DIARY – CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL 2017
FEATURING THE CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP
FRIDAY 17 MARCH 2017
The winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup;
Sizing John ridden by Robbie Power
Click here to read my Day 4 Diary Part I
Being the feature event of the day, there was an on-course pre-race parade. The horses were led out onto the racecourse, the competitors sorting themselves into number order before being paraded in front of the grandstands; they were preceded by a brace of mounted huntsmen.
The favourite for this event was Djakadam, trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Ruby Walsh; price 3-1. There were no returning winners in this event, as last year’s victor Don Cossack had been retired due to injury and the 2015 winner Coneygree was still recovering from another set-back.
However, Cue Card returned for another attempt following last year’s departure at the third last; also taking part was Native River, the winner of this season’s Hennessy Gold Cup and Welsh Grand National.
Alan King had a representative also, namely the ever-popular grey Smad Place, ridden by Wayne Hutchinson. I think, currently, he must be the most popular grey in racing, from a fan viewpoint. I think he’s fabulous too.
There were three other greys taking part – Bristol De Mai, Irish Cavalier and Saphir Du Rheu; however, being the oldest at the age of 10, Smad Place out-greyed them!
Once the parade was completed, the horses cantered down the turf to enter the all-weather strip and travel part way down it before exiting onto the course. The Gold Cup starting gate is situated just beyond the second nearest steeplechase fence and is run over two complete circuits plus two fences and the run-in.
And then they were off, from a rolling start, with Bristol De Mai leading the way to the first fence. Also handy were Native River and Champagne West; the latter now representing Ireland having been moved to Henry de Bromhead’s yard from Philip Hobbs last November. Bringing up the rear were Tea For Two and Minella Rocco. Champagne West jumped into a narrow advantage as they cleared the first fence.
It was quickly on to the second, where the leader got a little close to it and this enabled Native Rover to take the lead having landed. Then, back in the field, Tea for Two made a howling error and catapulted Lizzie Kelly over his head as a result. The horse remained on his feet and continued after the field none the worse for this early departure. His jockey was okay too, although initially wary to rise, and she would ride later in the afternoon.
Meanwhile, Bristol De Mai and Native River disputed the lead as the remaining twelve headed up the hill in front of the Best Mate enclosure. Heading into the back straight, Djakadam was tracking the leading duo, with Champagne West upsides him now, to the outside. The remaining three greys travelled next in the field, Smad Place to the inside of Saphir Du Rheu, with Irish Cavalier just behind them. Cue Card and Outlander came next; bringing up the rear were Sizing John, More Of That and Minella Rocco.
They continued down the slope to fence number three, where Outlander was a little less fluent than his rivals. The following fence was the water-jump, with Native River continuing to hold a narrow advantage as they jumped it. The runners then headed to and cleared the first of four open-ditches; Champagne West was upsides the leader as they cleared it; Irish Cavalier had already dropped back through the field and now found himself in last place.
The field continued to the sixth fence, a plain one. Rebecca Curtis’ charge was far from fluent at the rear of the runners with jockey Paul Townend now niggling at his mount. The field then negotiated the dog-leg turn, with the leading duo three lengths clear of Djakadam and Bristol De Mai and the loose horse now for company. The following fence was the second open-ditch, with Champagne West out-jumping Native River here.
Smad Place led the main body of the field, with Minella Rocco and Irish Cavalier both slightly detached in rear. Having gained the advantage, David Mullins switched to the inside aboard Champagne West as they continued to and safely headed over the fence at the top of the hill; he was determined to take the shortest route around the far bend. The loose horse now led the field.
The runners then swung left-handed to arrive at the notoriously tricky obstacle near the top of the downhill section of the track. All twelve of the experienced chasers cleared this without any issues. Champagne West continued to bowl along at the head of affairs as they headed down the aforementioned hill towards the tenth fence. He was pursued by Native River, Djakadam, Bristol De Mai, Smad Place, Saphir Du Rheu, Cue Card, Sizing John, Outlander, More Of That, Minella Rocco and finally Irish Cavalier.
There were no jumping issues experienced at this fence and the runners continued into the home straight with one full circuit completed. You can always pick out Ruby Walsh amongst the jockeys because of his low and bobbing head carriage! He continued in third position aboard the favourite.
The horses headed over the first of the fences in the home straight, still led by Champagne West. Sizing John was noticeably closer to the pace now, having improved into sixth position. Meanwhile, at the back of the field, the struggling Irish Cavalier was less than fluent at this one. The runners then moved on to jump the fence in front of the stands; it would be the final fence next time around.
