DIARY – CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL 2018
FEATURING THE QUEEN MOTHER CHAMPION CHASE
WEDNESDAY 14 MARCH 2018
The winner of the Queen Mother Champion Chase;
Altior trained by Nicky Henderon
Click here to read my Day 2 Diary Part I
It was now time for the feature event of the day, the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
The favourite for the feature event, was the Nicky Henderson-trained Altior, ridden by Nico de Boinville; he was the evens favourite.
Douvan had returned to Cheltenham, despite having not raced since he sustained a pelvis injury at last year’s Festival. The decision to run him today was taken when Ruby agreed to ride him ... but in light of events earlier in the afternoon, that plan had gone to pot and Willie’s son Patrick now took the ride instead.
There was one grey of course, Politologue.
Whilst watching the race, owner Rich Ricci paces up and down, away from everyone; he’s a nervous owner!
Once the pre-race parade was over, the ten runners cantered back down the turf to enter the all-weather strip and canter to the starting gate at the far end of the home straight.
And then they were off, at the first time of asking, and on their way to the first fence led by Ar Mad and last year’s winner Special Tiara. All nine runners flew the first fence and were soon heading to the second; the pace was hot, as would be expected in the 2-mile Champion race, especially with this particular duo leading the way.
Ar Mad jumped away to his right as they headed over the second; in his younger days, trainer Gary Moore had refused to run his charge on left-handed courses. The runners galloped across the gravel track and through a gap in the plastic rails in order to enter the Old Course circuit ahead to fence number three. Special Tiara led from Ar Mad, behind these travelled Douvan, Charbel, Altior, the grey Politologue, Min, Ordinary World and God’s Own.
Special Tiara took off well before the fence but landed okay regardless; Ar Mad brushed through the top of it. The runners continued to the fourth, where Charbel was a little untidy. Last year’s winner was five lengths clear of his rivals as they swung left-handed to head up the hill in front of the Best Mate Enclosure. However, unlike his previous four efforts, Special Tiara decided to put in a short stride before the next and got very close to it, losing much of his momentum. As a result, his advantage over his now nearest rival, Douvan, was only a length.
Having turned into the back straight for the one and only time, the runners continued their journey down the hill to the sixth. The leaders jumped this okay, but Charbel took off long and low, hit the fence and fell. Ordinary World managed to side-step both the fallen horse and jockey. Both faller and jockey appeared fine following the mishap.
The remaining eight horses continued to the water-jump, where Douvan jumped into a narrow lead. The following fence was the first of two open-ditches. Patrick Mullins’ mount totally out-jumped Special Tiara at this one. Noel Fehily switched his mount to the outside, behind the leader as they continued to the next, a plain fence.
Having cleared this one, Douvan was now three lengths clear of his rivals; Special Tiara led the main group narrowly, from Politologue, Altior, Min and God’s Own. Ar Mad was being pushed along, one from the back of the field, and Ordinary World soon overtook him. The runners continued around the dog-leg turn, with Douvan leading the way.
However Douvan took off far too early at the next, the final open-ditch; he paddled, went through the top of it, almost landing on his knees as his nose ploughed into the ground. Patrick Mullins was thrown over his head and Politologue travelling in his wake, appeared to be caught across the neck by a flying hind-leg; fortunately it didn’t appear to affect the grey’s momentum. In contrast, Min was squeezed for room and his momentum interrupted as a result. Fortunately Altior had been travelling to the inside of the field and remained unaffected by this departure.
Politologue now held the advantage as the runners continued to the top of the hill, from Special Tiara to his inside and God’s Own to his outer. Altior was close up in fourth position, Min in fifth. These five were clear of Ordinary World; Ar Mad had been pulled up after the fence, he was reportedly lame. Both Douvan and Patrick Mullins had got to their feet and were seemingly fine.
This left six horses to turn the far corner and head down the hill to three out; Politologue continued to lead from God’s Own. As they approached the fence, Nico de Boinville began to niggle at Altior; he wasn’t travelling as well as some, or as well as might be expected at this stage of the race. The grey still held a narrow lead as they jumped it. Ordinary World had made progress to the outside of runners prior to the fence, and Special Tiara dropped out having jumped it.
