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Sunday, 17 May 2020

Best Cheltenham Festival Ride Ever?


At the time of his retirement, in April, 2015, Sir Anthony Peter ‘A.P.’ McCoy had ridden 4,348 winners under National Hunt rules, including 31 at the Cheltenham Festival. His Festival haul included the Champion Hurdle three times, the Cheltenham Gold Cup twice and the Queen Mother Champion. However, the former 20-time Champion Jockey believes, and few would argue, that he enjoyed his finest hour in the Festival Trophy Handicap Chase – at that time, run as the William Hill Trophy Handicap Chase – on March 10, 2009.


The race was run, as it is today, over 3 miles and 80 yards on the Old Course at Prestbury Park and Mcoy rode Wichita Lineman, a 7-year-old owned by John Patrick ‘J.P.’ McManus and trained by Jonjo O’Neill. Although having just his fourth start over fences, Wichita Lineman was sent off 5/1 favourite on his handicap debut; he was hardly an unlikely winner, at least not according to the betting market, but it was the manner of his victory, from a nigh on impossible position, for which McCoy earned deserved plaudits.


After a false start, Wichita Lineman raced in mid-division, on the inside, before making a mistake at the ninth fence, and another at the tenth, which led to a reminder from McCoy heading out onto the second circuit. Only tenth or eleventh when hitting the fifteenth fence, Witchita Lineman was still making little or impression on the leaders when hitting the third last fence. However, coming down the hill, the horse rallied, under maximum pressure and, turning into the home straight, had reached sixth place.


Switched to the wide outside, he was still only third jumping the final fence, but made relentless progress up the famous Cheltenham hill, collaring Maljimar, who had led from the second last fence, in the final two strides to win by a neck. Sadly, the story does not have a happy ending; Wichita Lineman was killed in a fall at the first fence on his very next start, in the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse the following month, but he will always be remembered as the subject of possibly the best ride ever seen at the Cheltenham Festival.

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Biggest Cheltenham Festival Flops


The Cheltenham Festival regularly provides the most competitive racing in the British National Hunt calendar, so short-priced, even odds-on, losers are commonplace. Even so, from time to time, the public latches on to a horse which, for whatever reason, is backed as if defeat is out of the question. Of course, it isn’t, but such horses are often forced in to short, sometimes ludicrously short, prices. ‘Following the money’ can pay dividends, but can, equally, be a total disaster.


The most obvious recent example of a Cheltenham Festival ‘flop’ was Douvan, trained by Willie Mullins, in the Queen Mother Champion Chase in 2017. In a race that has had more than its fair share of odds-on losers down the years, Douvan was sent off at prohibitive odds of 2/9 to continue his unbeaten run, which stretched back 14 races over hurdles and fences. Even so, there were still takers, including one anonymous punter who reportedly placed a bet of £100,000/£500,000 at odds of 1/5. In any event, Douvan jumped poorly, was soon outpaced and trailed in seventh of the nine finishers, beaten 11¾ lengths, behind the winner Special Tiara.

Kasbah Bliss, trained in France by Francois Doumen, was a regular at the Cheltenham Festival in the Noughties, but having been beaten in the Triumph Hurdle and twice in the Stayers’ Hurdle – or the World Hurdle, as it was known at the time – he was surprising made odds-on favourite, at 10/11, for the latter race in 2009. The previous year, on the Old Course, he had failed by just a length to overhaul Inglis Drever, but the year before that, on the New Course, he had had his stamina limitations exposed when beaten 17 lengths by the same horse. Back on the New Course in 2008, he fared no better, weakening on the run-in to finish fourth, beaten 21 lengths, behind Big Buck’s.

Another fine Irish steeplechaser, Beef Or Salmon, trained by Michael Hourigan, had already been beaten three times in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, before he lined up, as 4/1 favourite, for the 2006 renewal. On his previous attempts he had fallen at the third fence in 2003, finished fourth, beaten 3½ lengths, behind Best Mate in 2004 and been tailed off when pulled up two out behind Kicking King in 2005. However, in the absence of Best Mate, who’d won for the previous years, he was suddenly considered favourite material. He wasn’t, finishing eleventh of nineteen, beaten 19 lengths behind War Of Attrition.

