CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL 2016

 

Tuesday 15 March to Friday 18 March

 

 

Tuesday 15 March 2016 – Day 1

 

Picture of the Day

 

Altior for blog.jpg

 

Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1):

I’ve chosen today’s picture because it shows Altior beating Min ...

and because, finally, Ruby didn’t win the first race of the Festival!

 

 

 

Tuesday began well, I left home at 06:24, the journey was good, and I arrived at the racecourse just after 09:00. In fact I then did more than a circuit of the roads around the racecourse, before deciding to park in the northern car park as suggested by Cheltenham as part of their new parking system.  The good thing about this was that I was able to park on hard standing as opposed to grass; I would find out about the bad side of this decision at the end of the day!

 

Anyway, I didn’t have to wait long before I saw Choc ... in fact I bumped into him on the concourse as I was heading to the ladies loo shortly after I’d entered the grounds.  I’d passed by BetBright Chairman and horse owner Rich Ricci a short distance before; he was posing for a selfie with racing fans!  Then, as I walked up the slope towards the back of the main stand, who should I see but Hector and Choc; indeed my favourite jockey spotted me at the same time as I spotted him!  I greeted him with a kiss on both cheeks, and he confirmed that he’d be at the Festival every day, carrying out his role at the GB Team Captain for the BetBright Cup.  I then continued on my way, as I was pretty desperate to spend a penny.

 

Now, on to the racing:

 

Race 1: Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) – 14 ran

The race was won by Altior, trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Nico de Boinville; Nicky also trained the 3rd-placed Buveur D’Air.  Having seen the horse win impressively at Kempton Park on Boxing Day, I would have opposed the favourite with a bet on this horse, had I been a gambler.   A winner for the GB Team.

 

Alan King’s representative, William H Bonney, finished 10th. 

 

Race 2: Arkle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1) – 7 ran

No surprise that the Willie Mullins-trained, Ruby Walsh-ridden, Douvan took the prize; the Ricci’s first win of this year’s Festival.  Our best challenger, Vaniteux, blundered and unseated two out.  Baltimore Rock fell two out also.  This left the Irish to claim 1st, 2nd and 4th, with Fox Norton 3rd and Aso 5th and last.  A winner for the Ireland Team.

 

Race 3: Ultima Handicap Chase – 23 ran

Un Temps Pour Tout won for trainer David Pipe and jockey Tom Scudamore.  Holywell, continuing his excellent Cheltenham record, having won the Pertemps Handicap Hurdle in 2013, this race in 2014, and finishing 4th in last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup, finished as runner-up today; but he was equal top weight.  A winner for the GB Team.

 

Race 4: Champion Hurdle (Grade 1) – 12 ran

As a late entry for the Ricci’s and Willie Mullins team, and due to the absence of the reigning champion Faugheen due to injury for the same owner, the very talented mare Annie Power took her chance and beat the boys.  Typical.  Thus Ruby Walsh had already ridden his second winner of the Festival ... nothing changes, sadly.  My Tent Or Yours returned from injury with credit (his last race was 703 days ago) to claim 2nd, with Nicholls Canyon 3rd and The New One 4th.  A win for the Ireland Team. 

 

Race 5: OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (Grade 1) – 19 ran

With Annie Power taking her chance in the Champion Hurdle, this left Vroum Vroum Mag – yet another Ricci/Mullins representative – to take this race in style; an Irish 1-2-3 in fact.  Ruby’s third winner of the day. A win for the Ireland Team.  One of my favourites, Bitofapuzzle, finished 17th.

 

Race 6: National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup (Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Chase) (Listed) – 20 ran

The race was won by Minella Rocco, trained by Jonjo O’Neill, ridden by Mr Derek O’Connor and owned by JP McManus.  A win for the GB Team, despite the Irish connections!  The horse took time to warm to his task today, but he had shown improved form and promise when finishing 2nd in a Grade 2 at Ascot 24-days ago.   

 

However, there was much carnage during the race, with many failing to complete.  There was a scary few minutes when Johnny Og, having fallen at the second last when tired, failed to rise and the green screens were erected as a result.  As I was standing just above the half furlong post and watching the finish of the race, I didn’t initially realise it was him, until I noticed Martin Keighley heading down the racecourse to his stricken charge.  Fortunately, Johnny Og was only winded and a few minutes’ later connections were able to lead him back up the racecourse to the stables, unscathed.  

