Cheltenham 2020 Review.
Tuesday – Day One:
Supreme Novices Hurdle:
With Asterion Forlonge jumping out to the right, you’d have to wonder why the jockey on Elixir D’ainay was happy to jump the 2nd last upsides, having been interfered with at the previous hurdle. A bad error in judgement as he was completely taken out having still been in contention and running what looked to be his best race of the season. To a lesser extent the same could be said about Captain Guinness who was further to the right, but was then hampered by the fall of Elixir D’ainay and was bought down himself. Still travelling strongly, in all likelihood Captain Guinness may well have finished in the top 4 or even better. Under the circumstances Asterion Forlonge did well to finish in 4th considering his wayward jumping, which also caused Shishkin no end of trouble, with the melee at the 2nd last. Chantry House plugged on well into 3rd, but was no match for either Abacadabras who travelled like a dream and battled all the way to the line, or the aforementioned Shishkin who did remarkably well to get back at Abracadbras and get up close home. The first two look very good horses indeed with Shishkin looking likely to be sent over fences next year being a point to point winner. He has plenty of speed, but there is just a wonder if he’ll be ideally suited by further than 2 miles when sent over fences. Abacadabras looks set for a hurdles campaign next year and he could play a hand in the 2021 Champion Hurdle.
The Arkle Chase:
Run at a decent tempo the 4th last fences saw the exit of Maire Banrigh who was still travelling nicely, and Brewin’upstorm who was just starting to get a little closer to the action, whilst Global Citizen was hampered and lost a few lengths as a result. Up with the pace all the way, Put The Kettle On put in a superb round of jumping and having taken it up around the home turn never looked back for a well deserved victory. Her jumping was a real asset along with the 7lb Mares allowance. Fakir D’Oudairies ran really well in 2nd place, but couldn’t quite reel in the game winner having made a mistake 2 out, with a gap back to Rouge Vif who just outstayed the slightly unlucky Global Citizen for 3rd place. If we’re to take a horse out of the race for the future it would be the runner up Fakir D’Oudairies, who looks like he’d benefit from a step up in trip and he may well progress into a Ryanair contender next season for which he’s a best priced 33/1.
The Ultima Handicap:
A cracking competitive handicap and not really any hard luck stories. The Conditional would perhaps have been unlucky had he not won having travelled best of all until stumbling slightly on landing 2 out, but he picked up immediately, whilst the narrow runner up Kildisart would have preferred better ground. Big runs from plenty of the placed horses, especially Vindication under top weight.
The Champion Hurdle:
Perhaps not a vintage renewal of the Champion Hurdle, but as ever won by a very good horse in Epatante. In a race run at a decent tempo set by Petit Mouchoir, to his credit was only passed between the final two flights. A big run from the novice Darver Star who travelled well throughout for a well deserved 3rd place. Sharjah the eventual runner up was held up and cruised through the race looking a big danger to the winner, but on ground softer than ideal, he couldn’t match the winners turn of foot from the final hurdle. Eptanate, herself only a 6yo showed real start quality and will surely be on every short list for next years race. One who can without doubt be marked up on his finishing position is Le Patriote, who moved into contention 3 out, almost jumping upsides the leaders. He faded quite tamely in the home straight, but he would have been slightly outclassed here and is much better on a decent surface. He’s really suited by a strong pace and is fairly handicapped based on his victory in last years Swinton Hurdle at Haydock.
The Mares Hurdle:
In what looked to be a match between Benie Des Dieux and Honeysuckle, proven to be exactly that, and what a brilliant duel they gave us. With Stormy Ireland setting perhaps slightly slower fractions than expected, the conflicting moves taken by each jockey 2 hurdles from home may have made all the difference. Whilst Paul Townend felt the need to make a move on the outside on Benie Des Dieux, ensuring he did get blocked in at a crucial stage (at the time it looked like the right move), Robbie Power on Stormy Ireland just drifted to his right a fraction, giving Rachael Blackmore aboard Honeysuckle an opening on the inside, which she took with no hesitation. Honeysuckle then produced a telling turn of foot to nick a couple of lengths lead, ad whilst Benie Des Dieux finished her race off very strongly she couldn’t quite catch the game and classy winner. A cracking race and whilst some may suggest Benie Des Dieux was an unlucky loser, Honeysuckle wasn’t stopping and may well have won whatever the race tactics.
Northern Trust Novices Hcap Chase:
Galvin was a little untidy early on having been slightly hampered at the first fence, but other than that the principles jumped pretty well throughout. Imperial Aura was without doubt a deserving winner, he travelled sweetly on the heals of the leaders for much of the race and when taking it up stayed on well without ever looking likely to be caught. His only real pursuer was the aforementioned Galvin who came round the bend travelling extremely well, but just came across in improving horse in the winner. Hold The Note ran very well in 3rd, with the 4th placed Whatmore giving the form a very solid look, as he’d run very well in open company at Kempton the time before.
