And so that’s it. All over for another year. But what a week it was as the 2018 Cheltenham Festival delivered its annual helping of thrills, spills and drama.
With scintillating displays on each of the four days, all building up to what was a monumental clash in the Cheltenham Gold Cup itself, here we take a look back at the week’s highlights.
Day 1: Classy Buveur Shows Heart of A Champion
The Day 1 feature of the Champion Hurdle went the way almost everyone expected it to, as Nicky Henderson’s defending champion, Buveur D’air, came out on top once again. In contrast with his victory 12 months ago – when the JP McManus runner stamped his class all over the field– this time he really had to work for the win.
Jumping the final flight it was the Willie Mullins runner, Melon, who really put it up to the champ, even nudging ahead at one stage. Would Buveur D’air be able to find the grit to come out on top in his first real battle of the year?
Proving as tenacious as he is talented, the seven year old battled on all the way to the line for Barry Geraghty to win by a neck. That’s two in a row now for Buveur D’air. Can he become the first horse since Istabraq, to win it three times? 888sport make him a 7/2 shot for Champion Hurdle success in 2019.
Boy Brilliant In Opener
The Festival’s very first race provided what, for us, was one of the most impressive displays of the meeting from Tom George’s Summerville Boy. To clatter the second last and make another error at the final flight and yet still reel in the talented Kalashnikov to claim the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle was a mighty performance.
Other highlights included Footpad’s demolition job in the Arkle Chase and Lizzie Kelly landing the Ultima in a thrilling finish aboard Coo Star Sivola. Shock of the day was the defeat of Apple’s Jade in the Mares’ Hurdle, with the prize going to Willie Mullins’ Benie Des Dieux.
Day 2: Altior Awesome Again
The second championship event of the week saw another Nicky Henderson “good thing” go to post in the shape of the mighty Altior for the Champion Chase.
This was run at a frenetic gallop, and quite what would have happened had Douvan stayed on his feet we will never know. The Irish star’s departure four from home, when still going well, lending a slightly anticlimactic feel to the race.
Even following the fall of Douvan though, the result looked far from certain, with Altior being scrubbed along under Nico de Boinville. The moment Min lay down the gauntlet though, the turbo seemed to kick in for Altior, with the eight year old powering right away up the hill for a hugely impressive seven length success.
That’s a Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, an Arkle Chase and now a Queen Mother Champion Chase in the bag for a horse rapidly ascending towards legendary status.
Percy Present and Correct But Ruby Boum-ed Out
The performance of the day for many came in the RSA Chase as Pat Kelly’s Presenting Percy put up a power packed display to score by seven lengths. A future Gold Cup winner? Quite possibly.
The RSA was also notable for the fact that it marked the end of Ruby Walsh’s Festival, with Irishman aggravating his leg injury when coming down aboard Al Boum Photo.
A word must also go to Gordon Elliott’s extraordinary performer, Tiger Roll. Already boasting a win in the Triumph Hurdle and National Hunt Chase on his CV, he added the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase to his haul in 2018. In terms of sheer versatility, that’s a treble that takes some topping.
And then of course there was Samcro. Horse racing’s next big thing didn’t disappoint on the biggest day of his carer to date. Travelling oh so sweetly throughout, the six year old forged 2¾l clear coming up the hill to claim the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle to the vociferous delight of his Irish fans.
Day 3: Hill Shows the Will To Win
Much of the talk ahead of this year’s Stayers’ Hurdle surrounded the up and coming -and well backed- Sam Spinner, the classy Yanworth, and Jessica Harrington’s Coral Cup king, Supasundae. The one we all seemed to forget about though was last season’s Albert Bartlett winner, Penhill.
One of the reasons he was overlooked may have been the fact that he hadn’t been seen at the track since that win 12 months ago. Being in the capable hands of Willie Mullins though, perhaps that lengthy absence shouldn’t have been so much of a concern.
Undoubtedly suited by the relatively slow pace set by Sam Spinner, this former flat performer could be called the winner on the turn for home with his speed edge always likely to be the deciding factor in the straight.
Under an ice-cool Paul Townend, Penhill loomed up on the outside to quickly assert on the run in, with Supasundae back in second. Such was the authority of this performance though that the son of Mount Nelson would likely have come out on top however the race had panned out.
Warren Halts Irish Landslide
It wasn’t only the big race in which the Irish prospered on St Patricks Thursday. But for Warren Greatrex claiming the last with Missed Approach, this would have been a clean sweep for the Irish. Well done Warren!
We had a shock result in the Ryanair Chase as Un De Sceaux was turned over by Henry De Bromhead’s Balko Des Flos in pretty emphatic style. This race also possibly marked the Cheltenham farewell for the gallant Cue Card. Never going at any stage, the 12 year old was pulled up in the end but still received a rousing reception from his legions of fans.
Laurina meanwhile posted the biggest winning margin of the week when pulverising the field in the Mares’ Novices’ race, coming home fully 18 lengths clear.
Day 4: Nothing Can Stem Rivers Flow
Friday’s big one of the Cheltenham Gold Cup served up an absolute classic. Looking like one of the most open renewals in years, in the end this became a head to battle between just the two runners, and what a tussle it was!
Richard Johnson sent Native River straight into the lead, in an effort to use his mounts confirmed stamina to maximum effect. Hot on his heels though was the favourite for the race, Might Bite. And so the pair powered on, and on, with those in behind slowly but surely falling by the wayside.
Approaching the home straight it was just about level pegging, Might Bite still travelling ominously well whilst Native River continued to gallop on relentlessly. Soon after the last though came the moment when Native River finally broke Might Bite’s heart. As much as he tried he just could not go with the Tizzard runner any longer. Native River by 4½l the final verdict in this heavyweight clash. What a race!
Shocks Don’t Stop After Shakira Flop
The overturning of Apple’s Shakira by Farclas in the opening Triumph Hurdle was a sign of things to come, with the final day featuring two winners at 33/1 – Mohaayed in the County Hurdle, and Kilbricken Storm in the Albert Bartlett – in addition to 25/1 shot Pacha Du Polder who landed the Foxhunters for the second year in succession. A tough end to the week for the punters.
And The Winners Are…..
Champion trainer for the second year in succession was the Irish force of nature that is Gordon Elliott. Aided and abetted by a vast squadron of Gigginstown House Stud runners, Elliott enjoyed a quite remarkable Festival, racking up a magnificent eight wins, equalling Willie Mullins’ 2015 total.
Top jockey honours went to Davy Russell who landed the award for the first time at the age of 38. It was a close-run thing though, with countback being required to separate Russell and the youngster Jack Kennedy who recorded four wins apiece.