Thursday, 12 March 2020

Champion Hurdle Trends


The Champion Hurdle, run over 2 miles and 87 yards on the Old Course, is the feature race on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival and, this year, is scheduled for 15.30 on Tuesday, March 12. We’ve taken a detailed look at the winners of the Champion Hurdle to see if we can identify any recent trends that may help you to narrow the field.



Age-wise, the last ten winners were all aged between six and nine years, although four were six-year-olds and four seven-year-olds. Looking a little further back, the last five-year-old to win was Katchit in 2008 and before that See You Then in 1985, while the last ten-year-old to win was Sea Pigeon in 1980.


Unsurprisingly, hurdling experience, including at the highest level, winning form and fitness are all paramount to winning the Champion Hurdle. The last ten winners had made at least five starts over hurdles – including at least one at Grade One level and at least two in the current season – and had won at least one of the last three.



Ratings-wise, nine of the last ten winners held an official handicap rating of 162 or more; the exception was dual winner Buveur D’Air, who was rated ‘just’ 157 at the time of his first victory in 2017, but was rated 169 by the time of his second victory in 2018.


Four of the last ten winners have been trained by Nicky Henderson, four have been trained by Willie Mullins and four have been owned by John Patrick ‘J.P. McManus’.

The only one of the last ten winners to wear headgear, of any kind, was Jezki, who wore a first-time hood when winning in 2014.


At a top-priced 2/1, at the time of writing, Buveur D’Air may not be the most original selection as he attempts a hat-trick in the Champion Hurdle, but is an eight-year-old, officially rated 172, who has yet to finish out of the first three in 14 starts over hurdles, winning 12, including seven at Grade One level, and is 2-3 this season. He’s also owned by John McManus and trained by Nicky Henderson, so that 2/1 might just represent some value after all.

Saturday, 1 February 2020

Cheltenham Gold Cup Course Record Holders


The Cheltenham Gold Cup was first run, as a steeplechase, in 1924, but was switched from its original home, on the ‘Old Course’ at Prestbury Park, to the ‘New Course’, in 1959, marking the start of the modern era.

Arkle, who completed the course in a time of 6 minutes 45.6 seconds when beating Mill House by 5 lengths in the first of his three consecutive victories in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, in 1964, is credited, by more than one reputable source, with breaking the course record by four seconds. If that information is correct, Arkle broke the course record again in 1965, when beating Mill House by 20 lengths in a time of 6 minutes 41.2 seconds. However, another reputable source credits Mandarin, winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1962, with a winning time of 6 minutes 39.4 seconds which, if correct, was faster than anything recorded by Arkle.

In any event, the record for the Cheltenham Gold Cup was definitely broken, in dramatic fashion, by The Dikler, trained by Fulke Walwyn and ridden by Ron Barry, in 1973. Barry produced The Dikler with a tremendous late run to overhaul the odds-on favourite Pendil close home, winning by a short head in a time of 6 minutes 37.2 seconds. More drama followed, in 1986, when Jonjo O’Neill galvanised the mare, Dawn Run, to a historic victory over Wayward Lad and Forgive ‘N’ Forget; she not only became the first and, so far, only horse to complete the Champion Hurdle – Champion Hurdle, but also lowered the course record by nearly two seconds, winning in a time of 6 minutes 35.3 seconds.


The next record for 3 miles 2 furlongs and 70 yards on the New Course at Cheltenham was set, on unseasonably fast, good to firm going, by Norton’s Coin. Despite being the longest-priced winner in the history of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, at 100/1, there appeared no fluke about his victory over Toby Tobias and Desert Orchid, a fact that was reflected in his winning time of 6 minutes 30.9 seconds. Indeed, his course record stood for a decade, until fractionally beaten by Looks Like Trouble, who won in a time of 6 minutes 30.3 seconds, again on good to firm going, in 2000.

Once again, the record stood for 11 years and was broken only as the result of a memorable renewal of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2011. That year, helped in no small part by a searching, end-to-end gallop, set by Midnight Chase, Long Run defeated Denman and Kauto Star in a winning time of 6 minutes 29.5 seconds, to set a record that has yet to be broken.