 

Race 7: Novices’ Handicap Chase (Listed) – 20 ran

The final race of the day was won by one of the top weights, Ballyalton, ridden by Brian Hughes.  It was the first Cheltenham Festival winner for trainer Ian Williams, which is surprising.  But I like to see trainers and jockeys having their first winner at such a prestigious event ... as that is what this game is all about!  A win for the GB Team.

 

The scores on the BetBright Cup doors at the end of Day 1 were now GB 4 : Ireland 3

 

It had been a very bad day for equine fatalities, but more about that at the end of this Cheltenham blog.

 

As I was leaving, having just popped to the loo, I passed AP McCoy on the concourse as he walked in the opposite direction.  He knew that I’d ‘clocked him’ as well!    

 

However, I can barely bring myself to speak with regards to exiting the northern car park on this day.  With a 40-minute break between each race at this Festival (5 minutes longer than previously?), the final race each day was not run until 17:30; inevitably this made for a later departure time.  It was a pleasant walk back to my car, but then everything turned ‘nasty’. 

 

I ate a couple of cheese rolls and then waited for the gridlocked traffic to clear ... although, initially, I was stuck where I was because a stationary car was waiting to exit just behind mine.  Finally the way was clear, but no-one appeared to be going anywhere.  It didn’t help that two lines of traffic were heading out via the enclosure next door, including horseboxes, and they were taking advantage of their priority over those in the public parking area.  It didn’t even help much when an intervening gate was opened further up the drive to let traffic in my own area integrate with those on the other side.

 

Thus it was stop start stop start stop start for what felt like hundreds of times, before I reached the exit onto Southam Lane; during my journey along the drive, further vehicles on a track to the left were joining my lane too, thus pushing us even further back. Great. I was hoping I’d be able to turn right at the end of the drive, but no, cones forced me to turn left, which meant I was then heading to the Evesham Road.  I knew the road was due to be closed southbound for certain periods during the day ... but I was sure it would now be open, because it was already gone 19:30! 

 

Initially it seemed okay but, a little further along, stewards were forcing vehicles to drive through a bumpy, gravelly, enclosure – it was a pick-up point.  Excellent, NOT.  But the good news is that eventually I was permitted to rejoin the Evesham Road and I headed down towards the town centre, turning left along Wellington Road (signed as the suggested route to the ‘General Hospital’) and thus I’d soon joined my usual route via Pittville Circus, Hewlett Road, Harp Hill and Greenway Lane – very familiar territory.  It was 20:00 by the time I finally escaped from the town to begin my journey along the A40; not what I wanted with three further days to attend. 

 

However, I did have a concern about my headlights, they didn’t seem to be working properly; although I could see they were on.  Normally I’d be able to travel at 60mph along the A40, with dipped headlights; today I was lucky to manage 50mph at any stage!  Was it me or was it the car?  Who knows?  It had been serviced and passed an MOT in mid-February, so there shouldn’t have been any problems.    

  

Anyway, my journey took me back to Oxford, then onto the M40, followed by the M25 and home.  But, having expected to get home between 20:30 and 21:00 as during previous years, I actually arrived back at 22:15; that was after the local petrol station had closed too so, whatever I decided to do, I would need to fill up the tank before beginning my journey the following day.

 

I was now on the horns of a dilemma.  Did I go to Cheltenham and worry about any headlight issues at home time on Wednesday, or did I go to the car dealership service office and ask them to take a look at my car?  I’d already decided that I had to attend on Day 2, because both Ardamir (Dunkley & Reilly Partnership) and Any Currency (Martin Keighley) were running.  However, I was totally wound-up by this stage and didn't get to bed until 00:30; I also experienced only 2½ hours sleep for the same reason. 

So, the highlight of Day 1 was unexpectedly bumping into Choc on concourse, and my lowlight was the nightmare journey home!

 

Wednesday 16 March 2016 – Day 2

 

Picture of the Day

 

Any Currency wins.jpg

 

The Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase:

I’ve chosen today’s picture because 13-year-old Any Currency

won this race at the third attempt, following two excellent runner-up finishes,

and because it’s the Keighley’s first Cheltenham Festival winner too

 

 

 

With the problems I encountered on Tuesday, I missed my usual departure time in order to visit my local car servicer; although I did fill up the petrol tank on an earlier trip to the local supermarket forecourt.  The servicer opened at 07:30 and I was the first to arrive, explaining that I thought I had a problem with my headlights; upon examination, they found nothing untoward.  What is that about?

