CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL REVIEW
The Cheltenham Festival is now behind us for another year and it was a great few days. It’s always brilliant to ride winners there, it’s like nothing else, so I was delighted to partner two winners over the four days.
Buveur D’Air was a low point and I hit the crossbar with a couple of others, but most of my reflections are happy ones.
The best place to start is with my Grade 1 winner for the week,DEFI DU SEUIL in the JLT Novices’ Chase on Thursday.
Philip Hobbs has done a great job with him and I was delighted with his performance. He has got better with every start this season and his form with the runner-up backs up that view. I just love the way he does things. He has loads of scope, loads of bottle, he’s rock-solid. It was a good test at the trip and he got it well.
Looking to the future, while he is clearly very good at these mid-range trips, he’s one that could potentially try three miles at some stage. He’s only a six-year-old and you’d be excited about him wherever he goes.
My other winner at Cheltenham came on the Gordon Elliott-trained SIRE DU BERLAIS in the following race, the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle.
He took a bit of time to warm up to the job and didn’t really help himself at times. He got a bit squeezed up coming down to the third-last flight and then made a mistake at it.
He was always just on the verge of getting shuffled back, but to be fair to him he battled him way into contention and got there when it mattered most. It wasn’t pretty, but no one ever minds winning ugly!
In terms of the horses I hit the frame on, the Tony Martin-trained ANIBALE FLY ran a stormer to finish second in the Gold Cup.
To be honest, he was struggling from the sixth-last onwards, but like Sire Du Berlais he really battled his way back into contention and ran a very good race. He was no match for the winner, but it was great to chase him home.
Looking ahead, the Grand National would be an obvious thought in your head given he ran so well in it last year. He is up a bit in the weights since last year, but he jumped well around there. He will be going there a bit fresher than he did last year and hopefully that will be a help to him.
The Nicky Henderson-trained CHAMP ran a fine race to finish second in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle. We squared up to City Island and we just couldn’t match him for pace, but it was a good solid run.
The trip was ideal for him, he did everything right bar win. He’s a high-class horse and there should be plenty of good days ahead for him.
Later that day I finished second in the Champion Bumper on the Willie Mullins-trained BLUE SARI.
Much like Champ, he ran a cracker without any obvious excuse. You’d just say that he was giving up age and experience to Envoi Allen and that might have been the difference on the day. The winner is a very smart horse, but my fella is very good too. He’s a horse you’d look forward to wherever he goes.
On Friday, GARDENS OF BABYLON finished third in the Triumph Hurdle. He ran a good race, but his jumping a bit novicey early on and maybe just lacked a bit of pace from the third-last hurdle.
Later that day, I rode the Nicky Henderson-trained COUNTISTER to finish third in the County Hurdle on her first start of the season. I crept her into the race and she had every chance, but she just didn’t have the pace of the front two. Hopefully she’ll be able to build on this on her next start.
Of those that didn’t hit the frame, where can we start but with BUVEUR D’AIR in the Champion Hurdle. It was really disappointing to exit the race that early. He is a brilliant jumper, very economical, but he was just too economical for his own good and paid the price.
It’s such a pity that it happened on the day that it did, but to be fair to the Espoir D’Allen, he was very good on the day. I was delighted for Gavin, Mark and JP. He looks a really good horse but Buveur D’Air got up just fine and he’ll have his day again.
EPATANTE was a bit of a disappointment in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle. The hood worked well, she was very settled in the preliminaries and relaxed well enough in the race, but her jumping wasn’t as good as it could have been.
I’d find it hard to draw a solid conclusion on her based on her run. Maybe she just isn’t up to that company, but I’d like to see her out again before I make up my mind on her.
BIRCHDALE ran a good race to a point in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, but he stopped quickly after the second-last flight for no apparent reason. Maybe it was his stamina running out, but I wouldn’t judge him too harshly on it either way.
There was plenty of other stories to reflect on from the week. I was delighted to see Paul Townend win the Gold Cup on Al Boum Photo. It’s a huge landmark in the career of any jockey to win the Gold Cup. It stands out on its own.
There are a lot of very good jockeys that never won a Gold Cup in their careers, so its great for Paul that he’s now in the club. The same can be said for Willie Mullins who had hit the crossbar so many times in the race.
I was also delighted for Lizzie Kelly, Bryony Frost and Rachael Blackmore. Rachael in particular played a stormer by riding two winners and is raising the bar all the time. She deserves all the success that is coming her way. She has earned every bit of it.
On a less positive note, the bans given to the amateur riders after the National Hunt Chase were really disappointing. You’d have to the question the decisions that the stewards have made there. Declan Lavery is a horseman first and foremost and I thought he did a great job to nurse that horse home into third.
Punishing him for that made no sense to me and doing so unfairly paints him and all of the banned riders in a very poor light. I think Declan has made the right decision to appeal the punishment and I’d hope that common sense will prevail.