Cheltenham Festival 2017 Review

Cheltenham 2017 Goes Green as Irish Dominate

With Cheltenham allocating the Thursday of this year’s festival as a celebration of the Irish patron saint, and the official St Patrick’s Day falling on Gold Cup Friday, this year’s four-day bonanza already had a strong Irish undercurrent to proceedings.

In the end the Cheltenham organisers may as well have christened this year’s renewal as the “St Patrick’s Cheltenham Festival 2017” as our friends from the Emerald Isle dominated proceedings. When all was said and done, the final score read Ireland: 19  Great Britain: 9. Quite a thumping for the home team. Here we take a look back at four thrilling days of action at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival.

Day One: Elliott Quick Out Of The Blocks but Henderson Holds His Own

Given the regular full throttle nature of the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle which sees the Festival roar out of the blocks, it was a little ironic that the race went to a runner who often doesn’t consent to start at all. Gordon Elliott’s Labaik had refused to race in four of his eight most recent starts. He got it right on the big day though, exuding class as he cruised into the lead for an authoritative success.

Race two saw the first appearance of a racing superstar as the hugely impressive Altior lined up in the Arkle Chase. Quite what would have happened had Charbel not come down two from home, we will never know, but the record books show that Altior romped home once again, this time to the tune of six lengths.

Not bad for a horse wo many observers judged to be nowhere near his best on the day.  A tilt at next year’s Champion Chase now surely awaits. A race for which he is now the 7/4 favourite with BetVictor.

Henderson followed up Altior’s victory with another in the day’s showpiece Champion Hurlde. With favourite Yanworth proving bitterly disappointing, it was left to Buveur D’Air to prove his class and so vindicate his trainer’s decision to curtail his chasing career for a shot at this. With My Tent Or Yours returning to form in second, this was a famous 1-2 for both Henderson and owner J P Mcmanus.

Elsewhere, Un Temps Pour Tout put in a battling display to defend his Ultima Handicap Chase by the narrowest of margins, Apples Jade repelled the Mullins duo of Limini and Vroum Vroum Mag in a thrilling Mares’ Hurdle, and 2014 Triumph Hurdle winner, Tiger Roll, proved up to the task in the 4m National Hunt Chase for Gordon Elliott.

Day Two: Might Bite Wins… Somehow and Douvan Disappoints

This year’s RSA Chase provided one of the most thrilling finishes of the whole festival. Having recently devastated backers at Kempton when coming down at the last with the race at his mercy, Nicky Henderson’s Might Bite seemed determined to put his supporters through the mill once again.

Once again well clear, he negotiated the final flight this time, but then veered alarmingly across the track almost coming to a standstill, leaving stablemate Whisper to pull clear….only Might Bite wasn’t done with quite yet. Deciding he did want to win after all he picked up again in impressive style to win by a nose. Clearly quirky, he is also seriously talented and is now as short as 3/1 with Ladbrokes for the King George.

With Altior having done his bit for the superstars of the week on Day One, it was left to Douvan to light up the stage on Day Two. At least that’s how it was supposed to happen. To the consternation of racing fans – and particularly the punter who had a £500,000 bet on the 14 race unbeaten star – the writing was on the wall a long way from home in the Champion Chase as the previously imperious son of Walk In The Park toiled at his fences and looked a shadow of his usual self.

Something was clearly amiss, and so it proved as a post-race examination revealed a stress fracture to his pelvis. In the end the race went to Henry de Bromhead’s, Special Tiarra. Having finished third in the previous two renewals, this bold jumping frontrunner proved a fine advert for the motto of, “if at first you don’t succeed…”, as he clung on from Fox Norton.

In the days other events, Willoughby Court sent trainer Ben Pauling into raptures when fending off Neon Wolf in the Neptune, Cause of Cuases recorded a third Festival success in the Cross Country Chase, and Fayonagh looked a horse to follow when coming from last to first to claim the Bumper.

Day Three: Mullins and Walsh Back With A Bang

With no winners on the opening two days, the cloud above the Willie Mullins yard was beginning to darken. Much of the talk began to circulate about horses working poorly at home and not looking right in their coats upon their arrival at the track. Whether there was ever any truth in that or not, it was made to look like nonsense by the end of Day Three.

Yorkhill got the ball rolling in the opening JLT Novices Chase. The seven year old produced his most polished round of fencing yet to comfortably hold the late thrust of Nicky Henderson’s Top Notch. There is now talk of a shot at the 2018 Gold Cup for Yorkhill, with Sky Bet making him an 8/1 shot for the race.

Hot on the heels of Yorkhill’s success, Mullins doubled his tally for the week as Un De Sceaux put in a scintillating round of jumping to repel all comers in the Ryanair Chase. One of the most exciting chasers to watch at his best, it will be interesting to see where he goes next having now proven his effectiveness at this trip.

The Stayers’ Hurdle took centre stage on Day Three with the Harry Fry star, Unowhatimeanharry hotly fancied to add the prize to his impressive haul. In the end though another winning streak came to an end as the favourite could manage only third. It perhaps shouldn’t have come as the biggest surprise that it was the Mullins runner, Nichol’s Canyon who stayed on best of all to haul in Lil Rockerfeller close home in another thrilling finish.

Let’s Dance took the Mare’s Novice event easily to make it four on the day for Mullins and Walsh whilst veteran Irish trainer Patrick Kelly once again demonstrated his handicap prowess with Presenting Percy in the Pertemps Final.

Day Four: Another Five For Ireland as Sizing Grabs Gold

The concluding day opened on a bright note for the Britsih handlers as Philip Hobb’s, Defi Du Seuil confirmed his place at the top of the juvenile hurdling tree. His five-length rout of the Triumph Hurdle field must go down as one of the most impressive performances of the week and he looks a horse to follow going into next season.

Irish order was soon restored however as Mullins rattled off a quick double in our next two contests. 2015 Champion Hurdle runner up Arctic Fire was allowed to go off at 20/1 in the County Hurdle and duly overcame a year long absence from the track to get up near the line. The 16/1 SP of Penhill was similarly rewarding for Mullins supporters in the Albert Bartlett as this formerly smart flat performer used his speed to devastating effect.

And so, to the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the flagship National Hunt event of the whole racing year. Would it be dual runner up Djakadam, or perhaps emerging star Native River, or what about the old favourite Cue Card? The market struggled to split this trio, but in the end none could oblige. Djakadam faded close home and Cue Card once again fell at the third last.

Native River ran a fine race in third but in the end the prize went to a newcomer to the staying chase scene, Sizing John. Chased out of the two mile division by Douvan, the recent Irish Gold Cup winner doubled up here as he simply would not be denied on the run to the line. A first runner in the Gold Cup for Harrington and a first winner.

As the festival drew to a close for another year, Gordon Elliott confirmed the top trainer crown with the victory of Champagne Classic in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockey’s event, with the finale fittingly going to Jessica Harriington’s Rock The World. Ruby Walsh drew a blank on the closing day but still added another Festival Top Jockeys title to his collection as nobody could reel him in.