
Just one race to write about on Wednesday, the superstar Altior in the Champion Chase. And one on Thursday, the Warren Greatrex-trained Missed Approach who saved GB from a white-wash, as had Altior the previous day.
And a massive five on Friday, which is all bar the Triumph and the Conditionals’ race. Mind you, the decision to reduce the total number of races described would overlook the excellent efforts of Ms Parfois and Splash Of Ginge ... and the lovely Terrefort too.