This left God’s Own to take a narrow advantage over the grey as the runners headed to the home turn, with Min between Ordinary World and the urged along Altior against the rails just behind them. The leading five were all in with a chance as they headed into the home straight on the run to the penultimate fence; in fact they were now the only five still going, as Special Tiara had been pulled up.
Having found himself behind a wall of horses turning in, Nico de Boinville switched the favourite to the outside, behind Politologue, God’s Own and Min; and it was the latter who rose first over two out. Now in the clear, Altior went up a gear and was alongside the Willie Mullins runner as they jumped the final fence. The leading duo then travelled neck and neck for a few strides, but Altior had soon gained the upper hand; head down, he stormed up the run-in to the line.
His winning margin was officially seven lengths, but it looked more; Nico de Boinville stood up in his irons as he crossed the line, to wave his whip in the air. Meanwhile runner-up Min, crossed the line a further 11 lengths in front of God’s Own, with Politologue 4th and Ordinary World last of those to finish.
Altior had been successful at his third consecutive Cheltenham Festival and remained unbeaten; the ground didn’t suit today, but class is permanent. And despite of a couple of setbacks this season too. This was the 60th Cheltenham Festival winner for trainer Nicky Henderson … a record breaking number … until later in the week when Nicky’s record was broken by Willie Mullins. Booooooooooooooooo.
Reports from the Stewards’ Room regarding this race – see link at bottom of this page
It was time for me to venture away from my vantage point above the Winners’ Enclosure; I headed into the centre of the racecourse to watch the Cross Country race.
The favourite for the Cross Country race was the The Last Samuri, trained by Kim Bailey and ridden by David Bass; price 11-4.
Also taking part was last year’s winner, Cause Of Causes; a triple Festival winner already – the NH Chase in 2015 and the Kim Muir in 2016 being his other triumphs. Tiger Roll returned to the Festival too and was seeking his third win – he’d won the 2014 Triumph Hurdle and the 2017 NH Chase.
There were 7 Irish competitors, 5 British and 4 French raiders. There were only 30 fences to jump, with the usually twice-jumped Aintree fence was being omitted.
Obviously the starting gate for the race was situated in the middle of the racecourse. This meant the horses crossed over the home straight upon leaving the horse-walk to head up in front of the Best Mate enclosure to reach it.
And then they were off, with the Rooney’s second string Beeves leading the 16 horses over the first fence; a bank with hedge. The horses subsequently swung left-handed on their way to the second, a ditch with railed hedge (2). The blinkered Beeves continued to lead the way, ahead of the Rooney’s The Last Samuri, and Bless The Wings. The latter drew alongside and was then marginally ahead as the runners cleared the Birch Island fence (3); the leading duo choosing the outside of the two options at this one.
The following obstacle would normally have been the Aintree fence; but omitting this, the runners headed around the outside, to the right of the wing, before turning left to continue to a bank with hedge (4 ex 5). The sixteen runners streamed over this one, before crossing over the racecourse chute and encountering a double-bank with hedges (5 ex 6) at the other side thereof.
The next obstacle was the Glenfarclas barrels (6 ex 7), after which the runners swung right-handed in order to cross over the down-hill stretch of the Old Course. At the far side they encountered a double bank with a hedge on top (7 ex 8). Having taken another right-turn, Bless The Wings continued to lead from Beeves, Tiger Roll, Cantlow and The Last Samuri as they headed up the hill to the Timber rails (8 ex 9); Cantlow hit these.
The field turned right again to head back across the Chute on their way to the next, a railed hedge (9 ex 10). The horses cleared this okay, although Saint Are had to be urged along having jumped it. Shortly afterwards the runners crossed the Old Course circuit and subsequently headed downhill, bearing right latterly on their approach to the following fence, a ditch with rails fronting a hedge (10 ex 11); this had a slight drop on the landing side.
Bless The Wings and Beeves continued to lead the way as the runners headed to another hedge, described as a pole/railed hedge (11 ex 12); it appeared to be quite a ‘loose’ barrier, with debris strewn on the landing side once it had been jumped. The horses headed across the Chute once more, with Tiger Roll and Cantlow tracking the leading duo, followed by The Last Samuri, Vicomte Du Seuil, Chic Name, Federici, Urgent De Gregaine, Josies Orders, the mare Belamix Dor, Auvergnat, Urumqi, Saint Are, Cause Of Causes and Hurricane Darwin.