They all cleared this one without a problem and the crowd cheered spontaneously as the runners headed up the track in front of the Best Mate enclosure with now just one circuit to travel. There was no change at the head of affairs as the runners entered the back straight and began their journey slightly downhill to the next obstacle; they all jumped this well, although Irish Cavalier now seemed a lost cause in rear.
The twelve competitors headed to and jumped the water for the final time; Bristol De Mai had drifted back in the field and was less than fluent here. The following fence was an open-ditch, with Native River and Champagne West clearing it in tandem. Outlander was pushed along having jumped it. The runners continued to the next, a plain fence, with Native River leading very narrowly over this one. The flashy chestnut spearheaded the field as they headed around the dog-leg turn. Having now tailed off, Irish Cavalier was pulled up.
The next obstacle was the final open-ditch. Having jumped it, Djakadam was eased into the runner-up spot and he now stalked the leader. The runners then headed over the fence at the top of the hill, with Bristol De Mai appearing to have re-energised; he had moved into third position, just ahead of Champagne West and Smad Place. The runners began to swing left-handed, heading once more towards the tricky fence on the initial section of the decline.
The favourite reached for this fence and took the lead, briefly, before the chestnut regained it once more on the run towards the third last. Native River and Djakadam were disputing the lead as they jumped this one. However for the second year running, and having been goaded along in order to keep tabs upon the leaders as they travelled down the hill, Cue Card fell. But he had been travelling better when coming to grief last year. The struggling Outlander was badly hampered by this departure. Fortunately, once again, Cue Card was fine and galloped after his compatriots.
Meanwhile, upfront, Native River was being pushed along but finding more for pressure as is his style. In contrast, Djakadam appeared to still be travelling well within himself as he accompanied the chestnut around the home turn. Sizing John was snapping at their heels and, in fourth position at this stage, was Saphir Du Rheu.
The battle continued to be joined as the leading trio headed towards the penultimate jump. Put under pressure for the first time, Djakadam got too close to the fence and made a bad error; this handed the initiative to Sizing John, as Ruby endeavoured to roust another effort from the favourite. Meanwhile the ever-game Native River rallied to the inside.
Robbie Power’s mount was three lengths clear of his nearest rival as he cleared the final fence. Saphir Du Rheu was in fourth position jumping this, with Bristol De Mai making a bad error whilst occupying sixth place; the staying-on Minella Rocco had scythed through between them and began to gain upon the leading trio as they headed up the hill towards the line.
But there was no catching Sizing John; he’d retained his advantage and went on to win by 2¾ lengths at the line. Having outstayed Djakadam, it initially looked as though Native River would finish as runner-up but, outstaying both of them, Minella Rocco grabbed that spot by a short-head at the winning post. That left the favourite to finish 4th, Saphir Du Rheu 5th, More Of That 6th, Bristol De Mai 7th and Smad Place 8th. Champagne West and Outlander completed the roll of honour in 9th and 10th respectively.
The winning trainer was Jessica Harrington, with Sizing John having been a transfer from the Henry de Bromhead yard when the owners, the Potts, decided to withdraw all of their horses from his yard.
Despite the Irish-based horses being so successful at this year’s Festival, all four of the major races had been won by horses bred outside of Ireland. Buveur D’Air, as the name suggests, is a French-bred, with the other three – Special Tiara, Nichols Canyon and now Sizing John, all being bred in Great Britain. The Gold Cup winning sire was Midnight Legend.
Reports from the Stewards’ Room:
Race 4 - 3:30pm
The Stewards held an enquiry into the use of the whip by Noel Fehily, the rider of MINELLA ROCCO (IRE), placed second, from the third last fence. Having heard his evidence and viewed recordings of the race, they found him in breach of Schedule (B)6 Part 2 in that he had used his whip above the permitted level. The Stewards suspended Fehily for 2 days as follows:- Friday 31 March and Saturday 1 April 2017.
The Stewards noted that BRISTOL DE MAI (FR), trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies and DJAKADAM (FR), trained by W.P. Mullins, would wear earplugs.
Paul Townend, the rider of IRISH CAVALIER (IRE), which was pulled up, reported that the gelding was never travelling.
B.J. Cooper, the rider of OUTLANDER (IRE), unplaced, reported that the gelding was never travelling. The Veterinary Officer reported that a post-race examination of the gelding, during routine testing, failed to reveal any abnormalities.
I decided it was time for a stroll … so I headed across the track and into the enclosure within the centre of the racecourse.
