Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Cheltenham Festival - Pertemps Final

Cheltenham Pertemps Final
Hurdle races are always a thrill at the Cheltenham Festival. Observers love the thrill of watching varying levels of skill give racehorses advantage (or its opposite) as they combine speed and power to navigate the course.

That is exactly what the Pertemps Final offers on the third day of the Festival- a thrill of power and pace. The third-grade race sees racehorses of five years and above compete over a distance of 4828 metres (3 mi) on the turf layered New Course at Cheltenham. The horses are handicapped to achieve a better balance as they seek to perform best over a path dotted with twelve hurdle obstacles.

It is a fairly aged race having been first run in 1974. It has been held at every Cheltenham festival since then with the exception of the foot-and-mouth ill-fated 2001. Seasoned sponsor Coral (now of Coral Cup) was a long time sponsor until 1993. Pertemps, the current sponsor, has had the deal since 2002. The sponsorship offers a purse of around £90,000 with the winner taking more than half of it.

The 2018 edition is this race’s first ever edition as a graded race. It was formerly run as a Listed race, but continuous improvement in competition has earned it a promotion.

Horses do not just register for the Pertemps Final. Rather, they go through a rigorous series of qualifiers in the five months leading up to the March festival.

This is one of the races with the evenest distribution of winners across the age brackets. Six, seven, eight andnine-year-olds are the most prolific winners. The record holder, however, had a two-digit age. Willie Wumpkins took first place in 1979, 80 and 81 to set a record that stands to date. The horse was ridden by amateur jockey Jim Wilson and trained by Jane Pilkington on all three occasions. Wilson remains the top jockey in the race, but Jane was overtaken by Jonjo O’ Neill who achieved a
fourth win as a trainer in 2013.

Monday, 17 August 2020

Cheltenham Festival - Festival Trophy

Cheltenham festival trophy
The Festival Trophy and the Ryanair Chase are one and the same race. The names are often used interchangeably to refer to the Grade 1 race run on the third day of the Cheltenham Festival.

The race is a Grade 1 chase event on National hunt’s calendar that admits racehorses five years and older. The competition takes place on the left-handed, turf New Cheltenham Course over a
distance of 4,225 metres (2 mi 5 furlongs) with seventeen fence hurdles acting as obstacles on the competitors’ path.

The race has been run for slightly over a decade, with the first edition happening during the 2005 festival. That event was sponsored by news outlet Daily Telegraph. Ryanair picked up the sponsorship from the second edition and the race has been known as the Ryanair Chase since
then. The sponsorship offers one of the festival’s biggest purses which is somewhere around £275,000. That translates to over £150,000 for the winning horse.

Cheltenham Festival’s leading jockey Ruby Walsh has had a lovely run in this race as well. He won the inaugural event atop Paul Nicholls-trained nine-year-old horse Thisthatandtother. He was again
the first-place finisher in 2007, this time riding six-year-old Taranis who also came from Nicholls’ training stable.

Walsh had an extended absence from the winners’ dais in this race from 2007, only sweeping first honours again in 2016 when he rode Willie Mullins-trained Vautour who was aged seven years. Trainer and Jockey were at it again in 2017 when they entered nine-year-old Un de Sceaux and went on to finish in the first position. The 2017 win tool Ruby Walsh to a record four wins while Mullins joined the class of trainers whose horses have won two races. Other trainers in this category include Paul Nicholls, David Pipe, Nicky Henderson and Jonjo O’ Neill. A Mullins-Walsh partnership is
heavily tipped to set a new record for both jockey and trainer

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

The Long & the Short of it: Cheltenham ‘Championship’ Races

The four main ‘championship’ races at the Cheltenham Festival – the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Champion Hurdle, the Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Stayers’ Hurdle – represent the pinnacle of achievement in each division of National Hunt racing. They have often been won by the out-and-out champions of the sport, who were ‘expected’ to win, and did so, at correspondingly short odds. Every now and again, though, they throw up highly unlikely winners, who defy monstrous odds to have their names carved on one of the hallowed trophies.

Legendary Irish steeplechaser Arkle, who won the Cheltenham Gold Cup three times in a row, in 1964, 1965 and 1966, has the distinction of being the shortest-priced winner of the most prestigious race at the Cheltenham Festival. On his third, and final, attempt, in 1966, such was his apparent superiority over his three rivals that he was sent off at eyewateringly prohibitive odds of 1/10.