 

Anyway, that left me free to depart for Cheltenham at 07:55.  But, of course, it was the start of the rush-hour by this time and it seemed an age for me to even travel through St Albans!  Hemel Hempstead was okay, but Aylesbury was an absolute nightmare – there was a tailback onto the last 200 metres of the A41 bypass, then all the way to the beginning of the ring-road.  But I guess it is swings and roundabouts, because there were no issues at the A41’s junction with the M40, and none at the Peartree interchange or Wolvercote roundabout. In fact I parked up at Cheltenham at 10:50; in the western car park today, the furthest one, with an exit point onto Swindon Lane.  It had taken me almost three hours; now I know why I always depart from home before 06:30 during Cheltenham Festival week! 

 

There was no sign of Choc before racing today.

 

Now, on to the racing:

 

Race 1: Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) – 11 ran

The Alan King-trained Yanworth was the hot favourite for this race but, sadly, he could not match the effort of the Willie Mullins-trained Yorkhill, ridden by Ruby Walsh; besides, the JP McManus runner had made a bad error three out.  Ruby’s 4th winner of this Festival.  A winner for the Ireland Team ... but he is owned by the Wylies!

 

Race 2: RSA Chase (Grade 1) – 8 ran

A winner for Nigel Twiston-Davies, when the small but very feisty Blaklion out-battled his rivals to claim the prize; he was ridden by Ryan Hatch.  A winner for the GB Team.  The fancied More Of That bled from both nostrils and could only manage 3rd place; No More Heroes suffered a serious overreach injury.

 

Race 3: The Coral Cup – Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) – 26 ran

The race was won by the Gordon Elliott-trained Diamond King, ridden by Davy Russell; the jockey’s 16th all time Festival winner. 

 

Although now Irish-trained, Diamond King has shown much improved form since being transferred from Donald McCain to Gordon Elliott by the owners, the Whateley’s – “he needed a change of scenery” said Mr Whateley, although he added that “you always have to be loyal to your trainers”. Umm.  However, they pay the bills, so have to do what they think is best for their horse. 

 

I confess that Diamond King was the pick of the paddock, and I could have put a bet on him ... if he’d been GB-trained!  A winner for the Ireland Team.

 

Race 4: Queen Mother Champion Chase (Grade 1) – 10 ran

Sprinter Sacre returned to the scene of his greatest triumphs, by regaining the Champion Chaser title which he’d first won in 2013.  An amazing comeback considering the heart problems the horse has experienced in the interim.

 

I had only watched the first two races from beside the course-side rails, due to the very chill wind, so was standing on the steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure when he and jockey Nico de Boinville arrived back.  Moments like this are what the Cheltenham Festival is all about, and you have to congratulate Nicky Henderson and his team, and the vets involved, for bringing him back from the brink.  And that’s me speaking as someone who has preferred lesser horses when Sprinter Sacre was at the peak of his abilities ... solely because I just cannot help loving the underdog which, previously, was not this big bold horse. 

 

I’m not sure what happened with the race hotpot, Un De Sceaux; he was nothing on looks, although many of Willie Mullins’ horses look deceptively ‘agricultural’ if they’ve been given a trace clip!  In fact, he only just held off the renewed challenge of long-time leader Special Tiara.   

 

Race 5: Cross Country Chase – 16 ran

It was third time lucky for Any Currency in the Festival Cross Country race, having finished as runner-up for the past two years.  Conditions also favoured him today, as it was a conditions race, all runners carrying 11 stone 4 lbs, as opposed to the handicap of previous years.  It was also jockey Aidan Coleman’s 2nd ever Cheltenham Festival winner; his first being Kayf Aramis in 2009, when he won the Pertemps Handicap Hurdle.

 

Following his disappointing run in the last Cross Country race, today the horse wore no hood, just cheek-pieces; also earplugs solely to keep him calm, but these were removed before the start of the race.  A winner for the GB Team.   

 

Last year and this, I’ve remained on the steppings above the Parade Ring, instead of getting trapped in the centre of the racecourse, hoping for Any Currency to win.  So, today, I was also rewarded for my foresight. 

 

Fortunately Balthazar King was okay, having unseated Richard Johnson at the second of the cheese-wedges; he also severely hampered the runner-up Josies Orders as a result ... tough luck for the Irish!  Why has the Philip Hobbs-trained runner not been retired following the horrific injury he sustained in last season’s Grand National, for he owes nothing to anyone?  But I guess that same thing could have been said of Sprinter Sacre, initially. 