The favourite for this race was the veteran On The Fringe, having won this event for the past two years. He’s trained by Enda Bolger and was ridden by Mr Jamie Codd; price 11-8. There was just one grey in this race, namely Grand Vision.
The Foxhunter Chase is the amateur riders’ equivalent of the Gold Cup; run over the same course and distance. Having left the Parade Ring, the competitors cantered up the all-weather strip in front of the grandstand before returning via the racecourse turf to re-enter the strip and exit onto the racecourse part way down it. The amateur jockeys took their mounts to look at their first fence before returning to the starting gate.
This was a rolling start too, so it must have been at the first time of asking. The runners were led to the first by Balnaslow partnered by Mr Derek O’Connor. Meanwhile, already a number of lengths behind the main field, was the 2012 and 2013 winner of this race, Salsify. Ask The Weatherman, travelling upsides the early leader, ploughed through the first fence but survived.
There were no further hair-raising moments as the twenty-three amateur competitors headed over the second fence before swinging to their left and heading up the hill in front of the Best Mate enclosure. Grand Jesture travelled wide of the field and Salsify continued to bring up the rear. Having entered the back straight, the horses had soon reached the third fence; they all cleared this one, with Dolatulo not as nimble as his rivals.
The next obstacle was the water-jump and they headed over this fence without incident before continuing to the first of the open-ditches. Balnaslow continued to lead from Ask The Weatherman, Current Event, Grand Jesture, Grand Vision, Paint The Clouds and Pacha Du Polder. There were no visible jumping issues at this one. The sixth fence was plain in nature and Ask The Weatherman hit this one; further back in the field, Premier Portrait made a minor error too.
With all 23 in clear view as they headed around the dog-leg turn, a run-down of the competitors is in order. Thus, Balnaslow led by a couple of lengths from Current Event, then Ask The Weatherman, Paint The Clouds, Grand Jesture, Grand Vision, Pacha Du Polder, Barel Of Laughs sporting the Smad Place colours, Mendip Express, Black Thunder, Minella For Value, Premier Portrait, Sweet As a Nut, Buckers Bridge, Pentiffic, Warden Hill, On The Fringe, Wonderful Charm, Aupcharlie, Dolatulo, Salsify and Lets Get Serious.
They’d soon arrived at their second open-ditch, with Premier Portrait skewing in the air as he cleared this one. The runners were becoming well strung out as they continued up the hill to the eighth fence; back in the field, Cottage Oak was less than fluent here. Balnaslow remained at the head of affairs as the runners swung left-handed prior to reaching the tricky fence situated on the initial part of the downhill section of the track. They all jumped this surprisingly well. However, the jockey aboard Buckers Bridge decided to pull up his mount before this fence.
The remaining 22 continued down the hill to the next, with Lets Get Serious detached at the rear of the field. It came as no surprise that the least fluent clearing this obstacle was Premier Portrait. Meanwhile Balnaslow continued to bowl along happily at the head of affairs as the runners completed one full circuit having now turned into the home straight.
There were no noticeable jumping errors at the next fence but, having reached the one in front of the main stands, the leader blundered, as did Sweet As A Nut further back in the field; three from the back, Dolatulo was slow in negotiating this one.
Despite his recent error, Balnaslow remained at the head of affairs as the field swung left-handed to head up hill in front of the Best Mate enclosure before then entering the back straight for the final time. The leading group continued towards and over the first obstacle therein; detached and well in arrears, Premier Portrait crossed in front of Dolatulo as they jumped this one. Meanwhile the leaders galloped towards and over the water-jump for the final time.
The following fence was the penultimate open-ditch and there were no departures at this one, with Balnaslow, Paint The Clouds and Grand Jesture holding the advantage over their rivals. However, the size of the main group was gradually whittling down, but On The Fringe had managed to cling on to the back of this. The runners then crossed another plain fence before heading around the dog-leg turn once more.
Balnaslow led, from Paint The Clouds, Ask The Weatherman, Grand Vision, Grand Jesture, Current Event, Pacha Du Polder, Barel Of Laughs, Minella For Value, Mendip Express, Black Thunder, On The Fringe, Sweet As A Nut, Wonderful Charm, Salsify, Aupcharlie, and Pentiffic; the remainder were tailed completely off although they continued in the race.
The next fence was the final open-ditch; Black Thunder jumped this one slowly and seemed to be struggling thereafter. Aupcharlie and Pentiffic weren’t particularly fluent when jumping the fence at the top of the hill.
