Sunday 7 April 2024

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 15 February 2024

Ballymore Novices' Hurdle


The Ballymore Novices' Hurdle is a Grade 1 hurdle run over 2 miles and 5 furlongs on the Old Course at Cheltenham in March. As the name suggests, the race is restricted to horses, aged four years and upwards, who start the current season without a win over hurdles.

The Ballymore Novices' Hurdle was inaugurated, as the Aldsworth Hurdle, in 1974 and has been known by various titles – including the Sun Alliance Novices' Hurdle and the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle – for sponsorship purposes down the years. Property developer Ballymore began its second spell of sponsorship in 2018 but, nowadays, the race is officially registered as the Baring Bingham Novices' Hurdle, in honour of William Baring Bingham, who owned the racecourse at Prestbury Park until 1905 and began the National Hunt Festival.

Willie Mullins, who has been leading trainer at the Cheltenham Festival nine times, is also the leading trainer in the history of the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle, with five winners. The Co. Carlow handler saddled Fiveforthree (2008), Mikael d'Haguenet (2009), Faugheen (2014), Yorkhill (2016) and Sir Gerhard (2022). At this still early stage of the 2022/23 National Hunt season, Mullins dominates the ante-post market for the 2023 renewal, which is scheduled for 1.20pm on Wednesday, March 15.

The unbeaten Walk In The Park gelding Facile Vega, who won the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at the 2022 Cheltenham Festival, currently heads the ante-post lists at 4/1. However, Mullins also has James's Gate, Gaelic Warrior and Redemption Day in the first half a dozen in the ante-post betting, so further success for one or other of his staying novices looks a distinct possibility. Of course, there are countless more possibilities, so it will be fascinating to see how the division develops in the coming months.

Tuesday 19 December 2023

Funny Cheltenham Joke

Riding a firm favourite at the annual Cheltenham Festival, the horse is well ahead of the rest of the field. Suddenly, out of nowhere he's hit on the back of the head by a turkey, then a string of sausages. Rattled and confused, he somehow manages to keep control of his horse and stays ahead of the pack. Moments later however, he's struck again, this time by several mince pies and a box of Christmas crackers. He struggles to keep the lead, but somehow still manages to stay ahead of the field. With the win in his sights though, he’s then struck on the head by a bottle of sherry and, to add insult to injury, a Christmas pudding. As result, he finishes third. Angered, he immediately goes to the stewards to complain that he has been seriously hampered. 

and a couple of bonus funnies:

I found a way to make a horse stand perfectly still. Place a bet on him.

A talking horse walks into a bar and approaches the manager. “Excuse me, good sir,” the horse says, “are you hiring?”
The manager looks the horse up and down and says, “Sorry, pal. Why don’t you try the circus?”
The horse nickers. “Why would the circus need a bartender?”


What's the difference between praying in church and at the track?
At the track you really mean it!

Thursday 26 October 2023

Cheltenham Festival - Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is the very first race run at every Cheltenham event. It started out as a curtain raiser event, but the novices have proven to be more and more skilled over the years, eventually making it one of the festival’s signature races.

The grade one competition race covers 3298 metres (2 mi furlong) over which racing horses go over eight challenging hurdles. Participating horses have to be at least four years old.

The race has had its current name since 1978 when it was renamed from Lloyds Bank Champion Novices Hurdle. It’s very first title was the Gloucestershire Hurdle, adopted when it was first introduced in 1946.

Thousands of onlookers gather every year to witness this first event of a hugely popular horserace.
It has become synonymous with the Cheltenham Roar,’ a wild cheer from fans every time the race kicks off. The success of the festival can often be gauged from the enthusiasm of the crowd when they make this signature cheer.

The Old Course has always been the surface for this hurdle race that is among amateur National Hunt premier events. The course has taken a galloping every year since 1946, with the exception of 1947 when the event was abandoned due to extreme snowing.

Trainer Willie Mullins has dominated the race in the last two decades, with his horses taking five wins over that period to make him the leading trainer since 1972. His case has been helped by jockey Ruby Walsh who swept three consecutive wins between 2013 and 2015. Walsh himself is the leading jockey, having recorded his own five wins between 2006 and 2015.

The race appears to mostly favour five, six and seven-year-old horses. No four-year-old horse has taken the first position since the turn of the 21st century, while 2002 winner Like-A-Butterfly (8 years) was the only winner older than seven years since 1966.