The National Hunt Chase:
As ever a real stamina test where the short priced Fav, Carefully Selected was held up and could never get competitive. Lord Du Mesnil tried to make all and ran a cracker really testing the stamina of his opposition, and found them all out bar Ravenhill the game, strong staying winner under the superb guidance from Jamie Codd with the front two pulling miles clear of the remaining finishers.
Wednesday – Day Two:
In a race where the front 3 were the only ones to really get involved, although The Big Breakaway did stay on quite well finishing in 4th and pulling away from the remainders. The Big Getaway set a nice pace and travelled well, he plugged on well into 3rd place. He’s a big bull of a horse and could develop into a really nice chaser. Easywork a smaller type, travelled really strongly and stayed on well into 2nd place, but neither of those two could match the class of Envoi Allen, who despite being given a fair bit of ground to make up in the home straight, he picked up when asked and won pretty easily. He’s an extremely talented horse and being a point to point winner he’ll surely be sent over fences next year, where he could prove a real tough nut to crack, where he’d have no problems staying further.
A real test of stamina which in the end really suited Champ, who stayed on strongly having looked booked for 3rd place, catching both Minella Indo and Allaho inside the last 100 yards or so, with Battleoverdoyen running creditably in 4th. The race was dictated by Allaho who jumped well in the main and ran a cracking race, although this trip on a stiff track probably stretches his stamina, so he may well drop back in trip next year. Minella Indo on the other hand is a thorough stayer and perhaps would have won but for getting in close at the last and losing momentum. As he and Allaho tired in the closing stages for Champ to nab then close home, Minella Indo picked up again once passed suggesting he perhaps idled a little in front whilst tiring. He’s sure to play a part in the top 3 mile chases next season, he’s also an efficient jumper of a fence, bar the final flight here!
Champ isn’t as fluent over his fences, but he has some engine and stormed up the hill to land the spoils. He’s also sure to be aimed at the major staying chases next year, with the extra distance of the Gold Cup an added plus, although he does need to improve his jumping a little to take that further step up the ladder.
As you’d expect an ultra-competitive handicap with any number still in with a shout 2 out, but the race was won by the best handicapped horse with Dame De Compagnie staying on really strongly to forge clear close home. Black Tears the runner up perhaps travelled best of all and looked the likely winner, but couldn’t match the finishing kick of the Henderson mare. Of those behind, Cracking Smart has to be marked up as he was slowly away from the standing start and having raced out the back for much of the race, he picked he way through the field to finish strongly into 4th place. Now he’s found his form, he’d be interesting tried back over 3 miles. Whilst Coko Beach ran a good deal better than his finishing position, having been badly hampered 2 out before staying on well into 9th position. The application of cheekpieces for the first time may well have helped him, still only a 5yo he can go on from this. Champagne Well was also still travelling pretty well when making a bad blunder 2 out, especially for a horse who tends to find plenty for pressure.
With favourite Defi Du Seuil not running his race; he looked uncomfortable quite early on in the race, it perhaps didn’t take much winning. The fact Bun Doran jumped the last fence in 2nd place confirms the lack in depth of the form. That said Politologue put in a fine round of jumping from the front and was a well deserved winner on the day.
Cross Country Chase:
A defeat for Tiger Roll on his beloved Cheltenham Cross Country course, but having not had an ideal preparation and perhaps on ground softer than ideal he still ran a cracking race. Credit though to Easysland who travelled and jumped superbly, putting in a high class performance to dethrone “The Tiger” with the rest of the field beaten out of sight.
Boodles Handicap Hurdle:
Another JP McManus handicap winner and a worth one at that. Aramax travelled really nicely and despite their being a number of horses within a length of each other at the last, he quickened really smartly, with only the game runner up Night Edition able to go with him, the front two pulling a few lengths clear of the field. Two further back that caught the attention were, Thyme White who travelled really strongly until 2 out, he’ll be better with another year to strengthen and appeals as a potential improver when sent over fences, and Gealach who made a big of a hash of the 3rd last hurdle and got a little out paced before staying on nicely into a not beaten far 8th place.
Ferny Hollow was slow to start as was given a very patient ride, clearly benefitting from getting plenty of cover he still had quite a lot to do turning for home. With his stablemate and short priced favourite Appreciate It setting sail for home, Ferny Hollow found plenty when asked in the closing stages to win going away. He’s been a little quirky, but if those quirks are ironed out as they may well do with racing experience, he’s clearly got a lot of ability. The runner up ran really well, he travels extremely strongly and will do well over hurdles next season, with 2 miles looking his trip.