Despite having been pulled up early in the race, Buckers Bridge appeared sound as he was led around to the outside of the track, visible as the runners passed by in the foreground having jumped the tricky fourth-last. Once again the leaders had cleared this well, with only Pentiffic nodding on landing.
The runners continued down the hill to three out, with Paint The Clouds almost upsides the long-time leader as they cleared it safely. Pacha Du Polder, Grand Vision and Barel Of Laughs were disputing third position currently; although the Paul Nicholls-runner and the grey bumped in mid-air as they jumped it, with the latter nodding on landing as a result.
Thus, heading around the home turn, Balnaslow continued to dispute the lead, with Pacha Du Polder snapping at their heels as the leading trio established a lead over Barel Of Laughs; the latter spearheaded a small group of runners which included On The Fringe.
Having entered the home straight, Paints The Clouds’ challenge had begun to falter by the time they reached and had jumped the penultimate fence. However, Pacha Du Polder continued to gain upon Balnaslow as they headed down to the final obstacle; they took off in unison. However, the latter made a mistake, as he’d done on the previous circuit at this particular fence, and he lost momentum; this handed the initiative to Pacha Du Polder.
Meanwhile, to the outside of the field, the leader’s stable-mate Wonderful Charm, was finishing strongly under a drive from Katie Walsh. Initially it looked as though Bryony Frost’s mount might falter as the winning line approached but, in the end, he held on well to triumph by a neck at the line. His stable-mate claimed 2nd, with Barel Of Laughs also finishing off the race strongly to claim 3rd, a further neck away.
On The Fringe completed in 4th this year, with the very game long-time leader in 5th, Minella For Value 6th, Ask The Weatherman 7th, Paint The Clouds 8th. The first 8 had pulled miles ahead of the reminder, with Mendip Express the best of the rest. Black Thunder was pulled up before two out, with Cottage Oak and Lets Get Serious pulled up before the final obstacle. Sweet As A Nut fell at the last when very tired.
With the first and second in this event, Paul Nicholls had recorded at least one winner in each of the past fifteen Cheltenham Festivals!
The winning jockey is the daughter of Grand National winning jockey Jimmy Frost (1989 aboard Little Polveir) and the sister of Hayden Frost. She would turn professional during the summer of 2017.
Reports from the Stewards’ Room:
Race 5 - 4:10pm
The Stewards held an enquiry into the use of the whip by Mr D. Queally, the rider of MINELLA FOR VALUE (IRE), placed sixth, from the third last fence. Having heard his evidence and viewed recordings of the race, they found him in breach of Schedule (B)6 Part 2 in that he had used his whip above the permitted level. The Stewards suspended Mr Queally for 7 days as follows: Friday 31 March and Sunday 2, Monday 3, Tuesday 4, Wednesday 5, Thursday 6 and Saturday 8 April 2017.
The Stewards held an enquiry into the use of the whip by Miss K. Walsh, the rider of WONDERFUL CHARM (FR), placed second, from the third last fence. Having heard her evidence and viewed recordings of the race, they found her in breach of Schedule (B)6 Part 2 in that she had used her whip above the permitted level. The Stewards suspended Miss Walsh for 4 days as follows: Friday 31 March and Sunday 2, Monday 3 and Tuesday 4 April 2017.
The Stewards gave permission for PREMIER PORTRAIT (IRE), trained by Dr Charles Levinson, to be late into the parade ring and to be mounted in the chute. They noted the gelding would wear earplugs which would be removed at the start. They also noted that CURRENT EVENT (FR), trained by Mrs Rose Loxton, would wear earplugs which would be removed at the start. They noted PENTIFFIC (NZ), trained by P.P. Turner, would wear a hood in the parade ring only.
Following an enquiry the stewards ordered that ANSEANACHAI CLISTE (IRE), owned by Mr Michael McConville, be withdrawn from the St. James’s Place Foxhunter Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Steeple Chase due to the fact that they could not be satisfied that the horse had been administered only normal feed and water on race day. They interviewed the owner, the trainer, the Veterinary Officer and the Equine Welfare Integrity Officer. Having heard their evidence the Stewards ordered the horse to be tested and referred the matter to the Head Office of the British Horseracing Authority.
The Stewards held an enquiry following a report from a Stipendiary Steward that he had observed Mr R.P. Quinlan using his mobile phone outside the designated area. They interviewed the rider. Having heard his evidence the Stewards found the rider in breach of Rule (D)33.1 and fined him £290.
