Wednesday 17 March 2021

Cheltenham Festival – ‘Championship’ Races 2003

Champion Hurdle

The 2003 Champion Hurdle was won, in emphatic style, by Rooster Booster, owned by Terry Warner, trained by Philip Hobbs and ridden by Richard Johnson, all of whom were recording their first win in the race. The popular grey had won the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle at the 2002 Cheltenham Festival, but improved out of all recognition – officially by 19lb – in 2002/03. His winning margin, of 11 lengths, has been bettered just twice in the history of the Champion Hurdle. Defending champion Hors La Loi III blotted his copybook by refusing to race.

Queen Mother Champion Chase

Native Upmanship and Cenkos find second and third, as they had in 2002, but the previous year’s winner, Flagship Uberalles, could only finish fifth of the eight finishers, beaten 20 lengths, behind the winner, Moscows Flyer. Jessica Harrington’s the 9-year-old had won the Arkle Challenge Trophy at the previous Cheltenham Festival and, notwithstanding a non-completion in the Tingle Creek at Sandown, had won all four completed starts since, so looked a worthy favourite. Aided by the fall of Latalomne, who was going well, at the second last fence for the second year running, Moscow Flyer soon had the race sewn up, winning by 7 lengths.

Stayers’ Hurdle

Defending champion, Baracouda, who’d been turned over at 4/11 on his previous start in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot, where jockey Thierry Doumen overdid the waiting tactics, once again started favourite at 9/4. The 8-year-old had to work a little harder than the previous year, but nevertheless collected, staying on gamely up the hill to deny the 6-year-old Iris’s Gift, trained by Jonjo O’Neill and ridden by Barry Geraghty.

Cheltenham Gold Cup

A.P. McCoy famously said in the build-up to the 2003 Cheltenham Gold Cup, “I don't know what I’m riding this year and I don’t think it matters. Best Mate will win.” The multiple champion jockey was, of course, correct in his assertion; backed into 13/8 favourite, defending champion Best Mate came clear with two to jump and won easily by lengths. In so doing, he became the first horse since L’Escargot, in 1971, to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup twice.

Monday 15 March 2021

Cheltenham Roar

We got lucky last year, as the Cheltenham Festival was the last major sporting event to take place prior to lockdown (no such luck with the 'virtual Grand National' – which wasn't exactly edge of your seat stuff). Thankfully this year once again the Cheltenham Festival will once again be taking place. Sadly there will be no crowds but the 'Cheltenham Roar' from the previous Festival will be used and so that familiar feel will be there. In anticipation of the event, with the help of Betway, Richard Hoiles has his quiz hat on and will be asking some well known West Ham players representing Ireland and Britain (Prestbury Cup style!) what they know about racing and the Cheltenham Festival.

Monday 1 March 2021

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.