 

I did, however, flit across to the Pre-Parade Ring, between Any Currency arriving back and the trophies being presented, hoping to catch a glimpse of Choc.  And I was thus rewarded with a sight of my main man too. J

 

Race 6: Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) – 22 ran

This race was won by Diego Du Charmil, trained by Paul Nicholls and ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies; the French-bred horse was making his British debut today. However, he was also the race favourite; although, would the result have been different if both Ruby Walsh’s and Barry Geraghty’s mounts had stood up at last?  But, jumping is the name of the game, so it was a winner for the GB Team!  Paul Nicholls also trained the runner-up. 

 

Alan King had three runners in this race; disappointingly Ardamir was pulled up, as was Paddys Runner, with Messire Des Obeaux finishing in 7th position. 

 

Race 7: Champion Bumper (Standard Open NH Flat Race) (Grade 1) – 23 ran

The race was won by Ballyandy, a second winner on the day for local trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies and, on this occasion, ridden by son Sam Twiston-Davies.  It was no surprise that Willie Mullins’ runners filled 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 7th, 8th, 12th, and 15th ... but we won; a winner for the GB Team.

 

Alan King had a runner in this race, Criq Rock, and he finished 14th.  

At the end of Day 2, the BetBright Cup score was GB 9 : Ireland 5

 

I still wasn’t convinced my headlights were working okay, so I left before the final race (the bumper) and decided to park up in Pittville Circus Road before calling the RAC.  He, Ben, arrived in good time and also couldn’t find anything wrong, or at least not with the headlights, but he did suggest switching them on ‘auto’ rather than the ‘manual’ which I always use. 

 

However, when giving the car the once over, he found that the engine coolant was below the minimum level ... what is that all about?  Did my servicer forget to check and fill it during the service or had I got a leak?  The service cost me over £800 and included the fixing of some sort of a ‘leak’.  I’m not happy.  Anyway Ben filled the coolant container, at a cost of £5, and I continued to check it for the remainder of the week, just in case it was a leak ... but it seems okay.  I’ve since checked the service record they gave me – and the tick box shows they checked it.  Umm.    

 

Anyway, I still wasn’t particularly happy with the headlights, although they were definitely working.  So it was another slow journey and, by the time I'd reached Oxford I was on the verge of dozing off to sleep at the wheel. Although probably not sensible, I continued until Beaconsfield on the M40, at which point I stopped off at the services for 25 minutes. It helped a little, but not a lot.

 

Having finally reached home, at around 21:50, I decided Thursday was a non-runner.  I love having the opportunity to see Choc but, if I kill myself on the road due to tiredness, missing one opportunity is just a small price to pay for hopefully many future opportunities. 

 

So, the highlight of Day 2 is in fact 3 highlights. 

 

Firstly, Sprinter Sacre returning to win the Champion Chase after 3 years, having overcome heart problems. 

 

Secondly, Any Currency claiming victory in the Cross Country Chase; giving the Keighley’s a very well deserved first ever Cheltenham Festival winner. 

 

And, finally, seeing Choc again ... this time in his role as Racing Manager for the Dunkley and Reilly Partnership and their horse Ardamir.

 

Again, my lowlight was the nightmare journey home!

 

Thursday 17 March 2016 – Day 3

 

Picture of the Day

 

Choc and Hector.jpg

 

What can I say?

I wasn’t there ... but I do have this photograph of Choc and Hector

being interview on RUK by Alex Steedman!

 

 

As you may have already guessed, I didn’t make it to Cheltenham today, despite having pre-bought a ticket.  I felt like a zombie by the time I arrived home on Wednesday night, so made the decision to miss today, hoping to recoup a little bit of energy for Gold Cup Day.

 

I watched the action on Racing UK, from 09:30 until the live broadcast ended at 18:30.  I saw Choc and Hector too (above).  Having been frozen on Wednesday, due to the fierce breeze, I even knitted another hat – to my own design, using ideas from a pattern I’d already got – and I wore it on Friday. 

 

I even booked three nights’ hotel accommodation, near Witney, for 2017’s Festival.  It’s difficult to find cheap and cheerful rooms available in the Gloucestershire area during the Festival but, at least, I know my way to Witney in the dark without a satnav!  Besides, that’s usually where the exhaustion sets in, just west of Oxford.  I’ve finally surrendered to the fact that I’m too old to drive 800 miles in 4 days.   

 

I also checked my car's manual and reset the level of dip on the headlights - it was on 4 and should have been 0 according to load!

 

Despite my state of tiredness, at 08:00 I popped down to the local supermarket to purchase a copy of the Racing Post.

 

Anyway, on to the racing ...