The Stewards held an enquiry following a report from the Veterinary Officer that the staff attending BAREL OF LAUGHS (IRE), owned by Mrs Peter Andrews, and trained by Philip Rowley, had brought into the stables substances, Superlyte (an electrolyte) and Quick Fix (a probiotic) which may have been allowed with the permission of the Veterinary Officer, but for which permission had not been sought prior to entry into the stables. They interviewed the Trainer, the Owner, the Veterinary Officer and the Equine Welfare Integrity Officer. Having heard their evidence the Stewards referred the matter to the Head Office of the British Horseracing Authority. The Stewards ordered BAREL OF LAUGHS (IRE) to be routine tested. The Stewards held an enquiry following a report from the Veterinary Officer that the staff attending COTTAGE OAK (IRE), owned by Mr D.A. Malam, and trained by J.J. O’Shea, had brought into the stables a substance, Equipalazone (oral powder) – an anti-inflammatory – which may have been allowed with the permission of the Veterinary Officer, but for which permission had not been sought prior to entry into the stables, and two Luer-Lock syringes, which would not have been allowed. They interviewed the Trainer, the Owner, the Veterinary Officer and the Equine Welfare Integrity Officer. Having heard their evidence the Stewards referred the matter to the Head Office of the British Horseracing Authority. The Stewards ordered COTTAGE OAK (IRE) to be routine tested.
The Veterinary Officer reported that BALNASLOW (IRE), placed fifth, trained by Graham John McKeever, lost its left fore shoe.
The Veterinary Officer reported that BLACK THUNDER (FR), which was pulled up, trained by Warren Greatrex, lost its right hind shoe.
There was a delay before spectators were allowed to cross back to the grandstands-side of the racecourse. This was due to Sweet As A Nut falling at the last; the green screens were erected and the horse ambulance called too. Another horse ambulance trundled up the horse-walk in front of the grandstands, presumably to collect Current Event which had completed the race in 16th place. The stewards eventually marshalled us across the track whilst Sweet As A Nut was still down – fortunately he later recovered and was led back up the track to the stables.
Sadly Current Event didn’t make it as, I believe, he’d suffered a life ending injury to a tendon.
I returned to my original place beside the rails ahead of the sixth race.
The favourite for this event was Battleford, trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Adam Short; price 9-2.
Alan King had a runner in this race, namely Gibralfaro ridden by Tom Bellamy; he sports the well-known colours of the McNeill Family. There were no greys in this race.
The starting gate for this event was located in the mid-course chute; upon exiting the horse walkway, the runners cantered across the home straight and headed up the all-weather track around the top bend in front of the Best Mate enclosure. They then crossed the racecourse to reach the aforementioned chute, and would have two flights to jump before negotiating the far turn in order to enter the home straight.
As it was a ‘rolling’ start, the race must have begun at the first time of asking. The runners were led away by Coo Star Sivola to the inside, along with Doesyourdogbite, Dadsintrouble and the blinkered Catamaran Du Seuil. Doesyourdogbite caused a little bit of interference as he dived away to his right over the first flight. Currently held up in rear was the hooded Pain Au Chocolat.
The runners continued to the second flight. Travelling in mid-field at the time, Gibralfaro crashed to the ground having flattened a panel and the jockey aboard Rather Be was launched out of the side-door having been severely hampered by this departure. Ballyhill was also hampered during the incident. Tom Bellamy was on his feet quite quickly, whereas Charlie Deutsch took longer to rise.
Meanwhile, the race continued as the runners headed over the intersection with the New Course, still led by Coo Star Sivola. The rider-less Rather Be continued with the field, and the loose Gibralfaro had regained his feet and set off in hot pursuit also; the latter took a short-cut to the inside of the railings.
The runners had swung left-handed as they headed down the hill to reach the far end of the home straight. Turning in and heading to the next flight, Coo Star Sivola continued to lead the way, from Doesyourdogbite, Dadsintrouble, Catamaran Du Seuil, Verni, Lac Fontana, Tommy Silver, Runfordave, Champagne Classic, Remiluc, Dell’ Arca, I Shot The Sheriff, Taglietelle, Battleford, Born Survivor, Thomas Campbell, Castello Sforza, Massini’s Trap, No Comment, Ballyhill and Pain Au Chocolat.
Having reached flight number three, Doesyoudogbite jumped out slightly to his right once more. Verni, travelling just behind the leader, flattened the second from the inside panel. Having taken the shortcut, the rider-less Gibralfaro had re-joined the group and was now travelling to the inside in mid-field as they headed up the home straight to the next. The other loose horse was on the outside of runners and he had soon raced to the front of the field.