The runners were now heading to the bank fence (12 ex 13). However, despite having finished as runner-up last year and also winning over the course last December, not to mention other excursions over the fences, Bless The Wings managed to catch a foreleg as he jumped onto the bank, totally losing his footing as a result. Fortunately the others managed to avoid the prostrate horse, and successfully cleared the subsequent hedge with drop beyond. The only one inconvenienced was last year’s winner Cause Of Causes who had to steer around Bless The Wings; the latter having got to his feet.
This left Beeves alone on the front end; he seemed a little unsure as the ground fell away towards the water-jump (13 ex 14) but, having backed off the fence, cleared it okay and remained ahead. Bless The Wings was okay and had galloped after his rivals. The runners subsequently swung left-handed to head through the massed crowds on their way to the cheese wedges (14 & 15, ex 15 & 16). The remaining 15 runners cleared this without incident, the loose horse bypassing the fences.
The competitors had now completed the long first circuit, and swung left-handed once again in order to reach a ditch with railed hedge (16 ex 17); this had already been jumped as fence 2 on the first circuit. Beeves continued to take them along, from Cantlow and the loose horse. The runners swung left-handed yet again, the loose horse now in front of the field. After a long run across the infield, the horses encountered the bank once more (17 ex 18); this time at a 90 degree angle to previously. Bless The Wings made no mistake on this occasion, his jockey Davy Russell could be seen walking away from the earlier incident as they passed by!
The runners then continued across the Old Course circuit to reach the double bank with hedge on top once again (18 ex 19). Beeves remained at the head of affairs as they swung uphill again. On this occasion, their route took them right-handed and over a ditch with railed hedge (19 ex 20). The runners then swung quickly right-handed again, to continue back across the Old Course circuit in order to return to the in-field.
The following fence was a big hedge with a drop on the landing side (20 ex 21). The Last Samuri jumped it upsides the long-time leader, with the latter pecking on landing. Saint Are and Belamix Dor were pulled up before jumping it. The remaining runners continued across the in-field, soon turning right in order to approach the water-jump for the second time. The main group of runners was still closely packed; just Hurricane Darwin and Cause Of Causes trailing them.
Beeves led the runners over the water (21 ex 22), from The Last Samuri, Tiger Roll, Cantlow and Urumqi. Having exited the dip denoting the stream, the horses swung left-handed to head in front of the enclosures once more. The next fence was a double spread hedge (22 ex 23) which they all jumped okay; their second circuit was now complete, with just one more to go to the line.
The long-time leader was being pushed along as he headed towards and over the bank with hedge (23 ex 24). The runners continued to swing left-handed before straightening out on their run to a ditch with railed hedge (24 ex 25). This would be the third time the competitors had jumped this particular fence; in fact it is the only fence which is jumped three times. The following fence was the Birch Island fence (25 ex 26); Beeves, The Last Samuri, Josies Orders, Vicomte Du Seuil and Cause Of Causes took the right-hand option, the others the left-hand one.
The route then took the runners across the beginning of the Chute, before they had to bypass to the outside of the Aintree fence; a sharp left-hand turn then followed. Tiger Roll had now joined Beeves at the head of affairs, followed by The Last Samuri, Chic Name, Cantlow, Urgent De Gregaine and Auvergnat. The runners continued to a bank with hedge (26 ex 28); Tiger Roll out-jumped his rivals at this one and had a clear advantage as they headed across the Chute for the final time.
The runners continued on to a double bank with hedges (27 ex 29), with Tiger Roll gradually increasing his lead over his rivals. The following fence was the Glenfarclas barrels (28 ex 30); the leader was travelling well and this was putting pressure on his rivals as they streamed out behind him. The pursuers were led by Chic Name and The Last Samuri, followed by Auvergnat, Beeves and Urgent De Gregaine.