 

Race 1: JLT Novices’ Chase (Grade 1) – 9 ran

The race was won by the Willie Mullins-trained Black Hercules, ridden by Ruby Walsh, and owned by the Wylie’s.  Bristol De Mai finished 2nd and L’Ami Serge 3rd.  The BetBright Cup score was now GB 9 : Ireland 6

 

There was an incident at the start, when Davy Russell was unseated from Zabana, the horse having turned sideways at the wrong moment from a standing start.  But, had the jockeys not been too keen when attempting the initial ‘rolling’ start, then it would not have happened; I have no sympathy.  

 

Notably, Black Hercules was Ruby Walsh’s 50th ... yes, 50th Cheltenham Festival winner. 

 

Race 2: Pertemps Network Final (Listed Handicap Hurdle) – 24 ran

Another win for the Irish, when the Patrick G Kelly trained Mall Dini won the race under Davy Russell. 

GB 9 : Ireland 7.

 

Race 3: Ryanair Chase (Grade 1) – 15 ran

Having garnered a big field due to connections believing it would be a wide-open event this year, everyone was surprised and many very annoyed to discover that Vautour had been declared to run in this race instead of the Gold Cup.  Umm.  The excuse was that the horse had not been himself since running in the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day and it had been touch and go as to whether he’d even run at the Festival at all.

 

However, Vautour ran and he won; yet another winner for Willie Mullins, Ruby Walsh and the Ricci’s.  

GB 9 : Ireland 8.

 

Annacotty represented Alan King; he completed in 11th place.

 

Race 4: World Hurdle (Grade 1) – 12 ran

Finally GB had something to cheer about, when Thistlecrack won the race very impressively; the winning trainer was Colin Tizzard, the jockey Tom Scudamore.  He beat Irish runner Alpha Des Obeaux, with Bobs Worth in 3rd place!  Last year’s winner, Cole Harden, finished 4th.  GB 10: Ireland 8

 

Race 5: Plate (Handicap Chase) – 22 ran

Another win for the Irish, with Empire Of Dirt (what sort of name is that for a horse?) triumphed for trainer Colm Murphy, jockey Bryan Cooper and owner Gigginstown Stud (in order words, the O’Leary’s). GB 10: Ireland 9

 

Race 6: Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 2) – 16 ran

This event was new this year.  And it was the fifth Irish winner of the day, with Limini winning for Willie Mullins, Ruby Walsh and the Ricci’s.  Boring ...

 

The best of the GB runners was Dusky Legend for Alan King and Wayne Hutchinson who finished as runner-up.  Alan also ran Awesome Rosie, but she completed in 15th.

 

GB 10 : Ireland 10

 

Race 7: Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup (Amateur Riders) – 22 ran

The race was won by Cause Of Causes, ridden by Mr Jamie Codd and trained by Gordon Elliott.  The JP McManus-owned horse had won the National Hunt Chase at last year’s Festival, also ridden by Jamie.   

 

As a non-punter I’m a partisan as regards to GB runners winning.  However, I don’t mind if JP wins, as he provides livelihoods for many in both the UK and Ireland.  

 

At the end of Day 3, the score in the BetBright Cup was GB 10 : Ireland 11. L Oh dear.  I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised though, for it was St Patrick’s Day!

 

The highlight of Day 3 was Thistlecrack’s win for the Tizzards in the World Hurdle.

 

Two lowlights.  Firstly the fact that I was too exhausted to attend today and, secondly, the fact that Irish-trained horses won 6 of the 7 races; Thistlecrack being the sole GB winner. 

 

Friday 18 March 2016 – Day 4

 

Picture of the Day

 

Don Cossack Gold Cup winner.jpg

 

Cheltenham Gold Cup (Grade 1):

The winner, Don Cossack trained by Gordon Elliott

and ridden by Bryan Cooper

 

 

 

I left home at 06:20, stopping off to fill my car’s petrol tank en route. There was definitely dampness in the air, as I had to keep my windscreen wipers on the intermittent option.  There were no unexpected delays; two cars had suffered a minor prang on the road out of Aylesbury, there was no delay at the M40 junction, and cars were moving freely around the Peartree Interchange too.  There was fog from the far end of the Witney bypass all the way to Cheltenham and, despite the fact I parked in the northern car park again (a glutton for punishment), I couldn’t see Cleeve Hill because of it.  I arrived shortly after 09:00.      

 

Whilst I was waiting outside the North Entrance for the gates to open, I saw Choc, Hector and the BetBright entourage walk past within the grounds.  I also saw him on the Weighing terrace late morning but, having been interviewed by a member of the Gloucestershire Echo press team, he’d then disappeared when I wasn’t looking!  But he did reappear some time later on, only to check out of my vision once more as he headed in the direction of the Guinness Village, accompanied by a male companion (not Hector)! 