However, as they crossed the track which is used by emergency vehicles exiting from the centre of the racecourse, the rider-less Rather Be suddenly veered off to his right having seen an escape route; meanwhile Gibralfaro hampered the leader as he also veered towards the nearside, although he’d been too late to follow his compatriot. Eventually the runners reached the flight in front of the stands and they all cleared this well.
Meanwhile, the loose Gibralfaro continued straight ahead to the winning post. I have a ‘feeling’ that Rather Be had found his way onto the all-weather walkway and galloped flat out to the top, heading up right in front of me. As is commonplace, the sight of the loose runners encouraged the crowd to produce a loud jeer.
Coo Star Sivola continued to lead the way as the remaining runners headed up the hill in front of the Best Mate enclosure and into the back straight for the one and only time; still bringing up the rear was Pain Au Chocolat. They’d soon reached the fifth flight and they all cleared this in their stride; although one of the back markers did leave their mark in it!
There was no change at the head of affairs as they continued their journey down the back straight and over the next flight; to the rear of mid-field, the favourite didn’t appear to be travelling particularly well at this point. Coo Star Sivola, Doesyourdogbite and Catamaran Du Seuil continued to cut out the running as they headed over flight number seven before negotiating the dog-leg turn.
The current order, behind this leading trio, was Verni alongside Champagne Classic, followed by Dadsintrouble, Tommy Silver, Runfordave, Born Survivor, Thomas Campbell, Lac Fontana, Castello Sforza, I Shot The Sheriff, Battleford, Remiluc, Taglietelle, Ballyhill, Dell’ Arca, No Comment, Massini’s Trap and the detached Pain Au Chocolat.
The runners headed over one further flight on their journey to the top of the hill; this was the third from home. Dell’ Arco was now detached from the back of the main group, along with Massini’s Trap and Pain Au Chocolat. The field soon swung left-handed, before beginning the journey down the hill to the penultimate flight. Catamaran De Seuil started to lose his place as they began the descent. I Shot The Sheriff lost ground quickly and was soon pulled up.
Meanwhile the leading trio of Coo Star Sivola, Doesyourdogbite and Champagne Classic had soon successfully cleared the flight; their nearest pursuers were Verni, Dadsintrouble and No Comment. It was Champagne Classic which took a narrow advantage as they headed into the home straight, with Verni, Runfordave and Coo Star Sivola his nearest challengers.
The Gigginstown representative continued to spearhead the runners as they approached the final flight, with the Rooney-owned Verni endeavouring to keep his rival within striking distance. However, having jumped the hurdle, Champagne Classic proved far too strong for his rivals and he galloped all the way to the line to win by 2¼ lengths. Verni held on for 2nd, with Runfordave 3rd and the long-time leader Coo Star Sivola 4th.
Thomas Campbell finished a close-up 5th, with Born Survivor fading late on to come home in 6th; the latter had been disputing third position at the last. No Comment completed in 7th, having looked a danger two out; Battleford stayed on to finish 8th. There were twenty finishers in total.
After the race, owner Michael O’Leary suggested Champagne West was the least talented racehorse he owned … what an absolute *******!
Charlie Deutsch was stood-down for the remainder of the day, before being taken to Cheltenham Hospital with a suspected arm injury. He missed his ride aboard Calipto in the last.
Sadly, a few weeks later, Runfordave suffered a fatal fall at the Punchestown Festival. RIP.
Reports from the Stewards’ Room:
Race 6 - 4:50pm
The Stewards noted that BALLYHILL (FR), trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies and BATTLEFORD, trained by W.P. Mullins, would wear earplugs and that THOMAS CAMPBELL, trained by Nicky Henderson, would wear earplugs which would be removed at the start.
I remained beside the course-side rails for the final race of the Festival. I also enjoyed a chat with the young lad beside me – he’d placed bets on Eastlake and Pairofbrowneyes.
Alan King’s chance of a 2017 Festival winner had run out with the fall of Gibralfaro, as he had no runner entered in the ‘lucky last’. In fact, he currently has a drought with regards to top-class chasers, notwithstanding Smad Place. Hopefully Messire Des Obeaux will prove to be a useful novice chaser next season. (Note: In the event, the latter’s jumping debut would be delayed when he picked up a tendon injury during a hurdle race at the Aintreee Festival.)
The favourite for this event was Le Prezien making his handicap debut, trained by Paul Nicholls and ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies; price 7-2. There was just one grey in this race, namely Mick Thonic.
Last year’s winner Solar Impulse was competing again today; however, he had been sold out of Paul Nicholls’ yard in the interim and was now trained by Christopher Kellett.