Thursday – Day Three:
Marsh Novices Chase:
A pity Itchy Feet blundered and unseated early on as he’d beaten Midnight Shadow in good fashion last time, and that one ran really well here finishing in 6th place. Samcro returned to form, which was great to see as he looked to have the world at his feet a few seasons ago. He jumped well and just outbattled Melon close home. Melon was very much suited by the step up in trip and the slightly slower pace which saw a big improvement in his jumping. Faugheen ran a cracker back in 3rd, he’s been a superstar over the years and to run so well in a grade 1 usually associated with rising stars as a 12yo is a huge credit to him. A great race with some “back to form” stars, but just a question mark as to the overall quality of the race in terms of the future and the potential of these returning next year as major grade 1 contenders.
Pertemps Handicap Hurdle:
Sire Du Berlais did remarkably well to retain his title in this ultra-competitive race from a mark 7lbs higher than last year, as he wasn’t fluent over a couple of the hurdles, but he’s so tough he battled on strongly to the line to repel the challenge of his stablemate The Storyteller. Winning off a mark of 152 here, he might just return for a crack at the Stayers Hurdler next year, albeit he’ll be a 9yo then.
The Storyteller absolutely cruised through the race and looked the most likely winner between the final two flights, but couldn’t quite match the strong finish of the winner. Tout Est Permis ran really well in 3rd, as did Third Wind in fourth considering he was very slow at the 2nd hurdle and was way off the pace for much of the race. He would be one we’d take out of the race, rather than the more heralded Relegate who himself finished off strongly not 5th, but was outpaced for much of the way, whereas Third Wind hindered his chances by making an early mistake. Still only a 6yo and lightly raced, Third Wind has plenty more to offer for the future.
Riders Onthe Storm was just creeping into contention when falling 3 out, it would have been interesting to see how he faired. But a well deserved Festival victory for Min, who put in a exhibition round of jumping and having taken it up from Frodon early on and always looked to have the race in control despite a gallant effort from Saint Calvados. That was probably a career best from the runner up, and connections have definitely found to trick with him now, getting him switched off out the back. A Plus Tard didn’t quite travel as well and expected, although he did battle all the way to the line to be beaten only a matter of a lengths or so. Min will be a 10yo next year, so it’s likely that the 2nd and 3rd from this race would be the main contenders in 12 months time; from this race anyway.
A defeat for the short priced Fav Paisley Park who was found to have a defibrillating heart afterwards, so under the circumstances he still ran a mighty fine race. With Apples Jade setting out upfront, this turned into a real test of stamina, which didn’t suit Summerville Boy who didn’t quite get home. However, Lisnagar Oscar relished this test and perhaps the drying ground, travelling well, he committed plenty early enough but took a valuable few lengths out of the field and maintained that lead all the way to the line. With Ronald Pump seemingly running a career best in 2nd and Bacardys cruising through the race and staying on into 3rd this may not have been a vintage renewal lacking that superstar winner, but credit to the winner having switched back to hurdles having not performed over fences earlier in the season, he won this in fine style. Thee must be a good chance we’d see Lisnagar Oscar back here next season and he does surprisingly seem to have been slightly dismissed for a repeat looking at the current prices.
Brown Advisory Hcap Chase:
Simply The Betts continued his upward curve, winning in fine style. He does need to brush up his jumping if he’s going to make the step into graded company now, but he’s got some engine and could well stay further. The runner up Happy Diva ran her usual fine race around Cheltenham and adds substance to the form, albeit being a Cheltenham handicap, that’s a given. Mr Whitaker hit the first fence pretty hard so did well to finish and excellent 3rd place, returning to form over what is his optimum trip. Of the beaten horses, Spiritofthegames was slowly away, didn’t jump well early on so did well to stay in into 6th place, whilst Livelovelaugh was almost bought to a standstill when La Bague Au Roi fell, so he did really well to get back into contention before not quite being able to go through with his effort, this is also his optimum trip having been tried over further previously.
Mares Novices Hurdle:
Concertisa absolutely bolted up here having run 2nd in this race last year on her hurdles debut. She travelled pretty well, but came right back on the bit turning for home and when asked to quicken from the last put daylight between here and the runner up Dolcita, who having just here 3rd race over for the Mullins stable ran really well herself. Plenty of credit also for the 3rd Rayna’s World who was last for a long way and stayed on really well; but the winner was different class to the rest of the field.
Kim Muir Hcap Chase:
Milan Native travelled and jumped really well throughout and the 7lbs claimed by his jockey proved valuable as he won by 1 ¾ lengths, although perhaps a little more comfortably than the winning margin suggests. Kilfinum Cross ran really well in 2nd place, again having been runner up last year, whilst Bob Mahler showed he’s a real stayer as he picked up again in the closing stages finishing his race off very strongly. The big eye-catcher was Champagne Platinum who stepping up considerably in trip was tanking along round the home turn, but he blatantly didn’t stay and must surely be handicapped to win when dropping back in trip.