 

I met up with fellow Choc fan Sally Meek for a chat; it’s always good to see someone I know, especially when we can talk about Choc to our hearts’ content.  She was accompanied by her husband again this year.  We said our farewells prior to the start of racing, saying that we’d probably meet up again when the BetBright Cup was presented at some point during the afternoon.  

 

Anyway, on to today’s racing ...

 

Race 1: JCB Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1 for Juveniles) – 15 ran

This race was won by Ivanovich Gorbatov, trained by Joseph O’Brien in all but name (he’s not finished his trainer courses yet, so father Aidan is listed as the trainer), ridden by Barry Geraghty and owned by JP McManus.  It was now Team GB 10 : Team Ireland 12 in the BetBright Cup.

 

Alan King had three runners in this race and, on the face of it, they should have all had claims.  However, Who Dares Wins finished 14th, Sceau Royal 12th and Gibralfaro 9th. 

 

Prior to the race commencing, I spotted Choc and Alan King’s Assistant Ollie Wardle standing out on the racecourse; they were preparing to view the action close-up.  Sally also spotted him, at closer quarters, so that made her day. 

 

Race 2: Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) – 26 ran

The result of this race provided a first for both the trainer and the jockey.  Superb Story won, for trainer Dan Skelton and jockey Harry Skelton; a family affair.  A victory for Team GB, the score now GB 11 : Ireland 12.

 

Alan King’s Montbazon had got into the race at the bottom of the handicap but unseated Wayne Hutchinson at the second flight.  Wayne took a pasting too and was still down, with green screens erected, as the horses headed up the home straight to the winning line.  He did, however, walk back to the Weighing Room unaided, although he did look a little sore.

 

Race 3: Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) – 19 ran

Another first time Cheltenham Festival winner, this time for trainer Harry Fry, with Unowhatimeanharry; although he had played a major part in Rock On Ruby’s Champion Hurdle victory when he was working for Paul Nicholls.  This was a third Festival success for jockey Noel Fehily.  The BetBright Cup score was now GB12 : Ireland 12. 

 

Barters Hill finished a creditable 4th and will revert to 2½ miles before beginning a chase career next season.

 

Race 4: Cheltenham Gold Cup (Grade 1) – 9 ran

The race was won by Don Cossack, trained by Gordon Elliott and ridden by Bryan Cooper. He is a beautiful horse, I've always thought him striking ... it's just a shame he's owned by that ghastly Michael O'Leary!  Team Ireland had gained another victory and the score now stood at GB 12 : Ireland 13.

 

It was a shame Cue Card fell three out, as we will never know if he could have won; a reversal of the Don Cossack situation at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.  But, of course, it was a great relief that the Colin Tizzard runner appeared to be fine.  It is reported that he will now head to Aintree, presumably for the Bowl.

 

Alan King’s runner, Smad Place, finished 6th and won £6,440 for his troubles.

 

Race 5: Foxhunter Steeplechase Challenge Cup – 24 ran

There was no surprise that the focus was firmly on Victoria Pendleton, rather than upon On The Fringe’s attempt to win the race for the second year running, both times ridden by Nina Carberry.  In the event, On The Fringe won again, for trainer Enda Bolger and owner JP McManus.  However, in order to claim the prize, Nina overused her whip and received a 7-day whip ban as a result.  The win also meant Ireland had reached a total of 14 winners, so GB had to win the final two races to force a draw.

 

Amazingly, Victoria actually stayed on board, hunting around at the back and staying on the finish 5th!  Good old Pacha Du Polder!  But it was rather ‘off’ that it was permitted for her to return via the Winners’ Enclosure when they had finished outside the first four, thus turning it into a media circus ... but what else should we have expected?  And was Victoria really was paid £200,000 by Betfair for her efforts since taking up the challenge?  No wonder she doesn’t need to get a proper job!

 

Race 6: Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Hurdle – 24 ran

Team GB pulled back another winner, with Ibis Du Rheu winning for Paul Nicholls, owner John Hales and conditional jockey Jack Sherwood (son of Simon and nephew of Oliver).  The score now stood at Team GB 13 : Team Ireland 14. 

 

Alan King’s runner, Label Des Obeaux, finished 12th. As his final runner of the Festival, this meant that Alan King had failed to get his name on the winners’ roster this Festival.

