It has been a record-breaking Cheltenham Festival for Ireland who produced the winners of the Queen Mother Champion Chase, Stayers’ Hurdle and Cheltenham Gold Cup at the meeting as well as taking 19 of the 28 races.
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Sizing John caused a surprise in the Gold Cup as he was able to get the better of Djakadam, Native River and Cue Card who had all been all popular in the betting for the Blue Riband contest leading up to the meeting. Jessica Harrington was able to win the 3m2f contest for the first time in her career and become the first female trainer to be victorious since Henrietta Knight in 2004. The Irish horse has so often been used to finishing second behind Douvan over 2m but since stepping up in trip he has excelled as he has become only the third horse to do the Irish Gold Cup and Cheltenham Gold Cup double in the same season. Sizing John has been installed in the horse racing betting for the 2018 Gold Cup at 10/1 where he currently has only Thistlecrack ahead of him in the market at 4/1.
Unowhatimeanharry went into the Stayers’ Hurdle on day three of the Festival this year as many people’s banker of the meeting following his success there in the Cleeve Hurdle, however, Harry Fry’s hurdler had to settle for third place as Nichols Canyon was successful for Willie Mullins, with Lil Rockerfella taking the runner-up spot. Ruby Walsh gave the winner plenty of cover in the early stages of the 3m race and had plenty left in the engine jumping the last as he went up the hill better than any of his rivals to prevail for the Irish Champion Trainer.
Douvan’s defeat in the Queen Mother Champion chase was arguably the biggest surprise of the Festival this year. Last season’s Arkle Trophy winner went off at 2/9, the shortest price of any runner at the meeting. He was unable to finish in the placings though as Special Tara came out on top for Henry De Bromhead. The 10-year-old was third in the same race 12 months ago, while in 2015 he also had to settle for third place in the leading 2m chase contest on the national hunt calendar.
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The one Championship success for Great Britain during the 2017 Festival came on day one in Champion Hurdle as Nicky Henderson was successful with Buveur D’Air. Last season’s Supreme Novice Hurdle third-place finisher has been running over fences earlier in the campaign but was switched back to hurdles at the start of this year and has proved to be a very good move following his win at the Festival. The six-year-old, who ran in the JP McManus silks, was successful by four lengths ahead of My Tent or Yours who finished second once again just like he did in 2014 and 2016, while Petit Mouchoir ran on for third.
In the Trainers’ Championship, Gordon Elliott took the price back to Ireland with him as he was able to defeat Mullins who also had six winners on the meeting but missed out on countback.
Searching on youtube earlier, I came across this gem. I must have seen this Louis Theroux episode a good four or five times now. Louis is a great documentary maker and so this isn’t a demonising or glorifying documentary on Las Vegas Casinos or gambling. Instead it shows the various shades of grey and the characters you find at casinos, as well as the ups and downs they experience while gambling. This isn’t horse racing specific of course, but it has the ‘wacky’ in wacky races covered, that’s for sure!
In the 2.20 at Huntingdon on Thursday, Messire Des Obeaux carries a 10lb penalty for winning the Challow Hurdle at Newbury on New Year’s Eve, which could open the door for the progressive Keeper Hill. The Westerner gelding has won his last two starts over hurdles, both over 2 miles 3½ furlongs on soft going, and his most recent win has already been franked by the runner-up, Skipthecuddles. He faces far and away his most difficult task to date, but is open to improvement after just five starts in total and favoured by race conditions.
In the 2.50 at Huntingdon, Allee Bleue appeared to improve for the step up to 2 miles 4½ furlongs on heavy going at Leicester eight days ago and, while he drops back a furlong under less testing conditions, may be able to defy a 7lb penalty. Indeed, the Mount Nelson gelding is 3lb well in compared with future engagements, so his quick reappearance is no surprise.
In the 3.20 at Huntingdon, Johns Luck has won his last two starts by a short head and a neck, leaving the handicapper with little room for manoeuvre and, off a mark just 3lb higher, may be capable of completing a hat-trick. In fact, the 3lb rise is negated by Harry reed’s 7lb claim and he seems versatile with regard to underfoot conditions, so he has plenty going for him, despite the welter burden of 12st 2lb.
Selections: Huntingdon 2.20 Keeper Hill, Huntingdon 2.50 Allee Bleue, Huntingdon 3.20 Johns Luck, 1-point Win Patent