The competitors soon reached the main racecourse circuit, turning left-handed to now continue upon the Old Course proper. Tiger Roll was still travelling well as they cleared the first of two stuffed hurdles (29 ex 31). Although his rivals had closed some of the deficit, they had been under pressure to do so. The leaders continued into the home straight, with Urgent De Gregaine endeavouring to lay down a challenge to Tiger Roll; The Last Samuri, Chic Name and Auvergnat were staying on, but at one pace.
The leading duo headed down to the last flight, with Tiger Roll getting in a little close to it; however, the French raider jumped a little left and stumbled slightly on landing over it. Thus, try as he might, Urgent De Gregaine was unable to close the deficit upon the Gordon Elliott-trained runner as they galloped up the hill to the line. Tiger Roll had won by 2 lengths having stayed on gamely all the way. The Last Samuri completed in 3rd position, with Auvergnat 4th, Chic Name 5th, Josies Orders 6th and Beeves last of the finishers; the remainder having pulled up.
Tiger Roll didn’t return to the Winners’ Enclosure, he went straight back to the stables; horses’ welfare being a priority at all times.
It was a third win at the Cheltenham Festival for the 8-year-old Tiger Roll, having won the Triumph Hurdle in 2014 and the long-distance National Hunt Chase in 2017. Amazingly, he would also go on to win the 2018 Grand National, partnered by Davy Russell!!! He’s a very talented tiddler! It’s just a shame he’s owned by Gigginstown!
Following his fall from Bless The Wings, Davy Russell was stood down for the remainder of today; he would have to pass the doctor on Thursday before being permitted to ride.
There’s always a delay for the spectators who have ventured into the centre of the racecourse; they have to wait until all of the horses have left the track before being allowed to cross back to the stands-side once more.
Reports from the Stewards’ Room regarding this race – see link at bottom of this page
The favourite for the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle was the Dan Skelton-trained Nube Negra ridden by Harry Skelton; price 15-2.
Alan King had one runner in this race, Lisp ridden by Wayne Hutchinson. There was one grey, Mercenaire.
Having left the Parade Ring, the competitors initially cantered up the all-weather strip in front of the grandstands on their way to the 2-mile starting gate at the far end of the home straight.
And then they were off, with Lisp bringing up the rear as they did so. Prominent heading to the first were the nose-banded Eureu Du Boulay, The King Of May, and the dark grey Mercenaire; also Turning Gold, Act Of Valour and, to the inside, Knight Destroyer.
Eureu Du Boulay jumped slightly to his right over the flight, almost bumping into Turning Gold and squeezing out Mercenaire; all of the runners did, however, clear it safely. The youngsters then continued on the long journey up the home straight, joining the Old Course circuit, on their way to obstacle number two. Knight Destroyer and Eureu Du Boulay were disputing the lead now, from The King Of May, Turning Gold, Act Of Valour, and Padleyourowncanoe. These were followed by Look My Way, Casa Tall, Mercenaire, Oxford Blu, Mitchouka now with Mark Walsh aboard, Eragon De Chanay, Nube Negra, Esprit De Somoza, Style De Garde, Embole, Grand Sancy, Veneer Of Charm, Mastermind, Solo Saxophone, Lisp and, finally, Brave Dancing. Mercenaire jumped the flight awkwardly and slower than his rivals.
The runners subsequently swung left-handed to travel up the hill in front of the Best Mate enclosure and into the back straight for the one and only time; Lisp brought up the rear as they did so. The horses then bowled along downhill to the third flight with Knight Destroyer continuing to spearhead the field. However, the leader got a little low, kicked out the orange protective strip, skewed in the air and fell.
Obviously this caused a great deal of inconvenience to those travelling in his slipstream; those badly affected were Look My Way, Mitchouka and Oxford Blu. At the rear of the field, Lisp fell in a separate incident; it just wasn’t Wayne Hutchinson’s day! Fortunately both horses and riders were up okay following the incident.
This left Eureu Du Boulay in the lead, from Turning Gold and The King Of May as they continued along the back straight on their journey to the fourth flight. Travelling at the rear of the field, Brave Dancing didn’t jump this one fluently. The runners subsequently negotiated the dog-leg turn on their way to the next. Although Look My Way had managed to retain his position following the third flight incident, both Mitchouka and Oxford Blu had dropped to the back of the pack. Mercenaire was probably travelling the least well of all; he was being pushed along and also received a reminder.