 

Race 7: Grand Annual Chase Challenge Cup (Grade 3) – 24 ran

With all to play for, Paul Nicholls came to the rescue once again, training Solar Impulse to win the final race of the Festival.  It was the trainer’s third winner this Festival, and jockey Sam Twiston-Davies’ third winner too.  Another winner for the Wylies too, but this time GB trained. 

 

Paul admitted to a last minute decision to apply first-time blinkers to his charge, hoping to gain an improvement from Solar Impulse which had disappointed twice on heavy ground this season. 

 

So, with all races having been run, the BetBright Cup was a 14-all draw!  Or, as I prefer to think of it, we retained it because, as the holders, the Irish needed 15 winners to wrestle it away from us (like the Ryder Cup). I saw the cup being presented - and videoed it on my camera too - the light is so poor and difficult to photograph at the end of each day. I also tracked Choc down, a few minutes later, to say hello.  I asked if he would be at Aintree ... and sadly for us (Sandra and I) he won't be there this year, but he will be going skiing with William instead (school holidays), so I can be happy for him about that. 

 

Sally confirmed that she’d also stayed for the BetBright Cup presentation at the end of the day.  

Surprisingly, I didn’t get trapped in a queue to exit the car park; in fact I began my journey earlier than usual, at 18:50.  I was able to select my route out of Cheltenham, so turned right at the exit to head through Southam and then Prestbury.  I then turned left into Priors Road, although I did encounter a traffic jam where Bouncers Lane leads off to the left.  I probably should have continued down Prestbury Road, to travel via Pittville Circus as usual and avoid this congestion.  But relief was at hand because soon I was able to drive up Harp Hill, instead of continuing in the traffic queue which stretched along Hales Road! 

 

However, there was a longer queue than usual at the far end of Greenway Lane, tailing back from the Sixways Junction.  And at least one coach was in the queue ... how on earth do coach and lorry drivers manage to negotiate Harp Hill and the lanes, including two traffic calming chicanes, to reach this point.  No wonder the road surface has seen far better days; there should be a weight limit for vehicles here.  In future I might consider Mill Lane too, if that is a throughway, because it would avoid having to wait at the Sixways junction. 

 

But, regardless, I was soon on my way back to Oxford, with the headlights providing the vision I’d usually expect, finally!  And, at some point, I also put on my night vision glasses to help with the excessive glare from oncoming traffic.  However, by the time I’d reached the far end of the Witney bypass, exhaustion had set in once more.  If I’d been feeling up to it, I would have continued to the M40, then M25 and home.  But, hoping to keep myself awake, I headed up the A34 to Bicester instead, thus retracing my outward journey, via Aylesbury and Hemel Hempstead.  I arrived home at 21:40.

 

Ridiculous as it may seem, I then stayed up until 01:30 in the morning!  What’s that about?  However, I had been hoping to sleep in late, and would have done had I not been woken by a sales or scam call at 08:30.  So thanks a lot whoever you were.       

 

The highlight of Day 4 was seeing and speaking with Choc of course!  J   Was there any racing???

 

I think the lowlight has to be, for the third time running, the journey home ...

Festival Round-Up 2016

I can only presume that I had a punishing schedule on my run up to this year’s Cheltenham Festival.  I’m only a year older, but it felt like at least 10!  I’ve been unable to replenish my energy for a number of weeks, so I guess it should have come as no surprise that I couldn’t make it to Gloucestershire on one of the four days.  In fact it’s a minor miracle that I made it on three!!!

 

I'm a partisan as regards to who wins the big races, but I guess that's because I'm not a punter.  You cannot afford to be if you bet!  I don't mind JP McManus-owned horses winning, although I do prefer them to be British trained.  He's got many horses, spread throughout the UK and Ireland, so is providing livelihoods to many.  And he's not so dominant that he ruins the sport.  The same cannot be said of Rich Ricci; although he is paying Choc's bills by employing him as the BetBright GB Team Captain!  Also, there were Irish winners which were British-owned - by the Wylie’s and the Whateley’s! The Whateleys' Diamond King was the pick of the paddock for the Coral Cup but I couldn't have bet on an Irish horse on principal - my principals prove costly! 

It was a big shame that Alan King didn't get a winner this year - his horses peaked too early this winter; I'd noticed the form had dropped off in recent weeks.  But at least they all came home safe and sound.  It's unusual for him to have winter-ground horses, on past record. But perhaps he'll do better at Aintree, he usually does. 