By contrast, in 1990, Norton’s Coin, one of just three horses trained by Carmarthen permit holder Sirrell Griffiths, was the longest-priced winner in the history of the Cheltenham Gold Cup. ‘More a candidate for last than first’, at least according to the official Cheltenham racecard on the day, the nine-year-old defied odds of 100/1 to beat Toby Tobias and defending champion Desert by three-quarters of a length and four lengths, breaking the course record in the process.

In 1954, Sir Ken, trained by Willie Stephenson, became only the second horse – after Hatton’s Grace – to win the Champion Hurdle three times a row. He started favourite on all three occasions but, in 1953, he was sent off at 2/5, making him the shortest-priced winner in the history of the race. At the other end of the scale, Kirriemuir, trained by Fulke Walwyn, popped up at 50/1 in 1965, as did Beech Road, trained by Toby Balding, in 1989; they share the spoils as the joint-longest-priced winners.

In the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the supremely gifted Flyingbolt, a stable companion of Arkle, was returned at odds of 1/5 after putting five rivals to the word in 1966. In 1980, Chinrullah was first past the post, but later controversially disqualified after failing a post-race urine test, in favour of Another Dolly, trained by Fred Rimmell. Returned at 33/1, Another Dolly is officially the longest-priced winner of the race.

The Stayers’ Hurdle – or ‘World Hurdle’, as it was known for a while – was first run, in its current guise, in 1972. Since then, Big Buck’s, who won the race four consecutive times, in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012, was twice returned at odds of 5/6, in 2010 and 2012, making him the shortest-priced winner of the modern era. In 1983, BBC pundit announced that he would ‘eat his hat’ if A Kinsman, trained by Cumbrian farmer John Brockbank, won the Stayers’ Hurdle. Nevertheless, A Kinsman duly obliged, at 50/1, to become the longest-priced winner in the history of the race.

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Female Jockeys at the Cheltenham Festival

Caroline Beasley, aboard Eliogarty, was the very first female jockey to ride a winner at the Cheltenham Festival, on Eliogarty in 1983. Although this win in the St. James’s Place Foxhunter Chase signalled what was possible for female jockeys it wasn't exactly a sign of the flood gates opening.  In fact winners ridden by female jockeys in the following years were very much few and far between. Outlier events.

Katie Rimell, on Three Counties, in 1989, Polly Curling, on Fantus, in 1995, Fiona Needham, on Last Option, in 2002 and Rilley Goschen, on Earthmover, in 2004, all followed in the footsteps of Caroline Beasley by winning the St. James’s Place Foxhunter Chase. After that time came a barren period though, propped up only by the successes two skilled female jockeys, Nina Carberry and Katie Walsh.  
Nina Carberry is the definition of 'start as you mean to go on' with an impressive first Cheltenham Festival win on Dabiroun in the Fred Winter Juvenile Novices’ Handicap Hurdle in 2005. The six winners that followed let her to becoming the most successful  female jockey in the history of the Festival. Those six winners were all trained by Enda Bolger in Co. Limerick and owned by John McManus. They included a record four wins in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase and back-to-back victories in the St. James’s Place Foxhunter Chase. Katie Walsh, on the other hand, won the County Hurdle on Thousand Stars, the National Hunt Chase on Poker De Sivola and the Weatherbys Champion Bumper on Relegate, for a total of three Festival winners.

Bryony Frost, now conditional jockey to former Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls, opened her account at the Festival, while still an amateur, when steering Pacha Du Polder to victory in the St. James’s Place Foxhunter Chase in 2017 and another amateur, Harriet Tucker, repeated the feat on the same horse a year later. Katie Walsh and Harriet Tucker were also joined, in 2018, by the first two professional female jockeys to ride winners at the Cheltenham Festival, Lizzie Kelly on Coo Star Sivola in the Ultima Handicap Chase and Bridget Andrews on Mohaayed in the County Hurdle.

Four female jockey winners in a year was a new record for the Cheltenham Festival, and it was pleasing to see a renewed enthusiasm and momentum building. Unlike with the Grand National, historically female jockeys have struggled at the Cheltenham Festival and it looks like a corner may well have finally been turned in that department.