Eureu Du Boulay, The King Of May and Turning Gold jumped the next in unison, after which The King Of May took a narrow advantage; the Richard Hobson runner was now being pushed along and soon began to drop back through the field. This left The King Of May and Turning Gold to lead the runners around the far bend, from Look My Way, Nube Negra and Act Of Valour; behind these were Padleyourowncanoe and Casa Tall.
The King Of May still held a narrow advantage as the runners jumped the third last. Padleyourowncanoe stepped on one of the panels and flattened it. Nube Negra was travelling strongly towards the inside of runners as they headed down to the penultimate flight; King Of May and Turning Gold were continuing to hold the advantage towards the centre of the track. Act Of Valour was still there, as was Padleyourowncanoe; joining these from further back were Veneer Of Charm for Gordon Elliott and Style De Garde for Nicky Henderson.
Four abreast initially, Nube Negra went on as the runners entered the home straight. The King Of May had now dropped back, with Veneer Of Charm and Style De Garde coming through either side of Turning Gold and Act Of Valour as they headed to the final flight. Veneer Of Charm took the lead prior to the obstacle, although he had wandered around on the approach. He just nudged the top of the hurdle as he cleared it, a length or so in front of Nube Negra.
Jack Kennedy then drove him out as he headed up the hill towards the finish; again he wandered off a straight course. The jockey switched his whip to his right hand, gave him one crack, before switching it back to the left hand again. In fact the horse was hanging away in the opposite direction to the whip-hand each time. However despite this, he continued to run on well, winning by 3 lengths at the line.
Style De Garde came through on the run-in to claim 2nd, with Nube Negra 3rd and Padleyourowncanoe 4th. Turning Gold was 5th, Solo Saxophone 6th, Eragon De Chanay 7th, Look My Way 8th, Act Of Valour 9th and King Of May 10th. There were 14 finishers; the remaining 6 were pulled up, including Eureu Du Boulay.
The winner had been beaten by Mitchouka a couple of starts ago but, today, having been seriously inconvenienced at the third flight, Mark Walsh said his mount was never travelling after that; he was pulled up after two out having made an error.
It was now 5-1 to the Irish on the day … with just the bumper to go …
Reports from the Stewards’ Room regarding this race – see link at bottom of this page
I ventured across to the Pre-Parade Ring for a brief period, before returning to the steppings above the Winners’ Enclosure once more.
Despite the Irish always having a strong hand in the bumper, the favourite was Acey Milan, trained by Anthony Honeyball and ridden by Aidan Coleman; price 9-2.
There was one runner of interest, the Jamie Snowden-trained Thebannerkingrebel, ridden by Gavin Sheehan. There was one grey, Volcano.
With the starting gate located at the far end of the home straight, the horses cantered up the all-weather strip in front of the main grandstands before heading down the turf and re-entering the gallop to reach it.
And then they were off, with Carefully Selected poaching a good lead, the starter having let them go when well behind the tape. Spearheading the main group were Acey Milan and Know The Score; to their outside the hard-pulling Nestor Park. Bringing up the rear in the early stages of the race were Relegate, The Big Bite, Colreevy and Mercy Mercy Me.
The route up the home straight took the runners through an empty set of hurdle wings and across a sanded track before they joined the Old Course circuit and headed through a second set of empty hurdle wings. Carefully Selected continued to lob along at the head of affairs, under Danny Mullins deputising for the injured Ruby Walsh, as the field swung left-handed to head up the hill in front of the Best Mate enclosure. Acey Milan spearheaded the remainder of the field, with the mare Relegate now bringing up the rear.
Having turned into the back straight, the runners headed downhill initially, with no change at the head of affairs. Acey Milan continued in second position, from Know The Score, Dashel Drasher and Nestor Park. The runners headed through two further sets of empty hurdle wings as they progressed along the back straight.