Having reached the top of the racecourse, all the runners then headed down the turf to re-enter the all-weather strip in order to continue their journey to the starting gate at the far end of the home straight.
It was a standing start for this one; the jockeys are always keen to win this ‘last chance’ race so at least one previous attempt will have been aborted!
It was an organised line behind the tape but a number of the horses weren’t best suited to this type of start. One of those not adept was Dodging Bullets, and having jinked to his right, he squeezed out Mr Fiftyone and Pairofbrowneyes. Very slow into stride was the mare Solita. The field had set off accompanied by a loud cheer from the crowd.
As it was the maximum size field of 24 runners for this event, the competitors were spread out across the track as they headed to the first fence. Prominent were Rule The World, Un Beau Roman, Croco Bay, Ultragold and Sizing Platinum. They all cleared this one safely. The runners then continued to the second fence, with Un Beau Roman noticeably keen; Solita blundered at this fence.
Having joined the main circuit of the New Course, the horses had settled into a rhythm and were now led by Croco Bay, Velvet Maker and Sizing Platinum. In the second rank were Gardefort, Theinval, Ultragold and Bright New Dawn. Un Beau Roman had now been restrained and travelled behind these; others in mid-field were Witness In Court, Solar Impulse, Quite By Chance, Le Prezien, Eastlake, Mick Thonic, Rock The World, Dandridge, Dodging Bullets and Pairofbrowneyes. The backmarkers were Mr Fiftyone, Calipto, Upsilon Bleu, The Game Changer, Bold Henry and Solita.
Un Beau Roman made an error at the third fence; Nick Scholfield called a cab, having lost a grip on the reins. Upsilon Bleu wasn’t particularly fluent here either and soon found himself at the back of the field. Heading to the fourth, Croco Bay and Velvet Maker were duelling for the lead; Dodging Bullets hit this one.
With all 24 still in the race, the runners swung left-handed and headed up the hill in front of the Best Mate enclosure. There was no change at the head of affairs and Solar Impulse was now their nearest pursuer; he had been charting a wide course to this point. The runners had soon entered the back straight and continued down the slope to the fifth. They all successfully negotiated this one, although Upsilon Bleu was a little slow at the back of the field.
The following fence was the water-jump and it posed no problem to the runners; again apart from the backmarker who was very slow clearing it. The next fence was the first open-ditch and the leaders bumped as they cleared it. Sizing Platinum made an error at this one. The stragglers currently included Solita, The Game Changer, Dodging Bullets, Un Beau Roman, Mr Fiftyone, Calipto, Bold Henry and, of course, Upsilon Bleu.
Fence number eight was a plain one and Velvet Maker hit this and pecked on landing. The runners then headed around the dog-leg turn with Croco Bay now holding a clear advantage over his rivals. The main body of the field was led by Velvet Maker, Bright New Dawn and Gardefort. Behind these travelled the admirable Theinval, Mick Thonic, Ultragold, Witness In Court and Solar Impulse. Eastlake came next, from Le Prezien and Dandridge, Sizing Platinum, Pairofbrowneyes, Quite By Chance, Rock The World, Dodging Bullets, The Game Changer, Mr Fiftyone, Solita, Calipto, Un Beau Roman, Bold Henry and Upsilon Bleu.
Having arrived at the final open-ditch, the runners jumped this without an issue although the backmarkers were slow at it. Croco Bay continued to lead as they climbed to the top of the hill, heading successfully over another plain fence as they did so; Un Beau Roman had now been relegated to the back of the field.
The runners soon swung left-handed, beginning to head slightly downhill as they did so; the grey was squeezed up to the inside, short of room. The next fence was the tricky fourth last and a handful of jockeys went to the buckle end of their reins as they landed over it; notably Velvet Maker, Solar Impulse and Solita. Pairofbrowneyes blundered here but didn’t at any point look like he’d fall; Dodging Bullets hit it too. Solita was pulled up after jumping it.
Meanwhile Croco Bay continued to keep his nose in front as they headed down the hill to the third last. Bright New Dawn, Velvet Maker, Witness In Court and Gardefort were almost on terms with him however. Liam Treadwell’s mount joined Croco Bay as they headed around the home turn, with Gardefort, Theinval and Eastlake snapping at their heels. The favourite was travelling behind these, alongside Witness In Court, Rock The World, Ultragold and Dandridge.
Having entered the home straight, the runners spread out across the course in a mad dash to the penultimate fence; they were almost six in a line as they jumped it, namely, Gardefort, Croco Bay, Bright New Dawn, Theinval, Eastlake and Rock The World. Dandridge also closed up upon the leading group, now seven in number as they headed towards the final fence.
