Saturday 12 May 2018

Cheltenham Festival – ‘Championship’ Races 2004

Champion Hurdle

The 2004 Champion Hurdle produced a surprise, with 33/1 outsider Hardy Eustace, trained by Dessie Hughes in Co. Kildare and ridden by Conor O’Dwyer, making just about all the running and drawing away when challenged at the last flight to beat defending champion Rooster Booster by 5 lengths. The 7-year-old had won the Royal & SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle at the previous Cheltenham Festival, so was clearly no slouch. However, connections tried first-time blinkers after a few disappointing runs and the headgear had the desired effect.

Queen Mother Champion Chase

Without wishing to detract from the performance of the winner, Azertyuiop, the Queen Mother Champion Chase was lessened, as a spectacle, by the departure of the reigning champion Moscow Flyer at the fourth last fence, before the race had begun in earnest. In any event, Azertyuiop ran out a ready, 9-length winner from Flagship Uberalles, with Tiutchev a further 1½ lengths away in third. Moscow Flyer can beaten Azertyuiop by 4 lengths in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown the previous December, so connections were left to mull over what might have been.

Stayers’ Hurdle

The finish of the Stayers’ Hurdle involved the same two horses as the previous year, but Iris’s Gift reversed the form with reigning champion Baracouda – who was attempting to win the race for the third year running – to the tune of 2¼ lengths, to win by 1½ lengths. Baracouda held every chance and was upsides on the run-in, only to be outbattled in the final 100 yards. The pair finished well clear of Crystal D’Ainay, who could only keep on at one pace to finish third, 13 lengths away.

Cheltenham Gold Cup

The 2004 Cheltenham Gold Cup featured history in the making, as Best Mate justified odds of 8/11 to win the most prestigious race in the National Hunt calendar for the third year running. In so doing, he became the first horse since Arkle, in 1966, and just the fourth horse ever, to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup at least three times. Sir Rembrandt, an unconsidered 33/1 outsider trained by Robert Alner and ridden by Andrew Thornton, finished well to give the favourite a fright, but Best Mate held on to win by half a length.

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