The order, heading around the dog-leg turn was Carefully Selected, Acey Milan, Know The Score, Dashel Drasher, The Flying Sofa, Nestor Park, Rhinestone, Felix Desjy, Tornado Flyer, Seddon, Stoney Mountain, Jaytrack Parkhomes, Blackbow, Doc Penfro squeezed against the inside rails, Volcano, Crooks Peak, Didtheyleaveuoutto, Mercy Mercy Me, The Big Bite, Arch My Boy, Thebannerkingrebel, Colreevy and Relegate.
The 23 runners continued on their journey up the hill to the far corner of the track; there was still no change at the head of affairs, although the deficit had been reduced. The field swung left-handed, before continuing down the hill. With the pace now quickening, Doc Penfro, Crooks Peak and Thebannerkingrebel found themselves outpaced; they had dropped to the rear of the field and soon became detached.
The race was definitely on as the runners headed around the home turn, with Carefully Selected continuing to hold the advantage, over the hooded Gigginstown runner Felix Desjy, also Acey Milan, Rhinestone, Know The Score, Tornado Flyer and Seddon. As Know The Score and Seddon began to fade, Relegate, Blackbow, Didtheyleaveuoutto and Mercy Mercy Me also began to lay down their challenges to the long-time leader.
The latter two’s challenges soon petered out but, as they headed through the final set of empty wings, Relegate and Blackbow had now joined Flexi Dejsy, Acey Milan and Tornado Flyer as they endeavoured to chase down the long-time leader. Having been out in front since the off, Carefully Selected appeared to be losing concentration as the line approached; he wandered off a straight line, edging to his right, under a left-hand drive.
The leader continued to hang right, despite Danny Mullins switching his whip to his right hand; meanwhile Relegate continued to gain, although drifting left under a right-hand drive. Having reached the stand-side rail, Carefully Selected now stayed on but it was too late; the Katie Walsh-ridden mare had won by a neck at the line. Tornado Flyer finished 3rd, 3¼ lengths behind them. It didn’t make any odds to the trainer Willie Mullins, as he’d trained the first three!
The best of the home team was Acey Milan in 4th, for trainer Anthony Honeyball and jockey Aidan Coleman. Blackbow, again for Willie Mullins was 5th, Felix Desjy for Gordon Elliott 6th, Colreevy for Willie Mullins 7th and Mercy Mercy Me for Fergal O’Brien 8th. The final Irish representative, Rhinestone, finished 9th for Joseph O’Brien. The Irish had 7 of the 23 runners, with all of them home in the first 9!!! Although, surprisingly, Willie Mullins hadn’t won the race since 2013.
That being said, the ground probably didn’t help the Brits; Bannerkingrebel was actually pulled up, having suffered from breathing issues on unsuitable ground. That was my sole bet of the Festival wasted!
It was mentioned that the winner could have run instead at Sandown Park the previous Saturday, in the Mares’ listed bumper; Relegate is a daughter of Flemensfirth. Tornado Flyer is related to Hurricane Fly … I suppose, in hindsight, the name suggests that!
Reports from the Stewards’ Room regarding this race – see link at bottom of this page
Having held a narrow lead at the end of day one, the Irish had seriously outpointed the GB team today; a whitewash prevented solely by the wonderful Altior.
Ruby Walsh had been taken to hospital following his fall during the second race of the day and initial reports suggested that he might have re-broken his leg; the same injury he’d just recovered from, having returned to action less than a week previously. The original injury had occurred the previous November. Regardless, he was sidelined for the remainder of this Festival.
I started my car at 18:20 today and, once again, was stuck in a queue to leave; in contrast to yesterday, I had decided to travel down the right-hand route within the car park. However, having finally exited the first gate, the roadway queue did move more quickly.
Once outside the gate, it was a clear run until Priors Road, close to the Bouncers Lane junction. I subsequently headed up Harp Hill and into Greenway Lane as usual but, today, there was a long tail-back from the traffic lights at Six Ways; it was probably the longest queue I’d ever encountered at this location. Too many people appear to have discovered my ‘quick getaway’ route!
Anyway, I eventually escaped Cheltenham at 19:10 and arrived back at my hotel at 19:55. I then settled down to a Pot Noodle, chocolate biscuits and a chocolate bar!
Having spent my time on the steppings today, apart from venturing out into the centre of the racecourse for the cross-country event, my Hotter boots proved far easier to clean than my snow-boots had been the previous evening.