Bright New Dawn was the first one to crack under pressure, and then Eastlake. This left Rock The World to jump it upsides Gardefort, with Theinval alongside the long-time leader and Dandridge at the latter’s girth.
Rock The World initially edged left towards Gardefort after the last, which seemed to intimidate the latter because he swerved left momentarily. However, regardless, Robbie Power’s mount proved too strong for his rivals and he continued up the hill to the line to win by 1¾ lengths. Meanwhile Theinval was closing down with every stride upon Gardefort as the winning post approached but, fortunately, he held on to the runner-up spot by a neck.
Dandridge completed in 4th, with the ultra-game Croco Bay 5th. Calipto came from the clouds to pick up 6th prize having made an error 3 out; Bright New Dawn completed in 7th and Le Prezien 8th.
It was Calipto’s first run for Venetia Williams, and she’d trained the 2nd, 6th and 7th in this.
There were no fallers, 21 completed the course, with Un Beau Roman pulled up after three out and Dodging Bullets before two out.
It was three 2017 Festival winners for trainer Jessica Harrington – Supasundae, Sizing John and Rock The World.
Reports from the Stewards’ Room:
Race 7 - 5:30pm
The Stewards gave permission for UPSILON BLEU (FR), trained by Pauline Robson, to be mounted in the chute and go early to post.
The Starters reviewed recordings of the start but were satisfied that no riders should be reported for contravening the starting procedures.
Denis O'Regan, the rider of VELVET MAKER (FR), unplaced, reported that the gelding ran too freely.
The Veterinary Officer reported that UN BEAU ROMAN (FR), which was pulled up, trained by Paul Henderson, had bled from the nose.
I returned to the Winners’ Enclosure following the final race, before heading to the ladies loo for a comfort break ahead of beginning my journey home to Hertfordshire.
Despite a number of the Irish ‘star’ horses being absent, team GB had been annihilated in the Betbright Prestbury Cup. L
Gordon Elliott snatched the Leading Trainer award from Willie Mullins. Ruby Walsh claimed the Leading Jockey prize yet again … boring!
Sadly there had been four equine fatalities at the year’s Festival – Nicky Henderson’s Consul De Thaix and Hadrian’s Approach, also John E Kiely’s Toe The Line and Mrs Rose Loxton’s Current Event.
I began my journey at 19:00; it had been dampening in the air since around 18:00. Fortunately the exit queues which had been such a problem for me on Tuesday and Wednesday, were non-existent this evening. However, it was touch and go whether I’d have enough impetus to make it up the slope onto the Southam Road, being heavily laden, because the car in front of me didn’t seem to understand that a green temporary traffic light meant go!
There was no traffic jam tailing back through Prestbury either; unfortunately this resulted in my driving glasses slipping off the passenger seat because I took the right-hand turn into the High Street with speed! I then had to stop briefly in Greenway Lane to search in the foot-well for them.
The glasses didn’t seem to help quite as much as on the previous three evenings, but I put this down to the fact that it was now raining, although not heavily, as I drove across the Cotswolds.
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, I had ‘hit the wall’ by Oxford and spent much of the remaining journey yawning my head off – not recommended when driving on the M40 and M25. I did make good time despite this, and arrived home at 21:15.
It also made me realise that, in future, I might never have the energy to drive to Cheltenham and back on two consecutive days, let alone on four. One day I hope to attend the Saturday of the Open Meeting which would probably mean driving there and back in a day and I think this would be my maximum limit.
Tickets for the 2018 Cheltenham Festival went on sale on 21 March 2017; I usually purchase mine in September or October, as this gives me time to save up for them once more. However, this year, the first price increment took place on 05 July, instead of at midnight following the end of the Showcase Meeting; money grabbers. Fortunately I was able to cover this earlier cost due to a change in work circumstances.
Cheltenham was just the beginning of my busiest period of the year, and I was 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 would be concentrating on April’s Punchestown Festival rather than Aintree!
This year I also fitted in a visit to Good Friday’s Lambourn Open Day … I’m usually prevented from doing so because I’m always mindful of writing my diaries, which is a shame. And I also attended Newbury races on 25 March, although Pride of Pemberley was an on-the-day withdrawal from the DBS Sales Bumper due to sustaining a cut. In addition, I paid a visit to Noel Williams’ yard on the same day.
And, of course, I made my annual trip to Sandown Park’s Jump Season Finale too, accompanied by my friend Lesley.