I guess there were three racing highlights this week - Sprinter Sacre - that was amazing, after the problems the horse has had; he made Un De Sceaux look second rate on the day.  Thistlecrack galloping away with the World Hurdle and living up to all the hype for the Tizzards.  Plus, of course, the Keighley's claiming their first Cheltenham Festival winner with the wonderful character that is Any Currency!  Personal highlights were seeing Choc many times!  And speaking with him twice, plus those double kisses on his cheeks of course!     
  
I’ve had a number of issues with my recordings again; this time with the automatic delete option – so have lost recordings here and there.  I began playing a number to check they were okay ... only for the HD box to decide these should be the first ones to go when I was running short of space – I thought I had around 48 hours available, so I really don’t know why there was insufficient room. I know they are moved into a special delete box first but, when I selected items to view in order to see what to restore, it deleted them permanently instead.

 

Having ‘delete’ as the default option is less than useless ... it should give one the option to ‘view’ as the default, then ‘restore’, and finally ‘delete’, otherwise any mistake means the recording is gone, forever, before you know what’s happening. Evidently I had to restore them, before pressing the select to find out exactly what they were, as the description banner is never specific enough to know without viewing.   

 

Anyway, I’ve got the highlights from Day 1 and 3, also the entire programme from Day 2 – which I need to edit, as it also contains Bangor’s coverage. I had to delete the full programme from Day 3 in order to free up space for Friday ... I shouldn’t have bothered because all of Friday’s failed, due to what appeared to be lack of space – what’s that about?  I recorded Day 4’s highlights manually when I arrived home, hence the very late bedtime.  The option to delete items manually has now been selected, removing the HD box’s choice to intervene – I’d rather it be my mistake, than the box possibly making very annoying decisions on my behalf.  

 

Fatalities

Sadly there were a total of 7 fatalities during the 4-day Festival.  This is totally unacceptable, even to me as a lifelong National Hunt fan, and there is to be an official enquiry. 

 

Day 1: Three deaths

 

7-year-old The Govaness died when she fell at the last flight during the Mares’ Hurdle; she was trained by Dr Richard Newland and would have made a lovely broodmare one day, her owner was her breeder. Before the screens were raised, I have a recollection that she raised her head off the ground briefly before she died; one of her forelegs could be seen swinging without life – awful.

 

Willie Mullins lost 8-year-old Pont Alexandre during the long-distance National Hunt Novices’ Chase for Amateur Riders. His son Patrick was riding, but the horse broke a hind-leg on the flat. Pont Alexandre had been injury plagued, and only returned from a long absence back in November; he was Ricci-owned.  

 

Finally, 5-year-old Rezorbi appeared to die instantly, from a broken neck, when falling two out in the final race of the day, the Novices’ Handicap Chase.  An expensive loss, as purchased for 140k euros from France last November; trained by Jonjo O’Neill.  The horse had fallen on his previous run, also at Cheltenham.

 

Day 2: One death

 

There appeared to be no fatalities this day, but it later transpired that the very promising Gigginstown horse, 7-year-old No More Heroes, had to be put to sleep having struck into a tendon, badly, during the RSA Chase.  Trained by Gordon Elliott.

 

Day 3: One death

 

The fifth fatality of the Festival was 10-year-old Niceonefrankie, trained by Venetia Williams, who lost his life as a result of a fall during The Plate, a handicap chase.  It was horrible; not only did he fall, but he was then trampled by at least one of the runners behind him.  Did the fall result in the fatal injuries or the fact he was kicked by other horses whilst down? 

 

Day 4: Two deaths


Two further fatalities today.  Firstly 6-year-old Long Dog, another loss for the Ricci’s and for Willie Mullins, the horse broke a leg on the flat during the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. Jonjo O’Neill also lost a second horse, 6-year-old Montdragon; the JP McManus-owned horse died having been pulled up during the Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle for Conditional Jockeys. 

 

What about the ground conditions?  The Old Course was ‘good to soft’ on Tuesday; ‘good’ on Wednesday.  The New Course ‘good’ on both days.  Not unusual for the Festival, but better ground than encountered for a number of months – the ability to ‘speed’ kills, in all walks of life. Added together with the adrenalin rush of the occasion for those taking part. 

 

Also, there seems to be a problem with the second last fence on the old course – the one which was relocated due to the number of issues it used to cause.  Is it too close to the home turn?  Could they move both this fence, and the last, further up the home straight and nearer to the line – do they have enough room available before the uphill stretch of the circuit begins?  And would it allow enough space to bypass a hurdle or fence if required?  Maybe they just have to get rid of the fence all together – it is still temporary in nature and is removed when the new course is in use.        

 

 

 

League Tables:

 

Trainers’ League Table

 

Jockeys’ League Table

 

 


 

 

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