Friday – Day Four:
The starting point can only be with the oh so unlucky Goshen who but for a freak accident where his front and back hooves somehow became entangled as he jumped the final flight, causing him to stumble and unseat Jamie Moore, would have been an emphatic winner of what looked a good renewal. He moved through the race nicely and when asked to challenge the long time leader Allmankind, he simply swept past him to go clear; a most unlucky loser. With Goshen out of the race, Burning Victory stayed on best of all to land the prize having been held up early on. Her jumping improved through the race and it was certainly better than when making a winning debut. She was perhaps suited by the run of the race, with the eventual 2nd Aspire Tower and 3rd Allmankind helping set a strong tempo. The same can be said for Navajo Pass who stayed on past tiring rivals into 4th place. Back to Goshen, who would have beaten what looked a fair Triumph field very easily; he really could be very good indeed over jumps and also on the flat where he is very much unexposed.
A gamble landed for connections and in impressive style by Saint Roi making his handicap debut. He pulled a little early on, but having travelled well came there cantering at the last and quickened away like a very well handicapped horse. Aramon stayed on strongly to and 2nd on the line having been held up off the pace, just getting the better of Embittered in 3rd and Buildmeupbuttercup who’d travelled very strongly throughout in 4th place. It’ll be interesting to see how far the winner can now progress.
Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle:
A tremendous finish; 4 battling it out up the home straight with Monkfish staying on best of all to get up on the line ahead of Latest Exhibition, Fury Road and Thyme Hill. The winner made a pretty bad mistake up the back straight, but still came round the home turn travelling powerfully and despite getting headed after the final flight, he battled back really well to get his head in front. Plenty of credit to all the top 4 as they pulled a fair way clear of the field, with the first 3 especially looking potentially nice future chasers, whilst the smaller less scopey Thyme Hill may remain over hurdles.
The Gold Cup:
Al Boum Photo became the first horse to win back to back Gold Cups since Best Mate, winning in fine style. In a race where the pace was perhaps a little slower than expected, we had a fairly cramped field turning for home with any number of horses still in with a chance. Al Boum Photo then made his move from home and jumped the final two fences petty much alongside the eventual 3rd Lostintranslation, but it was the reigning champ that has enough in reserve to power up the hill and fend off the late challenge from the strong finishing Santini with Monalee running a career best in 4th place. A cracking race and the best horse probably won, as he’d probably have preferred a stronger pace, which as a result would have meant he didn’t have to commit quite so early. We’d have to expect to see the main players all returning for a crack next year.
A big 66/1 shock in the Foxhunters with It Came To Pass who clearly enjoyed racing on a better surface as he’d disappointed on soft ground recently. But considering he’d beaten the Fav back in April 2019 on good ground his chance had perhaps sneaked under the radar. With Billaway the Fav in 2nd and last years runner up Shantou Flyer finishing 3rd there is no reason to knock the form just because the winner was such a big price.
Grand Annual Chase:
Ridden with extreme confidence, the gamble was landed on Chosen Mate who having been help up travelled through the race very easily, picking his way through the field and coming to the 2nd last full of running. Sent on, he got a little tight into the final fence but had more than enough left in the tank to win comfortably by a couple of lengths. The runner up Éclair De Beaufeu also travelled well and was slightly inconvenienced at the 2nd last fence but not enough to suggest he could have won. Us And Them returned to form racing on a better surface, whilst the old boy Theinval ran on well into 5th place having been way back. That would have put him spot on for his beloved Aintree 2 Mile Chase, but unfortunately this year that won’t happen. Chosen Mate winning off a mark of 147 on only his 4th chase start suggest he has a very bright future.
Martin Pipe Hcap Hurdle:
A hugely competitive finale to the Festival and Indefatigable did really well to win having not travelled early on and been out the back form the first half of the race. She made ground to get into contention turning for home and powered up the hill to catch Pileon close home, for what looked an unlikely success for much of the race. Pileon ran a super race having been sent for home between the final 2 flights and left clear with the fall of Column Of Fire at the last. Of those behind The Bosses Oscar is better than the bare result as he along with the winner looked to be finding it hard work at halfway, but to his credit he really found his stride from then on and but for getting hampered after the last flight fall of Column Of Fire would probably have placed 3rd. That said had Column Of Fire stood up at the last he may well have won, as he had form over 3 miles so would surely have finished his race off well.
Roll on Cheltenham 2021:
A very informative reading of the races at Cheltenham
Many Thanks John,